Policies and procedures to protect IP.

What policies and procedures should you have to protect your IP? To answer this question depends on who “you” are. This post goes over two very general types of situations – large companies and small 1-2 person shops. As always, you should consult your attorney to see what specific polices you need.

The Large Company

The large company faces multiple issues – such as dealing with agencies like the SEC, developing employee policies, and following truth in advertising rules. Large companies, especially those that are either publicly traded or thinking about going public, need to worry about publishing information that goes afoul of SEC rules. For instance, having an employee that publishes information regarding profit forecasts on twitter, even if unauthorized, may cause issues for the company. Because of this, large companies also have to worry about what their employees say, both in and out of work. Therefore, it is important to have a written policy on social media and other communications in general.

Although these issues may also be faced by medium sized companies, the large business may have a more difficult time dealing with this issues. One reason is monitoring 20 employees and communicating policies such as what can and cannot be posted on social media sites, and monitoring that employees are following it, is easier than monitoring and communicating policies to 500 employees.

Because of this, large companies need a written employee communication policy that covers both what can be said verbally and electronically. These policies should incorporate social media policies and address and special circumstances (i.e. if there are additional rules imposed by HIPAA or other laws that may apply). Large companies should also have either an in-house counsel or outside counsel that is familiar with SEC and FTC compliance issues to make sure both employees and upper management (i.e. board members) are counseled on what can and cannot be said regarding the company.

The Small Company

Small companies can usually internally ensure that employees, especially if there are only one or two employees, follow the policies that the owner wants. Small companies are also, typically, less concerned with releasing information that may violated the SEC rules (unless of course, small companies are looking to sell shares then it may be an issue). Because of this, depending on the number of employees, small companies may have an informal policy, unlike large companies that need written formalized policies, that is crafted with the help of an attorney to ensure that employees know what they can and cannot talk about (and the owners know too).

However, as small companies typically do not have in-house consul, small companies may have more problems ensuring that they follow advertising rules. Therefore, they need to make sure they have been counseled on what is, and isn’t, deceptive advertising. Depending on the company’s line of business, there may also rules and regulations that the company needs to follow (i.e. insurance, accounting, health, etc). By knowing the rules that govern the type of industry the company is in, a company can help make sure it is compliance with the rules.

If you find that the above post interests you, I invite you to come and listen to the Mile High Social Media Club presentation Thursday, November 19th at Strings in Denver at which myself and two other individuals will be on a panel discussing these types of issues. You can RSVP for the event at http://novembermhsmc.eventbrite.com.

Protect your IP online

So, how do you protect your IP from being stolen online? Unfortunately, the only way to make sure that someone does not steal it is not to place it online. Once it is online, there are very few, if any, ways to make sure someone does not steal it. Considering for many this isn’t an option (partly because many create IP specifically to put it online in the case of graphic artists and website designers or because people want to show off their work in the case of musicians and writers), there are some best practices for putting things online.

1. Watermark your work. If you are placing something like a drawing, cartoon, or photograph online, you can put a watermark on your picture to make it so that people may be less likely to steal the work (since your watermark will be on it). In addition, if it is stolen, it will be easier to prove (as long as the watermark isn’t removed somehow).
2. Post only part of your work online. If you are placing something like a novel or song online, you can put only part of it online and then send the full work by email (and you can charge for the full work if you are enterprising). Although this won’t guarantee that the work won’t be placed online by someone else equally as enterprising, you will have a record of who received copies and a note with the copy you send them may deter the person from placing the work online (something nice yet professional stating you have a copyright on the work).
3. Place smaller versions of your work online. If you are placing images online, you can put thumbnails online rather than larger files. By doing this, the work may be high enough quality to show your audience what you can do, put low enough resolution that someone else may not want to take it.
4. Read Terms of Services. If you are placing IP anywhere except your website, make sure you know who owns the rights to the IP by placing it on the site. The last thing most artists want is to find out that by placing a photo or article on a site means they have given up rights in that work.

Even if you use best practices for putting things online, if it is something that people want, there is a chance it will be taken and used somewhere else. If you find out your work on a site with a copyright policy, such as Facebook, MySpace, Google, or Yahoo, you should contact the site and ask them to remove it. In any case, if your work is something that is likely to be stolen (i.e. professional photographs, novels), it is a good idea to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office. (I say this because you may not want to pay for a copyright on every photo you take on that trip to your grandmother’s house, but that is a call you should make with the help of your attorney.) By registering your work, if someone does steal it, it increases the amount of damages you may be eligible for and be able to get attorney fees.
If you find that the above post interests you, I invite you to come and listen to the Mile High Social Media Club presentation Thursday, November 19th at Strings in Denver at which myself and two other individuals will be on a panel discussing these types of issues. You can RSVP for the event at http://novembermhsmc.eventbrite.com.