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Your Copyright was Stolen - Now What?

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Your Copyright was Stolen - Now What?

By NicoleD
Published: July 23, 2009

What constitutes copyright infringement?

Copyright.gov defines copyright infringement as '...when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.'

Copyright law offers some exemptions from infringement liability for select authorized uses, but as a rule anyone who engages in the following activities without obtaining the copyright owner's permission may be liable for infringement:

  • Reproducing the work in copies
  • Preparing derivative works (spin-offs) based upon the work
  • Distributing copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • Performing the work publicly
  • Displaying the copyrighted work publicly - either directly or by means of a film, slide, television image, or any other device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show individual images nonsequentially
  • In the case of sound recordings, performing the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission

What if your work is stolen?

1. Verify your registration status.
If you haven't already done so, Copyright.gov advises that you file a certificate of registration as soon as possible. A registration certificate (or a rejection of an application for copyright) is a prerequisite for U.S. authors seeking to initiate a suit for copyright infringement in federal district court.* Timely registration can also help secure litigation advantages under the Copyright Act:

  • If a work is registered prior to infringement or within three months of publication, statutory damages will be available as an option for monetary relief, and the recovery for attorney's fees may be available.
  • A registration made before or within five years of publication of the work provides a presumption of the validity of the copyright and the facts stated within the registration certificate.

*There is no provision in the copyright law that provides any form of protection known as the 'poor man's copyright.'

2. Request removal of the content.
Contact the webmaster or author and request that the content be removed from publication. Many cases of suspected infringement are resolved after a simple, civil request is made. Keep your cease-and-desist message direct and avoid emotion or hostility -because, if the issue escalates, you'll likely want to keep records of the contact you have had with the accused party.

3. Gather evidence.
Print an identifiable screenshot or hardcopy of the suspected work.

4. Do some damage control.
Initiate a monitoring service. Private companies offer monitoring services that provide manual or automated scans of word/phrase duplication. You can also file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement notice with search engines to block the offending website from search results.

5. Assess the situation.
Hardly anyone would blame you for fuming if your hard work is stolen out from under you. Once the shock settles, it's important to take a step back and assess your options. If the alleged infringement won't substantially harm your business' reputation or financial success, it might not be worth the legal hassle to fight the case in court.

If you decide to initiate a suit in court, be sure to consult qualified legal counsel. The U.S. Copyright Office maintains copyright registrations and records, but does not act as a law-enforcing agency. Most copyright infringement cases are considered civil matters resolved in court, though, depending on specific circumstances, some cases may also constitute a criminal misdemeanor or felony.

  • Criminal Infringement: contact the Intellectual Property (IP) Program or the Financial Institution Fraud Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • Intellectual Infringement: The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice is the federal entity that prosecutes intellectual property crimes.

Related Resources

Message Edited by NicoleD on 07-23-2009 04:58 PM

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