The question I am most frequently asked by business owners and independent inventors is, “How do I protect my idea?” Whether it is a tangible invention, software application, Web-based marketplace or other advanced technology, the primary concern (besides monetizing it) is ensuring exclusivity over the concept.
While undoubtedly crucial to lock down the rights to the innovation as tightly as the law allows, it is equally important for businesses and their management teams to ensure they will not run afoul of others’ intellectual-property rights. In this digital age, that often means copyrighted content.
Recent months have seen a number of court decisions relating to the lawfulness of certain ways of delivering copyright-protected media. From reselling foreign-sourced textbooks, to broadcasting TV over the Internet and operating a “used” digital record store, courts have weighed in on the applicability of U.S. copyright laws to new types of media distribution and technology.
This litigation activity should serve as an important reminder that, when using others’ content in any capacity, vigilance and, oftentimes, ingenuity are required to comply with the law. The last thing any business wants is to make a substantial investment of time and money only to be shut down on day one.
Take, for example, Aereo. The firm’s website enables subscribers to watch broadcast-television programs over the Internet. Although “public” retransmission of the television programming is prohibited under copyright law, Aereo gets around this by assigning each subscriber one of its thousands of individual antennas receiving over-the-air broadcast TV signals at its Brooklyn, N.Y. facility. Unsurprisingly, the television networks do not like the idea of their free over-the-air broadcasts being made available on the Internet without remuneration to the networks.