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Copyright: Why it matters

by Paula Anderson

As a journalist and creative entrepreneur, I have learned to protect my intellectual property (IP). During my career and entrepreneurial journey, I have had some experiences with my ideas being stolen or duplicated. Unfortunately, you can't copyright ideas, but you can copyright a business plan, marketing plan, communication strategy, public relations campaign and a social media campaign when it is in a tangible form. 

Having a legal (attorney) person on your team is beneficial to managing a business enterprise. 

Artists, writers, content creators, songwriters and other creative works are protected under copyright law.  The first copyright law was passed in 1790 according to the U.S. Copyright office website. 

When seeking intellectual property protection, it is important to understand how the object should be classified.  For example, sculptures and photographs are protected under copyright law and would not fall under patent protection (Wherry, 2012). 


Below are a few examples of copyright cases: 

In a recent copyright case, Robin Thicke, songwriter, was sued by Marvin Gaye’s estate for the song “Blurred Lines” which featured producer - Pharrell Williams. Gaye’s estate claimed that the song “Got To Give It Up,” violated copyright infringement.  Jobete Music Company, Inc. registered the song in 1977 with the United States Copyright Office (Williams v. Gaye, 2018).

In 2018, a panel ruled in favor of Marvin Gaye’s estate based on the Copyright Act of 1909. 

Robin Thick, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, Jr. co-owned the musical composition for the song. 

Another copyright case involved Luther Campbell (rapper) and Acuff-Rose Music Inc. This case focused on the song ‘Oh, Pretty Woman.' According to the MTSU First Amendment website, the case was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court and Campbell prevailed in the case. The Supreme Court ruled that the song's use fell under the Fair Use Doctrine (Vile, 2009).

Fair use is based on the following factors: criticism, research, commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports.  Justice David H. Souter stated, “that the rap song would have infringed under copyright law were it not for finding a fair use through parody."(Vile, 2009).

The group - 2 Live Crew used the song in the form of a parody. One of the challenges today is the use of digital media and how it impacts intellectual property protection. In 2009, the Associated Press (AP) filed a suit against Shepard Fairey, the creator, of the Barack Obama ‘Hope’ poster. The AP claimed copyright infringement for a photo taken by one of its photographers, Mannie Garcia. 


Bagley, C. E. (2018). Managers and the legal environment: Strategies for business. Cengage 

Wherry, T. L. (2002). The Librarian’s Guide to Intellectual Property in the Digital Age: Copyrights, Patents, and Trademarks. ALA Editions of the American Library Association.

Vile, John R. (2009). Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. 1994. The First Amendment 

Williams v. Gaye 885 F. 3rd. 1150 (9th Cir. 2018)

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