An Online Freelancers Guide To Intellectual Property Law

Among the many challenges facing online freelancers, few are as important as protecting an idea from theft. Intellectual property laws have been put in place to provide an incentive for creators to produce works for mass consumption by ensuring they are paid for their efforts. A law firm like Quinn & Scattini that specialize in IP can help ensure that these transactions are on the up-and-up.

What is intellectual property?

From a legal standpoint, property does not need to be something you can walk on or hold in your hands. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, such as literary and artistic works, designs and symbols, and names and images used for commercial purposes. They are as real as physical property. Two things must be present for a work to considered intellectual property: a creation and laws to protect the rights to own and use that creation.

Protections provided under the law

International intellectual property laws that protect a creative person’s works throughout the world don’t exist. Protections are granted on a country-by-country basis. However, most countries offer protection to all works under certain conditions. The two protections that enjoy the greatest international unanimity are also the most pertinent to online freelancers – copyrights and trademarks.

Copyrights and trademarks

In general, copyrights protect literary and artistic works. Trademarks protect signs or symbols that distinguish among brands. To protect your latest painting, novel or even online apps, videos and podcasts, a copyright is probably the best route. To protect a newly designed name, logo or artistically-rendered advertising slogan, a trademark is probably needed. The application fees are typically not large, but the process can be complicated. If your work has sufficient monetary value, you will probably want to enlist the services of a law firm that specializes in such matters.

Practical considerations

Unlike creative persons who work for corporations with their legions of lawyers, online freelancers have to look out for themselves. While some degree of intellectual property theft is inevitable, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Understanding the basics of IP protection is necessary to determine when someone can use your work, what kind of permission they need, and what rights you are granting and retaining for the use of your work.


Your most basic protection is a contract. While it never hurts to have a formal legal document, a contract can take the form of a well-crafted email that spells out the terms of your agreement: Who owns the IP? When does the transfer of ownership takes place? How long does it last? How can the work be used? Your contract should explicitly spell out the terms of the deal.

For most freelancers, some level of IP theft is just the cost of doing business. There will always be scammers out there angling for free content. Fortunately, in most instances, simply getting in touch with a client and taking the time to reason with him produces the desired results. However, if that approach fails to bear fruit, it may be necessary to get the lawyers involved to obtain the legal remedies you deserve.