Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. Nothing in this blog post should be construed as legal advice. This post is intended for information purposes only. Readers are encouraged to do their own research and seek the proper counsel of a licensed Intellectual Property attorney for advice and assistance.
There is nothing more upsetting than putting your blood, sweat and tears into producing good quality content only to have it copied and used by a content thief. This blog post discusses ways that you can protect written works published over the internet. I explain some actions that can be taken to help prevent and stop copyright infringement.
What is a Copyright?
United States Copyright law protects original works of art and authorship (articles, print and digital publications, graphic images, photography, quilting, music compilations, audio books, movies, videos, etc.). Copyright does not protect research, ideas or facts (Unique expression of ideas and facts are copyrightable). A copyright exists from the moment that a work is created and put into a fixed, tangible medium.
There is a lot of ignorance and apathy pertaining to copyright law. All of this confusion and nonchalance can lead to copyright infringement. Some people think that their illegal activities won’t be discovered or that they can’t (or won’t) be sued if they aren’t using the copyrighted work for commercial purposes. A segment of copyright infringers justify their shenanigans by citing the original source of the work, and then fail to ask for permission prior to using a copyrighted work.
Some people are confused about what constitutes fair use or what works are in the public domain. They have the mistaken belief that information disseminated over the internet is free for the taking or that it is all in the public domain. I recently read a comment posted in a forum, stating that YouTube videos are “public property”, which is inaccurate. It is unfortunate that people lack knowledge about this important subject and then spread their ignorance. Comments such as this illustrate that people are confused about what constitutes “fair use” and what works are in the public domain.
Many don’t realize that they could be held liable for copyright infringement by using copyrighted works without permission. There are very serious consequences for copyright infringement including lawsuit, fines, damages, attorney’s fees and costs.
How Copyright differs from Trademarks and Patents:
An awful lot of confusion exists over the subjects of copyrights, trademarks and patents. Here’s a very rudimentary explanation; a trademark protects slogans, phrases, logos, and service marks. Some examples of trademarks are the logo for Apple and Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way”. A patent protects unique ideas expressed in the form of invention. Applications for trademark and patents must be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Filing an application for trademark or patent is a much more complex process than copyright registration. Their website is www.uspto.gov.
What can you do to protect your written works published over the internet?
Get your work registered.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976 (Title 17 of the U.S. Code), a work is automatically protected from the moment that a work is created and recorded. I recommend that any author or artist making their work available to the public, get their work copyright registered. Getting your works registered with the United States Copyright Office provides the greatest level of protection under U.S. law. Artists, authors, musicians, and producers may get information about how to apply for copyright protection of their work by visiting www.copyright.gov .
The application can be filled out on paper and sent through the mail or e-filed at copyright.gov. A copy of the best edition of the work must be included with the application. It costs $35 to file an application online (single works by one author) and $65 to file “text” applications by mail. Please note that these are the fees associated with “text” applications for single works by a single author. The type of application and fees required may vary on a case by case basis. For example, different applications are required for groups of work and works created by more than one author. Fees are subject to change. There are many factors which must be considered to determine which type of copyright application is appropriate for your situation.
After the application is reviewed and accepted, you will receive your certificate in the mail. A copy of the work will be available through the Library of Congress. If the application is rejected you will receive notification from the U.S. Copyright Office as to the reasons. Their fees are nonrefundable. If you don’t feel competent to handle the paperwork on your own, then it is wise to have an Intellectual Property attorney file the application in order to avoid confusion, mistakes and delays.
Include a copyright notice on your work.
A copyright notice isn’t required in order for the work to be protected. However, it is a way to claim your work and put the public on notice that you are the copyright owner. The way to place a valid copyright notice on the work is to include the Copyright symbol, © by holding the “Alt” key and typing the 0169. Then include the year that the work was created and published and the name of the copyright owner all in the same line, in the copyright notice.
Set up Google Alerts. This step is fairly straightforward. Just type in the phrases or sentences that you want to monitor. Insert your e-mail address into the appropriate box. You will receive an e-mail alert each time that those phrases or sentences are used on the internet.
Check for plagiarism using search engines Copy and paste selected text from your content into Google and see what turns up in the results. I check using unique phrases and passages from my content set in quotation marks.
Subscribe to Copyscape. Running a check of your content through Copyscape software will return results of webpages with content similar to the webpage that you check. There are both free and paid versions of Copyscape. The free version allows a limited amount of searches per month. There is no cost to register for the free version of Copyscape.
Get The Evidence Together Make screenshots of the copied webpages using software like Adobe Pro in PDF format or use the Microsoft Windows Snipping Tool. Keep your evidence in a safe and convenient place in case you need to present it later.
Do a Who-is search. This will help you discover the identity of the infringer and locate their contact information. You can do a who-is search at www.whois.is.
Send an e-mail. Contact the copyright infringer by e-mail (or snail mail if possible) and demand that your content be removed. The e-mail is basically a Cease and Desist letter. Give them a specified amount of time to remove the content before you take further action. Keep your communications professional and be sure to reserve copies of all communications.
File a DMCA takedown notice. DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. These can be filed with the website where the copied content appears, the web hosting service of that website, and the most popular search engines. It is basically a complaint, asking for the plagiarized content be removed. If the takedown notice is accepted, then the web host will either remove the copied webpage or the entire website. Search engines will de-index the copied content from search engine results. The webmaster of any website where copied content is displayed will delete the copied content from their servers. Third party providers like, web hosts, search engines, and webmasters will cooperate in order to avoid liability and keep their safe harbor status under the DMCA.
Exercise good judgment in filing these and make sure that it is done in good faith. People aren’t required to ask for permission from the original copyright owner in cases of fair use. But, this is a very complex and seemingly ambiguous area of Intellectual Property law.
Improperly filing a DMCA takedown notice could backfire. There are notorious cases of people wrongly filing DMCA takedown notices, when more suitable legal actions applied (example, defamation of character). For more information on filing a takedown notice, visit www.chillingeffects.org. Like Copyright registration, DMCA takedown notices are public record.
Copyright infringement lawsuit. This action is usually taken as a last resort and to make the victim whole again. Having works registered with the United States Copyright Office gives the owner a greater legal standing in the event that a lawsuit is filed. Copyright registration is required in order to file a copyright infringement lawsuit. This will definitely require the help of an attorney. A judgment against the defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit can result in an award of attorneys’ fees, costs and damages incurred. Also, the court may issue a cease and desist order to have the copied content removed and destroyed.
Is loaded with information about how to use their e-gov system for electronic filings and circulars pertinent to copyright law.
Library of Congress website:
Websites where you can find legal information and ask questions: