This industry by nature is for creatives, entrepreneurs, and relentless hard-workers… and the beauty and ingenuity that we bring to the world is protected, provided we have a bit of understanding.
I’ll be honest, when I saw an ad for an AI-powered ceremony-writing program, my jaw dropped, and I uttered the words- “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” and I couldn’t prevent the immediate paralysis of fear to overcome me. I am done, I thought. This is it.
But the more I thought about it, the more empowered I became. Creatives in the wedding industry must hone in on human emotion and connection in order to breathe life into their businesses. And the last time I checked (read: never have) robots don’t have a pulse, nor the ability to feel or reciprocate compassion. This led me instead to arm myself with knowledge and some legal defense. I did a lot of research about creative property protection, copyright laws, and how to understand how my hard work could potentially be misused, and the rights I have if (and when) that happens.
While technology is developing at an alarming speed, the need to protect creative material is nothing new. And copycats- you know, those talentless sloths who would rather steal art than put in the hours, the learning, and find the courage to contribute something unique to the world, have been around for as long as art has existed. Whether the replication of your work comes in human or robot form, there are laws to protect your creative property.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so go on and flatter me. I’ll repay you with a pretty little court summons.
Below is what I have taught myself through research. I am by no means a copyright lawyer*. I’m a writer, entrepreneur, and a scorpio who isn’t afraid to use all of the tools in the legal system’s arsenal to protect my creative output, and to prevent myself from becoming discouraged by what is an inevitable reality.
*Please read the disclaimer, below this post.
Here is what I have learned, and how to translate this into helpful ways to protect yourself and the beautiful, original ideas you bring to this industry and to the world.
Copyright protects an individual’s ownership of their creativity when it is expressed through writing or visual production (as in photographs or video). It means that during the creator’s lifetime, no one can use what they have made without permission or without acknowledging who created it and paying for the right to use it. (https://creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org/guide/intellectual-property-and-how-it-can-be-protected/)
Copyright refers to a branch of intellectual property law that aims to protect creations such as writing, creative process, and art. When you create something new, copyright law automatically gives you full ownership rights to your creation.
If you write a custom ceremony, have created an original approach to the wedding planning process, or even crafted a blog post in your own words, you’ve just created something new. Once you put that creation out into the world and thus have allowed the public to access it, copyright law comes into effect to protect you if someone else steals a part of (or all of) your creation.
If someone does do something to violate your copyright, such as reuse your ceremony and attribute it to themself, or try to claim authorship of your process, or frankly, use your photographs/video to “create” a website and company on their own, copyright law makes it possible for you to enforce your rights against the other and maintain your ownership. (https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/)
Nope! It isn’t necessary to register your copyright to allow thesse rights. However, registering comes with some benefits that could make the time and fee worth spending. One important benefit of is that you’ll have the ability to bring a lawsuit against someone who infringes your copyright… if you’ve registered your copyright.
It’s not uncommon to wait until someone infringes your rights to register your copyright and bring about a lawsuit, but you’ll have a much stronger case if you can show that your copyright has been registered for a longer period of time. Consider what you have to protect and if you fear that it is or will be replicated.
For more info on U.S. Copyright registration, visit this site.
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device (as in a computer or smartphone) or delivered verbally and recorded. Well now, isn’t that nice? Your brainchild is protected, from fruition, once there’s a “record” of its existence. (https://www.copyright.gov/help)
Copyrighted work, by definition, has to follow three specific qualifications. In order to be protected, it must be a work of authorship; it must be original; and it must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression. See below for a breakdown:
The subject matter of copyright embraces a wide range of works, whether published or unpublished, including: Literary or textual works of all kinds (such as ceremonies, stories, poems, outlines, letters, emailed messages). Pictorial, and graphic works (such as sketches, paintings, photographs, drawings, designs, original templates). Sound recordings (performances of custom ceremonies, speeches) plus most websites, and other original, digitized works.
“Originality” is a constitutional requirement, but it is a minimal requirement under copyright. An unoriginal or arguable trivial work can be original enough for copyright protection, so long as it is not copied from an earlier work and still contains a tiny spark of creativity. This is where things can get fuzzy, but original work with a bit of rearranging is still blatantly able to be protected.
A work must be “fixed,” under copyright law, to enable copyright protection. This term refers to the requirement that an embodiment of the work be set down or “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” for a more than transitory period. A draft of a ceremony or a “working” wedding day timeline still holds up within the meaning of copyright law. But the most substantial and creative improvisation is not “fixed” if not yet finalized, agreed upon, or recorded. (https://assets.fenwick.com/legacy/FenwickDocuments/2015-03-17-Copyright-Basics.pdf)
To the bottom of every page of your website, every page of a document (paper or virtual). I’m a writer, and while my writing must be protected, my ceremony creation process is my own work as well. Anything you produce, from floor plans, timelines, client questionnaires, is your property and should be protected.
