Developing sales materials such as brochures can be a long, difficult and frequently expensive process. After you put in the sweat and money to develop a brochure for your business, you can rest assured that U.S. copyright law prevents your competitors -- or anyone else -- from hijacking your work for their own uses. As with all printed materials, advertising brochures receive protection of copyright law.
U.S. copyright law instantly grants copyright protections to the maker of any creative product as soon as it’s finalized in a tangible format. Because brochures can only exist in a tangible form -- as opposed to an unrecorded song, which is intangible -- as soon as a brochure’s designer creates the advertisement, he receives copyright protections. You aren’t required to register your brochure with the U.S. Copyright Office to secure any of the rights granted to a copyright holder, but registration allows you to seek higher monetary damages if someone infringes upon your work.
Since 1903’s Bleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Company case, the Supreme Court has held that illustrations created even for primarily utilitarian purposes in advertising receive copyright protection, even if the images merely depict products. Since this ruling, the threshold for claiming copyright on an advertisement such as a brochure, has been interpreted as very low, with nearly any advertising that involves a modicum of creativity or originality receiving copyright protections. This extends to individual parts of a brochure, such as photographs or illustrations, or to the complete product itself.
Whoever holds copyright to a brochure has sole right to use it in essentially any way imaginable. Copyright holders are the only ones who may duplicate and distribute a brochure. They also control sole rights to altering its content, reusing portions of it and making derivative works based on the original brochure. Practically speaking, as a business owner, you can’t copy or use elements from other brochures in your sales materials, nor can others use your brochure for their own purposes, without violating copyright.
If you design your company’s brochure yourself, it’s pretty straightforward that you own its copyright. Ownership may become a little hazy when a third party creates the brochure. If one of your employees designed the flier as part of his employment, your company owns the copyright. If you commission a third party to produce the brochure for you, it’s a work made for hire, and, again, your company owns the copyright. To cover your bases, however, you may want the designer to sign a standard work-for-hire agreement to ensure clarity about the ownership of the brochure’s copyright.