Copyright and Intellectual Property – Part 2 – Infringement
In part 1 of this 3 part series on copyright I talked about what copyright infringement is – the illegal appropriation of someone else’s intellectual property whether that is using all or part in a body of work, and covers all of the range of intellectual property – art, music, design, books, articles, podcasts, and more.
In the internet world where all content is freely available, content theft and copyright violation theft has become an enormous problem. It would not be a problem if people were more honest and ethical and, instead of copying work they admire and use it as their own, would get permission to use it from the content creator and pay for that privilege. But that doesn’t always happen so as a content creator you must protect your work and ensure it isn’t being copied or used by others.
I’m not saying that if you put your original work on the internet someone will copy it but there is a good chance that they will, especially if it is popular, creative, socially relevant, and shows originality and insight. While that can be seen as a testament to the quality of your content, it also means that someone is claiming your original work and intellectual property as their own and in some cases, making money from it. Don’t be shocked, it happened to me several times and in one case, someone developed an entire program around work she copied from me, trademarked the key phrase, and registered the domain name (and this person calls herself a ‘business coach’). I’ll go into more detail in Part 3 of this series. In part 2 we discuss how to protect your copyrights, the exclusive right to copy, share, promote, sell, and benefit from your intellectual property and creative output.
The rest of the article is below the podcast player.
So how do you protect your original work from unscrupulous intellectual property thieves and copyright violators? First you have to know that in the virtual, online environment it is impossible to prevent anyone from copying your work. Even if you use copy blockers there are many ways to get around them. There are ways to find the thieves who are using your content on their own websites and in any online medium. I’ll provide a few suggestions here.
- Use plagiarism checkers to scan for duplicate content. You probably use unique words or phrases in your writing and have a unique writing style. There are ways to look for this work and discover where it is being used with more than a dozen sites, some free and some paid, that you can use to discover plagiarism of your work wherever it is posted on the internet. With these programs you can enter key phrases or entire articles and the sites will scour the internet, find any duplicates, and return the website addresses to you so you can follow up.
You can find a listing of some of the more popular plagiarism checker sites at https://thriveagency.com/news/free-plagiarism-checker-for-web-content/
- To see if someone is copying your website pages (and it does happen), you can use a website like copyscape.com which allows you to enter the URL of your website page or a blog page and see if someone else has copied it. You don’t think that someone will copy a page from your website or an entire website? Guess again. I worked for a technology company and found out that a company in India had copied their entire website, including contact links, and were promoting our products when they didn’t even sell them. Why they were doing that was a mystery but the corporate legal staff quickly took care of them.
- Use a search engine to search for specific phrases or keywords, and put them in quotes to limit the results. For example, someone stole my content which came from a blog article in which I wrote “becoming a 360 degree human”. A search on that phrase would reveal anyone who was using that phrase in their work, including on any website names or domains.
- If you’re producing digital content such as photographs or art work, make sure your name is displayed and insert a watermark to show your ownership. Music is a bit more difficult to protect but you can insert a short audio of your name at the beginning or end.
You should conduct content searches on a regular basis just to ensure that your content is not being used. Yes I know it’s more work for you and you’re already super busy and it’s annoying – you should not have to do this. But unfortunately until people are ready to handle themselves in more ethical ways, you should do it to protect your content even though it is already subject to copyright from the moment you wrote it.
You can also obtain formal copyright protection of your work by filing a copyright application at copyright.gov in the US or at the copyright registry service in your country. While it doesn’t protect your work from being stolen or usurped, it is a measure of legal protection you can use to affirm your claim to your own work. And you should be sure to enter the date of first publication in your copyright application, they can be backdated. Just make sure it’s the correct date, you should not lie on legal documents.
What do you do and what are your options once you find the content and intellectual property thieves? Here are some suggestions for you:
- Notify the website owner immediately, by letter sent certified mail with return receipt if you have a mailing address and if not, by email with a copy to yourself, that they are violating your copyright rights and demand that they take the content down immediately. Give them 24 hours. If they have not done so after 24 hours send a second email to remind them of your demands.
Then send a copyright violation notice to their hosting provider, you can find out who that is by searching for the domain name at whois.org. Usually hosting providers have a special contact form or email address to be used for reporting copyright and trademark violations and they respond quickly (they have to or they are liable as an accessory – I know because I have had to do this to get a website taken down that was deliberately and intentionally violating one of my trademarks).
- Hire an attorney to write a ‘cease and desist’ letter, which should cost you between $100 and $200. This is a legal statement of your protected and sole rights to your original content and it advises the copyright violator that there will be legal consequences imposed on them if they do not comply with the demands of the letter, to stop using your content.
Usually cease and desist letters work but sometimes you get people who do not comply so you have to take the next step which is gather evidence and go to court. I would suggest this if the person has used your intellectual property in their business.
Using your copyright material and intellectual property in their business can include:
- obtaining a trademark of a phrase or part of the content,
- registering a domain name with your original content,
- creating a program or course based on key concepts. or, words, or that includes your content,
- writing articles that include portions, or all, of your unique content, or whose concepts are based on your copyright material,
- or copying the content in a book, paper, or other written articles.
All of these uses constitute theft of intellectual property and is a crime. This includes artistic content such as music, photographs, designs, and art too but written content is usually easier to track.
Be sure to save your proof of their copyright violation by saving time and date stamped images from their website. You can save an image of the screen by doing a screenshot or printing the page as a .pdf file which you can save to your computer. You can also search for previous copies of websites at archive.org
While a legal case may be costly and time consuming, protecting your rights to your content will be worth it. And generally once someone is taken to court they will not use your content again, you can get a judgment against them for damages, force them to turn over profits, and receive other benefits depending on the laws of your state or country.
Finding out that someone has stolen your content is a personal violation that will make you angry. You’ll feel betrayed, abused, used, and taken advantage of. And all of these emotions are entirely justified. But while you have a right to be angry, you also have a right to own your original intellectual property and content so be diligent in protecting your work and when you find a violator, act immediately and start the process of asserting your ownership and forcing them to stop stealing and using your work.
In part 3 I’ll provide a story detailing how I discovered someone blatantly using my original content and intellectual property in a shocking way that was even more shocking because the violator is a ‘business coach’ who teaches people how to create ‘wildly successful businesses’.