Editor’s note: this article is for informational purposes only. Please consult a qualified legal professional before relying solely on the advice shared below.
Content. It’s the lifeblood of every information and education-based business. It shows the world your expertise, gives your brand its voice and brings in your business income. Naturally, it deserves protection.
But how do you manage the protection of your intellectual property (IP), especially given the realities of the internet’s ‘sharing economy’? When even Hollywood, with their high flying lawyers can’t control illegal downloads, file sharing and piracy, how can you keep your IP safe as a content and course creator?
The realities of the internet:
Even with all of today’s technology, we simply cannot fully protect our IP. If it goes online, it’s at risk of getting stolen, copied or accessed by people who haven’t paid for it. That’s a fact. If people really want to get their hands on it, they will.
Sometimes, the sharing of your content can actually be a good thing. New customers get exposure to you and it can open up whole new markets to you. However, theft, plagiarism, and piracy are all serious threats to your online course business when it gets taken too far.
If your own IP is being used against you in a competing manner, then you need to address the situation. When somebody uses your own content, IP and name to take money out of your business, bring in the legal experts immediately.
While reacting appropriately to having your IP stolen is all very well and good, setting safeguards is much better.
Here are 11 ways to protect the intellectual property of your online course content:
1. Get a Trademark
If you really are concerned about the protection of your IP, then it may be worth you considering getting a Trademark. It’s not suitable for every business, and it’s not cheap either. However, I would recommend at least speaking with a Trademark Attorney and getting their opinion on what your options could be.
2. Print & mail your content to yourself
Simply print out your whole course, including the curriculum plan, lesson plans and content; then mail it to yourself as tracked and recorded delivery, then never ever open it. If anyone ever reproduced your content and it went to court for dispute, you have the dated evidence of when your content was created and how long it has been around for. Simple, yet effective.
3. Time stamp your content
When it comes to online content, don’t forget that if you are sharing publicly, that is your proof that you published it first! Every blog post has a ‘published’ date on it. Every YouTube video, social media status updates, and live stream videos show the original post date too. If a replica piece of content comes out after yours was published, it’s glaringly obvious who got it from who.
4. Show your face
The first way I protect my content is to make almost all of my training in ‘talking head’ video format – literally meaning that it is my face on the screen delivering the training. Regardless of who is watching it and how they obtained it, it is still me who is clearly the expert. It is still ME, my face, my words, my head, my name, that is being presented to the audience – which means that I am the only one who can get the credit for it or any subsequent business from it.
5. Watermark your content
Ensure that your name and/or website URL or watermark is shown in your training videos and documents. That way, if your content has been shared illegally yet it has your logo, face and website on, it’s still you that will get the praise, credit, fans and subsequent business that may arise from someone watching that content.
Here is an example of a watermark I’ve placed on one of my YouTube videos:
6. Make it common knowledge
If you have a ‘saying’, an approach, a process or something you consider yours, don’t ask yourself how you can wrap it up and protect it. Instead, find a way to make it so big and so ‘you’, that no matter where and how it is used, everybody knows that it is yours. Say it in every video, every blog, on your website, in your email signature, every interview you do and everywhere you can in the public eye. Make it undeniably yours, but allow it to ‘belong’ to whoever would like to identify themselves with it too – after all, this is how you build a tribe.
This is precisely how and why I created ‘Edupreneurs’ and defined ‘Edupreneurship’. I wanted to become the undeniable leader of something, but do so in a way that I could give away something for others to assume as their own – an identity that they could call theirs, but that ultimately will always come back to me as the leader of birthing it in the first place.
7. Keep an eye out for duplicates of your content
Simply keep a watch out on your stuff. I use Google Alerts, which is a completely free Google tool which allows you to enter in various search terms, such as your name and certain words and phrases that you use. Once set up, Google will email you whenever those words or phrases are published online – then you can check them out and see if you have been plagiarized, properly referenced, or if it’s just a coincidence.
You can also use plagiarism checkers to see if your work has been duplicated anywhere. There are lots out there, but one of them is Copyscape, where you can insert the URL to your blog post for example, and it will then scan the web for matching content.
8. Have a Copyright Policy
You can create your own policies to help guide and educate the public about what is ok and what is not when it comes to your IP. Although this won’t necessarily protect you legally, the education can guide those who wish to reference you fairly how to do it in the right way. Simply write up a very clear list of what you deem as ‘ok’ when it comes to referencing you, using your content and sharing or reproducing it, and what is not ok. Give them some guidelines as to the types of things they would need to ask your permission for and what they can do without having to ask for written permission.
Finally, consider including a copyright symbol (©) or disclaimer on your content. Although it doesn’t offer extra protection it can make people think twice before they reproduce it.
9. Make your course truly valuable for only one person
IP is often accessed ‘naughtily’ when people share access to it by sharing their login details with each other. Over time, this can result in losing a significant amount of income as a course creator. However, if you make your courses highly interactive in nature, have private exclusive Facebook groups, discussion areas, one on one coaching elements, face to face training elements, live Q&A webinars and certificate issuance, it suddenly only becomes wholly valuable to one person, as the most valuable parts simply cannot be shared. This will never eliminate sharing, but including these ‘un-shareable’ elements certainly reduces it.
10. If you hold it back, you are the thief
It can be easy to fall into defensive mode, to protect our intellectual assets and lock it all in an inaccessible knowledge dungeon where it’s ‘safe from the pinchers’. But don’t hold back all of your knowledge and stop all of your millions of potential customers from hearing it, just so that a small handful of people can’t get it. There is a certain madness in this.
We can become so obsessed with protecting ourselves that we forget about those who we are trying to help by producing courses in the first place – ultimately ‘stealing’ their opportunity to learn. What is worse? Thousands of people having their lives changed by your content with a few people getting their hands on it ‘on the black market’, or nobody ever getting your help at all?
11. Remember, nobody can ever be you
The most wonderful thing about being human is that we are all so different. People can copy our words, our writing, our ideas and our services, but they can never BE us.
People don’t buy stuff, they buy people. Because people like people. The way we speak, the way we look, the tone of our voice, how we hold our bodies, who we do or don’t remind them of, how we make them feel in our non-verbal communication and much more of the subconscious subtleties that are really behind any buying decision we make, are all things that can never ever be taken from us no matter how hard someone tried.
I am very aware of the fact the despite my growing competition daily and the number of people that are now out there trying to take some of my market with my own content, they will never be me which means they are never going to be a threat.
You are the biggest trademark of your IP, so although we need to keep half an eye open, don’t let the fear of your IP being copied be a barrier to you changing people’s lives.11 Ways To Protect Your Intellectual Property in Online Courses @CordinerSarah Click To Tweet
Sarah Cordiner is an education expert, author, speaker, trainer, award winning online course creator and CEO of Main Training. With 11 years in business in the education industry and over 5,000 students in 121 countries – Sarah encapsulates a mesmerizing marriage of education and entrepreneurship as the EDUpreneur’s internationally acclaimed leader in ‘profitably educating your marketplace’.