I added this clause to my contract, for both Officiating and Consulting:
Intellectual Property Protection
All rights of the ceremony are considered the intellectual property of Have Lover, Will Travel LLC, are owned by the Licensor, and shall remain with the Licensor. In the event of termination of this Agreement for any reason, the Licensor shall continue to own all Licensed Subject Matter.
The Client agrees that the Ceremony is Licensed Subject Matter and that such Content is or may be protected by copyrights, trademarks, service marks, patents, trade secrets or other proprietary rights and laws. The Client agrees to abide by all copyright notices, information, and restrictions contained in any Content. The Client agrees not to, directly or indirectly, sell, license, rent, modify, distribute, copy, reproduce, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, publish, adapt, edit, create derivative works from, or otherwise exploit any Content or any other submissions or other proprietary rights not owned by The Client (i) without the consent of the respective owners or other valid right, and (ii) in any way that violates any third party right. For purposes of this Agreement, “Content” includes but is not limited to the Ceremony, Ceremony Outline, and HLWT Ceremony creative process. Client may, to the extent the Licensor expressly authorizes Client to do so, download or copy Content, and other items displayed on the applicable website for download, for personal use only, provided that Client maintains all copyright and other notices contained in such Content. Client agrees not to store any significant portion of any Content in any form. Copying or storing of any Content for other than personal, noncommercial use is expressly prohibited without prior written permission from the Licensor identified in such Content’s Copyright notice.
Depending on your line of work, make adjustments. Save all signed contracts and yes, virtual signatures are just as valid as pen-on-paper. Consider adding boxes to your contract next to each section for clients to initial, reiterating that they have read, understood, and agree to each section.
Be weary of who you share with, Change permissions to Google docs once the project is finished, For officiants, consider creating a separate contract for certain vendors before working with them for the first time.
Well, you won’t. But do your research. Impostors owe are lazy by definition and “self-promotion” is tempting and accessible. If you have a bad feeling about a certain vendor, dig in. Try “googling” certain sentences, phrases, or even photos of your work. People replicate work to create a name or image for themselves, so this is usually publicized. Years ago a restaurant was discovered in Granada, Spain that had copied everything from Roberta’s in Brooklyn, and I mean everything, from the name, art work, menu offerings (although, proposterously and imposterously, the pizza-diameters were all wrong…) and style.
Another devastating real-life story is that the Jansport founders were the original inventors of the dome-shaped tent. The creators, an inventive and good-hearted camping bunch, didn’t feel the need to trademark the design. And let’s just say that if they had, they would be able to all afford the glamping lifestyle, for life… (whether they chose to accept it or otherwise) but they were inherently too trusting and couldn’t imagine someone stealing their work for profit. If you are creating something new, original, and covetable, it will be noticed and will be used as fodder for hungry impostor, or those who will seek the lazy way for a makeshift roof over their heads.
Think of it this way. If I was sitting in front of La Guernica and given the exact same tools and paints that the Picasso used to create this masterpiece, and had a detailed, step-by-step guide of how to recreate the painting and even had a keen understanding and innate need for an emotional response to the pain and suffering wrought by the Spanish Civil War, I would produce an absolutely horrific reproduction. And I guarantee that the more I tried to reproduce it, the worse it would get. Any work that has been stolen or used will be stymied from evolution if it is not from the mind of the creator. So keep evolving and keep creating with the bold confidence that your passion and talent are limitless.
For most of us in this industry, our brands and ourselves reciprocal. Meaning that I am the face of my company, I am the soul of my brand, and every nuanced connection, communication, and utterance is a reflection of who I am and what I have built and am able to continue building. While this may seem to be a warning, it should instead be considered an opportunity. Human connection and service cannot be easily imitated, and certainly not replaced by AI. Concentrate on the human connection that you alone provide.
Recently, after a ceremony, I said silently to myself- “Let’s see your robot do that.” (much to the chagrin, I’m sure, to the videographers who were attempting to capture the guests’ interactions) The emotional reactions I witness and the stunning exchange of energy that occurs during one of my ceremonies is what fills my heart and relentlessly inspires me. It is the most gratifying experience in the world. A robot or AI-produced ceremony can’t stand in my place. And if I come across a CGI version of myself performing my work, I will be extremely flattered… and then very, very rich.
Protect yourself, entrepreneurs. And never stop creating.
This article is not a substitute for professional legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice.