Clever Video Advertising – Should You Copyright the Voice Track?

by annbailey on January 18, 2013

(US IP Law) Creating a memorable and insightful advertisement is difficult and expensive. Successful advertisements combine visual and auditory stimuli to induce certain behaviors. If the advertisement is particularly creative, its most distinctive features may be emulated by other businesses. Unfortunately, imitation can result in a diluted brand name and excessive clutter. To avoid this, businesses should copyright their advertisements.

Why Copyright?

Experienced professionals often help businesses create unique and memorable advertisements that will further their specific goals; an advertisement that is aimed at maintaining brand awareness will be constructed differently from an advertisement that is aimed at motivating a search for information. A well-made and well-protected advertisement can be the launching point for a larger advertisement campaign.

On any original work, limited copyright protections apply automatically. As soon as a work is created, the owner has the exclusive right to use it. Unfortunately, if a work is not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright holder’s options for recovery are limited; sending a cease and desist letter is as far as most unregistered copyright holders can go to thwart infringement. Enforcing such a letter is another matter.

When to Copyright

To bring suit for copyright infringement, copyright holders must register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. The original copyright protections apply immediately; as such, copyright holders may wait for any infringement before copyrighting the work and then filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement. In that case, a copyright holder may sue for actual damages, which may be difficult to prove. A copyright holder who registers the copyright prior to the infringement may also demand attorney’s fees and some statutory damages for copyright infringement.

Additionally, registering a copyright will reduce the likelihood that a party infringes upon the copyright in the first place for two reasons. First, a registered copyright provides a public trail that will lead back to whoever or whatever entity owns that copyright. Second, having a copyright registered permits the owners to sue for damages, which can have a deterrent effect on parties who intentionally infringe upon copyrights and count on the owners to have no recourse against them.

How to Copyright

As discussed above, copyright protection is automatic. However, any enterprise seriously concerned with maintaining its control over its advertising campaigns must register its copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registering a copyright can be done manually or online at Offline registrants must pay a fee of $65 per application and submit the application through the mail while online registrants must pay a fee of $35 per claim and may submit the application online. Online registration is quicker and less expensive; users may upload an audio track directly as part of the application.

Before any registration can take place, it is important to know what types of work are excluded from copyright protection. To be eligible for copyright protections, a work must be original and show some type of creativity. Most professional production companies, like 522 Digital in Washington, DC for instance, will assist advertising creations and also provide the proper recordings to use for the copyright process.

An audio track for an advertisement will normally be sufficient to constitute originality. However, if the audio track is so brief that it only contains a short, generic phrase, copyright protections may be unavailable.  In addition to presenting copyright concerns, short, generic phrases never make for good advertisements. To create a memorable and effective advertisement, hiring a professional production company is often the least problematic solution.

Ann Bailey has worked in television journalism helping create station promotions and non-profit advertising, and answers these questions about the copyright process.  Working with clients to create successful slogans and video campaigns, 522 Digital encourages all small businesses to incorporate the experience of video marketing professionals in their start ups and new product launches.

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