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Chapter 9. Legal Eagles: Understanding Y... > Commonly Asked Legal Questions

Commonly Asked Legal Questions

  1. How is a copyright different from a trademark and a patent?

    A copyright protects original works of expression, such as a musical score or a novel, but it does not specifically protect titles, names, or short phrases. A trademark protects logos, symbols, slogans, and distinctive words or phrases that distinguish a product in the marketplace. A patent stops the commercial use of inventions and new ideas from being used without the written consent of the patent owner.

  2. I have a great idea for a screenplay. Can I copyright it so no one will steal it?

    A screenplay or any other work (literature, music, art, etc.) can only be copyrighted when it is placed in a fixed form. In the case of your screenplay, fixed form means that the screenplay exists on paper. Once your screenplay is in a fixed form, a copyright is automatically assumed; however, that does not mean that someone can't take your ideas behind the screenplay. The actual copyright only protects your screenplay as it exists in fixed form and not the ideas associated with it.

  3. How can you protect a trade secret?

    First of all, if you have something special that you don't want stolen, then by all means, be very careful who sees it. If you have been very careful about sharing a recipe, ingredient, or an invention and another person discloses that information to others, you do have the right to sue that person. Additionally, you may be able to stop them from using your trade secret and collect for damages. It is important that you ask anyone who is about to see your trade secret to sign an NDA, which declares that he or she will not disclose or use your trade secret. If the individual breaks the signed agreement, you have the right to pursue legal action. Be cautious when dealing with large corporations—they're bigger than you and often have more leverage. You can assume that they have a first-rate legal department. Our advice when negotiating with major companies is to have an expert intellectual property attorney by your side. (Remember Kathy's near disaster with the well-known publisher?)

  4. I've created a software program that I would like to sell to the public. Should I look into licensing my program?

    Yes, you should license your software program if you plan to profit from its creation. A license will spell out how you want your software used and under what conditions. A license will also state how you will be compensated for your software program. Like the NDA, it is wise to have your attorney draft this licensing agreement for you.

  5. Do you have to collect sales tax when you sell items out-of-state?

    If you are selling an item (i.e., book, gift basket, brow shaver) in a mail order catalog then you are not required to charge a sales tax outside your own state. For example, if you live in New Jersey and sell gift baskets through the mail to people in Iowa, you do not need to collect sales tax. The same rule applies to the Internet where you only have to collect sales tax on individuals living in your state. The exception to this rule is if you have sales representation to customers in other states. If, for instance, you have a gift rep in Maryland, Georgia, and Virginia, then you would need to collect sales tax in those states.



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