What Business Owners Need to Know About Copyright Law

The Internet is an amazing resource, but also a double-edged sword: we can share, promote, and sell our work, but people who find it may also (intentionally or unintentionally) take it to use for themselves—without permission, payment, or even a credit and link.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can take TODAY to assert your ownership:

  • Always put a copyright notice on your work: © Copyright Owner. All Rights Reserved. This puts people “on notice” that your work is protected and not free to use.
  • It’s helpful to add an email address where interested parties can contact you. If there isn’t space on the work itself for that extended notice, add it to labels and packaging. Also make sure that you have a copyright notice in the footer of your website and blog posts.
  • You may decide to allow certain uses by attaching a Creative Commons license.[i] (Below, see how I have applied a Creative Commons license to this article for use beyond “All Rights Reserved.”)
  • Different types of media require different approaches. For photos, consider posting at a lower resolution, adding a watermark, or disabling “right click”. For text, you can create a Google alert using unique phrases from your work. There are also free and paid services that will track your work online.
  • Stephanie Faris suggests taking a photo of your work on a table or shelf and posting that to show your skills/talent.[ii]
  • Go to your website, scroll down to the bottom, and review your Terms & Conditions. Are permitted uses/prohibited uses clearly defined? This is contract law, rather than copyright law, but users of your site must abide by those terms, even if they have not been asked to “agree”. (However, requiring that they indicate they have read and agreed to these terms is another good “on notice” ) Infringers who have violated your T&C are liable.[iii]
  • Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.[iv] Although you don’t have to, this can be done online, is not expensive, and has definite benefits. It provides a public record—further proof of your ownership of the copyright on the work. In addition, registration is required if you want to take an infringer to court, and it may entitle you to greater damages if you win.
  • You may have heard of “the poor man’s copyright”—you mail a copy or photo of the work to yourself, with the unopened postmarked envelope serving as proof if needed. In the digital age, there are also online “date stamp services”. However, neither of these options provides the proof and protection of a certificate from the U.S. Copyright Office.
  • You don’t have to register every work. You can choose to register particular works that you deem most valuable or periodically register groups of published OR unpublished works, e.g., Susan Smith’s Poems (January – March, Year.)

 

But let’s face it: no matter what you do on the front end to protect your work, some people may just be determined to take it. When that happens, you have to decide whether it’s worth your trouble to challenge the infringer. Evaluate each case: Does Fair Use allow them to use your work? Is the infringer making money from your work? Does it seem to be unintentional?

If you decide to act, here are some steps you can take to defend your copyright:

  • Email the infringer to inform them nicely that they have used your work without permission. You can then explain how they can purchase the work, ask them to take it down, ask them to give you credit and include a link to your site, or split the income. You can even send them an invoice for the use of your work. (It’s up to you.) Give them a deadline to respond.
  • Contact the platform hosting the site (WordPress, etc.) and ask that your content be removed. Each social media site also has a copyright infringement section with instructions on how to request removal.
  • Do a WHOIS or DNS search to find the host registrar and file a DMCA takedown notice.
  • Hire an attorney and go to court.
  • OR you can decide to chalk it up to the cost of doing business and return your attention to doing what you love: creating.

There are no guarantees, but implementing the suggestions above can give you the peace of mind that you have done all you reasonably can—and have U.S. copyright law on your side.

 

 

Information provided should not be construed as legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney with expertise in copyright law.

© 2018. Barbara C. Ingrassia. BY-NC-SA license

What Business Owners Need to Know About Copyright Law by Barbara C. Ingrassia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

 

Resources mentioned:

For info only and not to be considered an evaluation or endorsement.

[i] Creative Commons. https://creativecommons.org/about/

(Retrieved August 5, 2018.)

 

[ii] Stephanie Faris. How to remove stolen content from the internet. https://99designs.com/blog/freelancing/remove-stolen-content/

(Retrieved August 5, 2018.)

 

[iii] Terms of Service (Also known as Terms of Use or Terms and Conditions )

For a quick overview https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terms_of_service

(Retrieved August 5, 2018.)

 

[iv] Copyright Registration Portal. https://www.copyright.gov/registration/

(Retrieved August 5, 2018.)

 

Barbara Ingrassia

Barbara Ingrassia is a Certified Copyright Manager, Speaker and Trainer. She has a passion for raising awareness of the role of copyright in our daily lives. We are all Consumers and Creators of copyright-protected works, and understanding some copyright basics can help us achieve our goals and avoid unpleasant “surprises.” Ingrassia enjoys bringing some fun to a (potentially) dull topic. Her motto: Manage Copyright. Don’t let it Manage You.(sm) Barbara Ingrassia comes from an academic library background. She has studied the “murkiness” of copyright law with the Center for Intellectual Property at the University of Maryland, the Special Libraries Association, Duke University and the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. She has facilitated workshops for various professional organizations and consults with individuals--both virtually and face-to-face.

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