How to Protect your Intellectual Property as an Independent Contractor

May 18, 2023
by workmade
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5 ways to make sure your work isn't stolen.

When you’re self-employed, your intellectual property is your bread and butter. It’s what sets you apart and makes you valuable to clients. But what happens when a client takes advantage of your intellectual and creative genius and you’re left feeling helpless? That’s where protecting your intellectual property comes in.

First things first, it’s important to understand what intellectual property is and what rights you have to protect it. This includes copyrights, trademarks, patents and contracts. Each type of protection provides different rights and benefits, so it’s essential to understand which type of protection applies to your work.

If a client pays you to produce work, likely they will want rights to that work for at least a certain amount of time. They did pay you to make it after all. But if you’re using existing intellectual property to facilitate that work, it’s important to protect everything you’ve done that they didn’t pay you for and to determine for how long and where your client can use your work.

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how to protect your intellectual property as a freelancer.

Keep the Receipts

One of the most important things you can do is to keep detailed records of all your work, including sketches, designs, and drafts. This will help you prove ownership of your work in case of any disputes or infringements. So, keep those receipts!

Get It In Writing

Another important step is to use contracts that clearly outline the terms of your work, ownership of your intellectual property, and any limitations on how your work can be used or shared. Make sure your contract includes language that protects your intellectual property rights and limits the client’s use of your work to the agreed-upon purpose. And if the client is asking you to sign a contract, please review it! Don’t be tempted to breezily sign your name, only to find out later that you screwed yourself out of compensation or ownership. Take the time to review and negotiate the terms, and if necessary, consult a lawyer. It’s a pain, but it’s worth it.

Register Your Work

Consider registering your work with the appropriate government agency. This can provide additional legal protection and can also make it easier to prove ownership in case of disputes. While it may seem like an unnecessary expense, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and protection. If you have a proprietary knowledge-base, framework, or system that you’ve built and regularly use, it’s worth protecting.

Monitor for Infringement

Keep an eye out for any unauthorized use of your work. This can include plagiarism, copying, or using your work without permission. Consider using tools like Google Alerts or specialized software to monitor for any unauthorized use of your intellectual property.

Take Action

If you believe your intellectual property has been infringed upon, take action immediately. This can include sending a cease-and-desist letter, filing a lawsuit, or contacting an intellectual property attorney for advice. Don’t let someone else profit from your hard work and creativity. For example, if your client has usage rights to use content you made for three months, and you see it bring used six months later - you have a case!

Protecting your intellectual property as a freelancer is crucial for your success. By understanding your rights, keeping records, using contracts, registering your work, monitoring for infringement, taking action, and staying informed, you can safeguard your ideas and work and ensure that you are properly paid. Remember, your intellectual property is valuable, so protect it like you would any other asset.

The information provided on this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. We recommend consulting with a qualified professional before making any legal decisions.

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