How Can I Protect My Intellectual Property As A Freelancer?
Protecting your intellectual property as a freelancer is important. Follow our C-R-E-A-T-I-V-E acronym guide to find out how.
Working as a freelancer has its benefits, such as devising your own work hours and being able to work remotely. However, being a freelancer is not without its pitfalls and drawbacks. The freelance world is full of artists, writers, playwrights, designers, musicians, composers, developers, content creators, graphic artists, programmers, and producers. Accordingly, one of the main hurdles you might commonly encounter is protecting your intellectual property as a freelancer.
In this article, we’ll be providing a step by step C-R-E-A-T-I-V-E acronym guide so you can have all the benefits of freelance work whilst protecting your work.
Contracts & Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs)
Contract law can be very useful in protecting your work. It may start with a simple agreement that outlines when, how, for how long, and for what price your work is allowed to be exploited. Contracts can stipulate any of these terms, and are legally binding. Essentially, putting legal boundaries in place with the people you work with, for, or alongside is a helpful way of mitigating wrongful exploitation of copyright. Secondly, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) can also help in minimising how your work is exploited or transferred from one mind to another. When working on disruptive projects, the success of which relies on secrecy until completion, an NDA can be your best friend. It is wise to seek the advice of a contract lawyer if you are unsure about your situation.
Rely on yourself
Rely on your own expertise. Moreover, trust your own judgment, and your own ability. Where possible, be the sole owner of intellectual property. Sometimes, sharing ideas and concepts in the development stage is unavoidable. However, try your best to forge ahead solo. The more people you rely on in your business ventures, the greater the chance there is for the work you create to get pilfered, exploited, misrepresented or appropriated. Ultimately, being the sole owner of intellectual property makes your situation much less complicated, and far easier to keep control of. If you want allow others to use your intellectual property for a period of time, you can licence your work to them.
Ease of access – Open Source Versus Secret
Ease of access goes both ways. On the one hand, giving your work to open source platforms for licensing or free use can provide you with a way to protect yourself insofar as the fact that your work becomes recognisable, valued and admired in your respective industry. Accordingly, if it is misrepresented, or wrongfully exploited by someone outside of that platform, it becomes obvious. This will deter people from trying to wrongfully exploit your work if they are subject to the scrutiny of scathing criticism from your community. Alternatively, keeping your work sequestered, out of sight, and secret can also help this cause. It is important to think about this both ways, as it can work for or against you. It may nonetheless depend largely on your own unique circumstances or trade.
Attribution to your work is key to protection. Where you can watermark, title, or stamp your intellectual property fingerprint, the better chance you have of deterring wrongful exploitation of copyright. This goes beyond just trademarks and branding. For example, if you are a music producer, it might mean putting an audio tag line at the start of a song. If you are a graphic artist, it may mean putting a watermark in the corner of your design. Overall, this a great way of ensuring people know it is your work. Furthermore, it can also be a fantastic form of free advertising.
Trademarks & patents
Trademarks are a great way to ensure attribution remains consistent. These, along with patents, are a strong and legally binding way of protecting your ideas, branding, and intellectual property. Whilst this can be a costly exercise, the are some instances where what you stand to gain by putting in place these kinds of protections is of considerably more value than what you outlay in this process.
Intuition – use it!
Intuition is an undervalued tool. If you have not worked with a client before, or are yet to establish a trusting dynamic, err with caution. Never send out completed work to people who have either neglected to pay you for that work yet, or have proven untrustworthy in the past. It can even be a matter of avoiding working with certain people all together. Know your clients, your colleagues, and your industry as best you can. The useful intuition that stems from prior experience is not to be underestimated.
Variety and unpredictability
Variety of any kind keeps people guessing. Whether it is the manner in which you store your protected work, or the manner in which you create and display it, try new ways to make the wrongful appropriation of your work much more difficult to achieve. Whilst routine structure to your business is important, finding new ways to keep changing the goal posts will go a long way to keeping wrongful exploitation of copyright at bay. For example, if you have a client that you think might exploit your intellectual property without paying for it or without permission, try and rotate the means with which they can acquire it. You could keep changing passwords on shared project platforms like Dropbox or Slack with each new commissioned project.
Exact match domains
Exact match domains are key to preserving your business or brand identity its own unique place in the market. It is less likely that your content can be exploited without scrutiny if you hold a known spot in the online market space. Furthermore, getting exact match handles and URLs for your social media platforms also helps. Having a strong online presence makes it much more difficult for people to wrongfully exploit your intellectual property. It prevents wrongful exploitation by limiting people posing as your business or brand with too much ease.
An important part of your livelihood is protecting your intellectual property as a freelancer. This is key to your success and continued prosperity as a creative sole trader. For further reading, the Australian Government agency for Intellectual Property website contains more important information on this topic. Hopefully, the foregoing recommendations can assist in protecting your copyright. However, it may also be wise to consult with an intellectual property lawyer.
Paul is an intern at Lawpath, and is currently studying a combined Arts/Laws degree with a major in criminology at Macquarie University. Paul has an interest in legal tech, which complements his broader interest in cyber crime/security and the way in which it is changing the world.