A copyright is a legal construct that protects your original work from being used by others for their gain. In the United States, your copyright is automatic once your creation is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” You can register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office for further legal protections. The good news, however, is the basic protections exist without any additional action on your part. According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, when you create something original and publish it online, it is automatically copyrighted – whether you post the copyright symbol or not!
The challenge, however, is how to protect your copyrighted material from being used inappropriately by someone else. In the online world, this challenge compounded by the ease which a plagiarizer can copy and use your content as their own – with a simple right click and copy. It can be quite difficult to discover when your copyrighted material has been infringed upon, and you must closely keep track of your online content. Here are some simple tips to get you started:
Discourage theft using copyright notices on your blog. But why, you may ask, since it isn’t necessary to confer copyright status to your material? Well, theoretically, a simple reminder that your website material is copyrighted may scare off a potential plagiarizer.
Use a search engine or special software to monitor the web for your content. This can be as easy as doing a Google search or setting up Google alerts for unique text from your website, or using a plagiarism-detection tool. There are also services that monitor your blog and alert you when they discover duplicate content somewhere else on the internet.
Hopefully, following those two simple preventative measures will protect your content, but if you discover someone using your online material illegally, what do you do then? There are a number of ways you can go about enforcing your copyright, from simple requests to full blown lawsuits. Let’s discuss a few.
Take action to have the copyright-infringing material taken down. A good first step is to document everything – your original material, any drafts you may have demonstrating that you were the creator, and the website or online location and date of the infringement. Next, simply request the webmaster or owner of the site containing infringing material to take it down. It’s possible they did not realize it was stolen material and will be happy to comply with your request.
If these steps don’t get you anywhere, you may have to take more serious measures. You can choose to send the website owner or host a cease and desist letter, many examples of which you can find online for free, or you may want to contact Google to have them remove the infringing website from their search results. Google’s policy and submission form is located here.
Another official option is to send the infringing website host an official Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice to take down the copyrighted material. The Act provides legal immunity to service providers who, when given notice, remove the infringing material. Service providers register their agents’ contact information with the Copyright Office. The way it works is that when you discover copyright infringement, you as the copyright holder send notice to the agent of the service provider that is hosting the infringing material, and they should then remove the material or restrict access to it. There are numerous examples of these “take down” notices online, and you can find the list of agents here.
Agents and service providers generally do not make a determination about whether the material is, in fact, copyright infringement, but rather must act quickly to remove the material once they’ve received notice. For that reason, an unscrupulous copyright infringer could attempt to have your material taken down before you can act. So remain diligent and monitor your material using one of the tools we discussed above.
Finally, if you get nowhere with the above efforts, you may want to approach a copyright lawyer about your legal options. This is the most expensive and time-consuming step, so it’s likely to be your last resort. However you decide to approach copyright infringement, prevention and constant monitoring will help you protect your online intellectual property.
Rachel Brenke is a lawyer, author and business consultant. She is currently helping professionals all over the world initiate, strategize and implement strategic business and marketing plans through various mediums of consulting resources and legal direction.