Footers on Your Presentations Aren’t Irrelevant

So, I’m not your lawyer, but…

I’ve seen many presentations over the past day or so that have been missing some crucial legal boilerplate.

Copyright:   Any time you give a PowerPoint/Keynote, etc. presentation the footer should read “(C) 200X ‘Company Name’ Proprietary and Confidential” where X is the year that you are claiming protection.

It’s technically true that you don’t have to have a copyright notice to claim protection of the IP that you created under U.S. law.  The problem is without putting people on notice, you may lose your ability to say they’ve purposely infringed.  Also, the year is crucial because without the notice, you may end up getting into a fight about “who created something first” if someone is trying to steal your ideas and thoughts.  It takes two seconds to put a notice and may save you many headaches later.  If you think about all of the cases that one hears of Company X stealing Company Y’s idea, my bet is that there is a lot of legal discovery on presentations, because that’s what most people start with when building a company – the idea, not the actual execution.

Trademark:  If you have a name / logo and want to protect it, you must include “TM” in superscript after your mark, or your are not protecting it.  If you’ve registered with the PTO, you can utilize the (R) superscript, but otherwise, you must use “TM”.

Boring post, I’m sorry, but after three days of seeing many presentations not conform to these rules, I thought that I should mention.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Maria for sending along an updated link to the Copyright Basics

  • These are the types of things that rack up demerits in my "No Attention to Detail" and/or "Half-Assed" columns. Get enough of them and I end up flipping the Bozo Bit on your pitch.

  • Mundane but excellent post. We started copyrighting all of our documents we present and use after one client (a law firm no less) basically went to school on our work product. Fantastically unethical on their part but a good lesson for us. Thanks for the post.

  • Saul LIeberman

    Not quite. This is from http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#hsc :

    The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U.S. law, although it is often beneficial.

    Use of the notice may be important because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendant’s interposition of a defense based on innocent infringement in mitigation of actual or statutory damages, except as provided in section 504(c)(2) of the copyright law. Innocent infringement occurs when the infringer did not realize that the work was protected.

    The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all the following three elements:

    1. The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word “Copyright,” or the abbreviation “Copr.”; and
    2. The year of first publication of the work. In the case of compilations or derivative works incorporating previously published material, the year date of first publication of the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article; and
    3. The name of the owner of copyright in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

    Example: © 2006 John Doe

  • Jason I'm sure that you by no means intend to confuse readers into thinking that absence of a (c) notice or TM superscript means the content or brand owner has forfeited his/her rights or otherwise donated same to the public domain, right?

    • Absolutely. I'm not talking about forfeiting of ANY rights, but if you don't put people on notice, then you are in a much worse position for protecting your rights.

      • Yeah, but —

        Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries (as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration) are not protected by copyright. My guess is that the value in the presentations that we are talking about is in the ideas, methods, etc — which are not protected by copyright.

        But sure, it doesn't hurt (unless it lulls you into thinking that you've protected your ideas, etc).

  • My understanding has always been that the copyright notice merely prevents people from claiming ignorance as a defense if they get caught infringing. I'd appreciate a more in-depth post on this.

  • You are correct. I think my language was a little loose and I'll tighten it up. I was not trying to say that you don't have protection, rather without putting people on notice, you'll have a worse position to argue from about what was copy written and what wasn't. Good post.

  • If I own a domain name, am I covered by a copyright. Obviously no one can use that domain, but what about the name. Do I need a registered trademark?

    • Totally different issues.  URL is your website.  A copyright gives notice that you are disclosing intellectual property that you’ve created.  As for registering your name, I’m not a huge fan of the cost and expense of registering a TM immediately, but you should do once you have the money.  Changing your name / branding can be time consuming and expensive. 

      Having the URL is a good sign / protection – but nothing is as good having a registered trademark.  In the meantime, use the “TM” superscript to put folks on notice.