A basic understanding of copyrights and intellectual property law is necessary when starting a craft business. Although you own the copyrights to the crafts you create, you'll want to take additional steps to protect yourself. Also, granting copyright licenses can help grow your business.
You are the copyright owner of all original works that you create. Even if you never sell your crafts, or display it, you are recognized and protected under copyright laws. Your creation is intellectual property and may be the first property your business owns. A copyright grants you, and only you, with the right to reproduce your crafts, display them publicly, and create other products based on your crafts. You can then license those rights to whomever you choose. However, you cannot preclude others from creating the ideas contained in your crafts. For example, Hallmark owns the copyrights to Hallmark Greeting Cards. However, this couldn't legally prohibit a home based business owner from developing a line of homemade greeting cards. Only Hallmark could use the name "Hallmark" on its cards, and the poems and writings on those cards are protected.
You should copyright your work to put the world on notice that you are the owner of your crafts. You do this by filing a Certificate of Registration with the Library of Congress online or by mail. If a legal issue arises in the future, a copyright registration serves as proof that you own and control the works in dispute. In fact, if you don't register, you may not be able to legally protect yourself in some states against copyright infringement. Copyright infringement occurs when someone sells, displays, or otherwise uses your crafts without your permission.
You may want to grant others the right to distribute your crafts. One way to do this is to sign a copyright license agreement granting them the right to do so for a fee. You might decide to distribute crafts made by other people, so you would ask them to license their work. There are two types of licenses: exclusive and non-exclusive.
An exclusive license means only one person or entity will have the right to sell or distribute the crafts. This would cost more to the person who wants to license the work.
A non-exclusive license allows the copyright owner to grant rights to many different people at once. This will make it cheaper for the person seeking the license.
You should decide whether you want to expand the sales of your crafts. If so, granting copyright licenses is one way to do that. If you want to keep your rights after the term agreed upon, you want to grant a copyright license. If you'd rather accept a higher fee and don't mind giving up the rights, then you need to "assign" your rights, not license them.
Legal matters can be intimidating to anyone starting a craft business or any other business. However, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of copyrights for protection and for growth.
Daphne Mallory, Esq. is the co-owner of Mallory Writing Services and has written more than 100 articles helping home based business owners and entrepreneurs start and market their business. You can learn more about her here.