Registering for a Copyright to Protect your Intellectual Property Online

Intellectual Property Management

We recently got a few questions on registering for a copyright and whether Amazon will enforce those rights. This is a rather broad question! Short answer, yes you can easily register for a copyright, and yes, Amazon will enforce those rights. The long answer is a little more nuanced.

How/Where do you register your materials for copyright protection?

Copyrights protect all sorts of work product, such as literary works, music, photography (including selfies!), art, jewelry, computer programs, blog content, video games, and TV shows and movies, among others. I have to admit to thinking it was pretty funny that the US Copyright Office uses the word selfies.

Processing Time for e-Filing6 – 8 months
Processing Time for Paper Forms8 – 10 months

So, just like Trademark registration, it’ll take awhile. The good news is that, just like trademark registration, the rights of first use still apply, as in if you wrote it, took a picture of it, made the music, etc, first – it’s your protected property.

What does Amazon protect?

For the most part, Amazon gets complaints under DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) due to people copying CDs, DVDs, or images that belong to others. Sellers who engage in this behavior are warned, and can be removed from the website, although it does usually take a few tries to get the seller removed, not just their listing.

Intellectual Property complaints should be filed through report a violation in Seller Central, or better, send to [email protected]

How can I protect my digital rights?

First, the easiest way is to contact a lawyer. We work close with a local lawyer, Austin Nowakowski, as Austin is a Washington based lawyer who works literally within stone throwing distance of the Amazon campus in South Lake Union in Seattle.

Second, you can determine the work products that you most want to protect and register them (yourself or with the help of legal counsel). These could be your instruction manuals, if they took a designer many hours and you many dollars, or the design and imagery for your product packaging, if that was also custom. For example, we worked on a project that was very giftable, and had our designer create a packaging approach that was completely custom to the client, with specific colors and shapes that were reminiscent of their logo (which was trademarked) and completely unique in the world.

There are many knockoffs/copycats on Amazon, so protect your significant financial investment. Click To Tweet

You may also want to copyright any YouTube instructional videos you make. Some niches are so competitive, that other sellers will copy what you’ve done word for word.

One area that brands can improve to protect themselves from unauthorized sellers is creating custom e-commerce packaging. It needs to be compliant with ISTA 3A/B or ISTA 6, if you’re testing to the new Amazon standard, but you can also copyright a unique label or box and put a picture of your packaging on the listing. Then, if another seller tries to sell a product they bought in the store or through a non-Amazon channel distributor on your listing, you can report them for selling an item that isn’t a reflection of your protected intellectual property.

Further, any seller who creates a new listing with your picture can be reported for copyright infringement. They ARE permitted to sell your authentic product, due to a variety of civil litigation around the first sale doctrine, but they are not allowed to use your images to do so.

The trick here is that you have your listing managed on Amazon, so if they create a duplicate page, you can report them for that violation, and merge the listings. Then once they’re on your page, selling their non-matching product because you’ve copyrighted your unique to Amazon packaging, then you can report them for copyright violations or inauthentic, since they’re not selling the product pictured.

Note: You CAN file trademark violations right now with Brand Registry 2.0, but I do caution sellers that if Amazon cracks down on unauthorized trademark violation reports, you could lose access to Brand Registry. So other types of protections are recommended in the medium and long term. I have no expectation of the current Brand Registry platform changing between now and the end of 2017.

So what does copyright not help with?

We asked our lawyer for help with this, and here’s his response to a particular client issue (specific product information has been removed):

Generally speaking, a copyright is created when a unique or original work is placed in to some tangible medium. As such, {Name} technically has an “unregistered” copyright the moment she created the image/work.  That being said, registering a copyright with the US Copyright office provides much more extensive rights and protections than not remaining unregistered.

{Name} should also be made aware that while the unique look and work would be copyrighted, this would not give her the ability to stop others from making similar pieces (although they would be prohibited from making identical or near identical pieces).  Simply put, a registered copyright would not single out the market for her on {product type}. 

Additionally, she mentions that she uses some photos and elements from a photo licensing company.  I would want to take a look at her license agreement for any such pictures to make sure her use of them in her product is not in violation of their copyright should she attempt to register. 

For anyone looking for support on their individual issues, we highly recommend Austin’s professionalism and attention to detail! I especially wanted to include his response in full as the note about public domain images is critical to many clients who use public domain images (as we do) in making hero images, or Enhanced Content, or in adding color and interest to a marketing insert for the product.

In summary, you already have significant protection in the US when you create any piece of “work” covered by copyright law. However, registration can provide significant additional benefits, including ways to manage distribution on Amazon, which is a perennial problem for many of our clients.



I need help managing my intellectual property on Amazon
About the Author
Rachel Johnson Greer is a global business strategist who specializes in helping entrepreneurs increase their internet product sales, curate their brand image online and avoid catastrophic legal threats. After getting her MBA in international business at Seattle University, she spent nearly a decade at Amazon working in product development. Since then, Rachel has founded companies that reached both multi-six figure and multi-seven figure growth in under three years.

As a business coach, she supports clients in everything from international product expansion to 4x-ing their sales through online retailers. Rachel is frequently sought out by the media and has appeared on the Today Show, CNBC, Business Insider, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. When she’s not working with clients, she’s scaring friends at parties with stories about the most problematic online products she’s found in their homes. She lives in Seattle, Washington.