Copyright: Part 4 – Protecting Your Copyright

Now that we’ve covered the basics of copyright and fair use, let’s talk about what you can do to protect your copyright and defend your rights if your copyright is infringed.

Note that I have never had copyright infringed, so I am not writing from personal experience. I hope you never have to use this advice, but if you are in the position of having your rights violated, I hope these suggestions from others who have been victimized will be helpful.

  • To reduce the risks of having your content stolen, be proactive. Although the copyright symbol is not required, you may want to use it on your Web site, blog, individual posts, and feeds. The notice won’t stop determined content thieves, but it may stop unauthorized use of your content by people who don’t realize that just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s in the public domain.
  • Be prepared to prove that you are the original author of the work. Since blog posts can be back-dated, the post date is not necessarily proof of when the post was written. Even the dates of comments can be changed, so the dates of comments might not be sufficient evidence in court, either. However, your database file should have the actual date the post was made. If you create posts in your word processor rather than directly in your blog platform, the file on your hard drive will have the date it was created as well as the last date it was modified. For books and other longer works, you may want to mail a hardcopy of the manuscript to yourself. Have the clerk at the Post Office wrap the package in date-stamped tape and don’t open the package until you have to present it in court.
  • Monitor your content by searching or using Google Alerts for your articles. Jeanne Dininni found the unauthorized use of her work because she set up a Google alert for a unique phrase in an article. Don’t expect to find your article by searching for the title as the unauthorized user has probably changed the title. You can also use Copyscape to search for duplicate content.
  • As soon as you discover that your work has been used without permission, contact the copyright infringer. You may want to start out assuming the infringement was out of ignorance. Describe the work that was used without authorization and explain when and where you originally posted it. Explain what you want the user to do: remove the material immediately, ask for permission, pay for the rights to use the content. Mike Goad describes what he did when he discovered his article – on copyright, no less! – had been used without permission and the successful result.
  • Even if you have no objection to a specific use, contacting the user every time there is a copyright infringement helps establish that you are taking steps to protect your copyright. If you end up in court suing someone for copyright infringement, being able to demonstrate that you have not allowed others to use your content without permission will be to your advantage.
  • If the user does not respond to your request and a follow-up message, contact their Web site host. The terms of service of most Web hosting companies allow them to shut down Web site that infringe the copyrights of others. Of course, sometimes, the burden of proof they put on the copyright owner makes the protection they offer more theoretical than practical, but it is a tool to use.

If these steps do not get results, you may decide to pursue legal action, which is beyond the scope of this series. This guide is designed to cover the basics of copyright and give you some ideas to protect your copyright.

More detailed information, including legal remedies, can be found in the following articles and sites:
Articles about Copyright by Mike Goad
Copyright Articles at Research Copyright
Digital Millenium Copyright Act at Google
Do It Yourself Copyright Protection Online by Robert Niles
Plagiarism Today – site dedicated to content theft, copyright infringement, and plagiarism
The Ultimate Guide to Copyright for Students – information is useful for more than students
What to Do When Someone Steals Your Content by Lorelle Fossen

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