What Can I Do when Someone Rips Off my Copyright?

Photo by: Sebastian Pichler

I’ve seen the situation waaayyy too many times: Creator creates. Creator publishes. Sleazeball steals. Sleazeball makes money from Creator’s creation. It’s a vicious cycle that has even caused many small creators to quit their passion because “it’s no longer worth it”. However, it’s important to remember that you do have other options. Keep reading to explore the remedies available to you when someone steals your design.

It should be noted that you don’t need a Federal Copyright Registration to pursue these remedies. It certainly helps, and you may be entitled to more damages than you would be without a registration. However, your work is always protected by federal copyright laws the moment it is published.

4 strategies for dealing with copyright infringement:

Asking nicely

More times than not, infringers aren’t aware that they are infringing upon your hard work. Many brand new entrepreneurs have no idea about copyrights, trademarks, or what infringement even means. This is why it’s best to first educate the person or company that has stolen your work.

You can simply send a nice message letting them know that it’s your work they are using and that work is protected by a federal copyright or trademark. Then, politely ask them to stop using it. If they comply, great. If not, maybe it’s time to pursue another remedy.

DMCA takedown notice

Thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), when you find someone infringing on your copyright online, you can make a request to the website owner to have the content removed from the site. I have found this helpful when the infringer does not take down the content on their own after a request. The notice applies to internet service providers, website operators, search engines, and web hosts. The infringer may send a counter-notice to the website owner to repost the content, but if the infringer is in the wrong, they usually don’t fight it.

Most websites have their own process for submitting a DMCA notice. If not, you can send an email notifying the website of the infringement and stating that you want the content removed. DMCA notices are often a quick and easy way to have the content taken down when the infringer does not cooperate with a friendly request.

Cease and desist letter

This is a more formal request than the initial one made above. You can certainly send a C & D letter yourself, but people usually take the letter more seriously when it comes from an attorney. This approach is also a necessary step before suing an infringer.

The letters I send for my clients demand that the conduct cease immediately. I also push for a monetary settlement. A copyright owner, even without a federal registration, is entitled to actual damages suffered due to the infringement. This can be hard to quantify, but you should certainly demand that the infringer compensates you for lost profits.

Federal lawsuit

This is considered an extreme remedy, and most small business owners don’t even like hearing the “L” word. It’s intimidating, sure, but sometimes this extreme remedy is a necessity. Small business owners are scared of the cost of a lawsuit, but if you have the right protections in place, you may not have to worry about the cost. If the infringer does not take you seriously when you use the approaches above, a federal lawsuit is sure to get their attention.

Andrea Sager

Andrea is a serial entrepreneur, so she understands the hustle and the struggle of solopreneurs. She is an IP attorney closing the gap between small business owners and affordable high-quality legal services. Andrea focuses on trademarks, copyrights, and other general counsel matters for small business owners.

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