You may be familiar with this symbol: ©
You’ve probably seen it next to your favorite brand or movie.
And we assume that you’re familiar with the odd backstory behind Bitcoin, the first global cryptocurrency: in 2009, “Satoshi Nakamoto” (a pseudonym) created a de-centralized, digital currency called bitcoin, powered by blockchain technology, to allow for an open-source payment system that circumvents traditional financial ledgers, normally held by banks.
We’ve seen a fair number of start-ups begin to work on developing intellectual property surrounding Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, as well as blockchain, and expect this number to increase as cryptocurrency becomes more mainstream (it’s hard to deny cryptocurrency’s jump into the mainstream—even our grandparents are wondering about cryptocurrency!)
As a startup working around cryptocurrency, you should begin to ask yourself what types of protections are available for your idea. One way to protect yourself is through copyright, which protects artistic/creative work—essentially any kind of creative content. We’re going to run through some frequently asked questions and misperceptions about copyrights—particularly for those of you involved in innovation for the cryptocurrency.
Question 1: Can I protect cryptocurrency and/or the technology surrounding cryptocurrency with a copyright?
Copyrights protect artistic and creative works – basically any type of creative content. If CONTENT is your idea’s main feature, then a copyright is probably your best bet for intellectual property (IP) protection. For example, if you were to create an image related to cryptocurrency, or create a blog where you created unique content related to cryptocurrency news, you would be able to protect your idea through a copyright. Copyright can also be used to protect computer code but only from direct copying. If someone were to reprogram your idea with different code, copyright wouldn’t help.
Question 2: When should I choose a copyright over a patent?
First and foremost, we believe that that you should protect your valuable innovation through every type of available idea protection, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Now that we’ve gotten our main point out of the way, let’s walk through a hypothetical situation as to when you’d choose a copyright over a patent.
Let’s say you wrote an amazing blog on cryptocurrency, and then turned it into a rousing fiction book about a cryptocurrency-only society that exists in the year 4050. The operative word in this hypothetical is written—according to copyright regulations, you must create a tangible artistic work. This is very different from a patent, where you would seek a patent for your technological invention, as opposed to the artistically expressed idea.
In the case of your blog and book, copyright is the best way to protect your idea. In fact, you can’t patent a blog or a book – they are artistic works. So you file for your copyright (more on that below) to protect your valuable artistic ideas. But you ask, why bother filing for copyright?
You need to protect your ideas to avoid falling victim to Internet mashup culture, in which others take your ideas – the ones that you worked really hard to develop – and then mix them into a new creation, without your permission or control. Even if you file for copyright, you can still give others the rights to use your ideas – but those rights are according to your requirements, and not anyone else’s.
Question 3: Let’s say I obtain a copyright for my idea. What legal mechanisms do I have to protect my content?
You need to register your copyright in the US in order to be able to enforce it. Copyright is registered with the US Copyright Office – you can find some of the basic information that you need to register copyright here. Registering for copyright enables you to protect your ideas. For example, if someone uses your copyrighted idea without permission from you, you can seek damages. You can also license your copyrighted works in exchange for payment.
A copyright is an inherent right, meaning that the creator of a work (or his/her employer, if performed under contract), automatically owns the copyright in a creative work. You also can protect “derivative works”-- ideas that are derived from yours.
As noted above, you can license out the rights for others to use your ideas—for payment or not, as you choose.
Enforcement of copyright depends on a number of factors. Blockchain technology can be used to solve this problem. Contact us to learn more about enforcement and what you can do with copyright.
Wondering if your idea is patentable? Have a question about this article? We can answer all of your questions — just hit "contact us" down below!