#1. Register your work
Registering your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office is not a requirement. But it’s a legal option that can give creative entrepreneurs an advantage when someone steals their work. What advantage? When you sue the thief and win, you can get between $250 and $150,000 and the thief is on the hook for your attorneys' fees. But you only gain this advantage if you register your work before it’s stolen or within three months of publication. In the real world, this can be the difference between getting compensated and being left out in the cold.
In order to maximize your registration application, I suggest that you think proactively about registration. One way you can do this is by adding registration to your product launch checklist because multiple unpublished works can be grouped on the same application. For example, if you've designed a 2012 Christmas greeting card line, you can register the whole line on a single application as an unpublished collection. Once the work is published you can only group multiple works on an application if they were published in the same manner on the same date, which can be a barrier.
#2. Monitor your work
You no longer have to hope that either you or someone you know runs across your work being used on the Internet. Now, there are a couple of tools that you can use to help monitor where your work appears.
Text. When it comes to text, you can't beat a Google Alert. Google will let you create up to 1000 Alerts and then whenever the text in the Alert appears on the web, you'll be notified. For example, you could pick out one blog post paragraph and create a Google Alert. If a scraper site takes your post, the Google Alert will do its job and notify you. Another option is Copyscape, where you can enter a URL and it scans the Internet for similar pages and reports any hits.
Images. There are two free powerful reverse search engines, Tineye and Google Images Search. Both of these tools allow you to either upload or enter the URL where the image appears and then will search the Internet and identify other sites where similar images appear.
#3. Send DMCA take-down notices
Given our right-click society your monitoring efforts will reveal a hit at some point. Sometimes this hit is helpful; but other times, it hurts your business. If you decide that the hit is in the later category, you have a powerful tool at your disposal, the DMCA take-down notice.
The notice is sent to the host of the website that has stolen your work. If you are lucky, your work will appear on a site that hosts the content itself (e.g. Facebook or Pinterest). But what if it’s a stand-alone site? My first stop is usually DomainSigma, while their database is not large you might be lucky and find the host. If DomainSigma doesn’t help, then usually a WHOIS search combined with a DNS lookup will get you the information you need.
Once you have the host then you just need to identify where to send the notice. Many hosts have an internal form that they want you to use (e.g. Facebook or Pinterest). On the host’s website, this information often is in the footer under the title "Copyright/IP Policy." Alternatively the U.S. Copyright Office has a list of where to send the notice.
The law requires that your notice must:
- Be in writing,
- Be signed by the copyright owner or an agent of the copyright owner (an electronic signature is okay),
- Identify the copyrighted work that is being infringed,
- Identify the infringing material,
- Include your contact information,
- State that you are acting in "good faith,"
- State that "under penalty of perjury, that the information contained in the notification is accurate", and
- State that you have the right to proceed (since you are the copyright owner)
If you follow the requirements, the ISP will remove the infringing content within a reasonable time. While the other party has the right to counter-notice, they usually do not take the time to file one. Because of this a DMCA take-down notice is a powerful tool to help protect your work.
That does it. A couple of simple ways that you can help protect your valuable assets. Have you ever tried one of these methods? What was the outcome?
**I'm a lawyer so my insurance carrier likes me to use disclaimers. The information in this post is made available for educational purposes only, not to provide specific legal advice. I am not your attorney and this post is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.**
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Photo by Portraits to the People
Kiffanie Stahle lives in San Francisco and is the founding partner of Stahle Law where she provides copyright and trademark services to creatives of all kinds. She tries to make law a little less scary by giving her clients the tools they need to understand their legal rights and when to get assistance rather than forging ahead on their own. She loves to take photographs and occasionally will show them in public. You can find Kiffanie on Twitter (@kiffaniestahle), on Facebook, and at StahleLaw.com.