Legal questions: How to defend a copyright

Creators of original works immediately retain the right to distribute the creation as they see fit. Learn to defend copyrights to keep thieves at bay.

What is a copyright?

A copyright grants the creator of an intellectual property the right to publish, reproduce and sell that property as the creator sees fit. The creator immediately owns copyright to her work the moment that an idea, artistic work or a form of literature is created. Registering a copyright can be done through the U.S. Copyright Office ( or a similar organization in other countries.

Though not legally required, authors and creators should consider adding the word “copyright” or its equivalent symbol Ó, along with the date of publication and the author’s name to everything they publish. Authors may also incorporate the term “All rights reserved.” into their copyright statements. “All rights reserved.” means exactly what it says: the creator and owner of the property reserve the right to use her work as she sees fit.

Legal questions: How to defend a copyright

Copyright statements serve to show ownership of the published property and can deter plagiarists and pirates from copying an author’s work without permission.

How do I defend my copyright?

If you’ve registered your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, defending your copyright shouldn’t be a hassle. The steady growth of the World Wide Web has put many authors and artists on notice: your work can be copy and pasted, or downloaded at any time. Anyone with a modem can steal your words or images and pass them off as their own. It is imperative that authors include a copyright notice on everything they create. More importantly, they should be ready to defend a copyright against those who would infringe upon it.

Fair Use Offenders and Novices

Many copyright thefts are committed by people who assume that work in the public domain is free for all to use. These people will lift articles or images from magazines, newsletters and web sites, or post your work to Internet newsgroups with no malice–and with little knowledge of the law. Most of these offenders even use your copyright notice–because after all, they’re not stealing, right? They’re just sharing your information. They don’t know–or care–that sharing the creation of another without express permission is against the law. They’ll scream “fair use” (a vague term which essentially means that someone can make use of another’s work within “reason”). As a creator of published works, it is your job to make sure that intellectual property thieves know what “fair use” means to you. Set your own rules. Request that they remove your work, or if you prefer, discuss your fee and set guidelines for usage. But don’t back down.

Defending the rights to your work will serve to put thieves on notice. Those who are genuinely unaware of copyright rules will learn a valuable lesson. Your future work will undoubtedly be safe from them, and they’ll probably hesitate before unlawfully appropriating the work of another author.

Copyright Thieves

It’s amazing, but every day people lift words and images that they do not own and pass it off as their own creation. For most intellectual property pirates, a simple phone call, email or certified letter stating your ownership and intent to take legal action is usually enough to get them to cease using your work. In your correspondence, calmly explain that you are the owner of the stolen property. Request that the entity that committed the theft either remove your work. State your willingness to pursue legal action–and mean it.

If the thief refuses to stop using your work, stick to your word and contact a lawyer. While doing so can be an expensive process, having an attorney send a letter to the offender is often the only way to scare a thief into respecting a copyright.

Should an attorney’s letter do little to dissuade a copyright pirate, be ready to go to court. Your copyright registration, along with copies of notes and anything pertaining to your lawsuit will be called into question, so have these files ready.

For creators who’ve not registered a copyright through the government, a simple way to prove ownership is to mail your writings to yourself using the federal postal service. You’ll receive your writings back with a postmark and date. Do not open this envelope unless you have to prove that you own that idea. While this method is not as impressive as a registered copyright, it is inexpensive and more importantly, legal.

Authors and creators should be vigilant in protecting their work and enforcing their rights. Keep records that prove ownership of all created works. Register your copyright with the government or mail your creations to yourself and keep them in a safe place. Don’t hesitate to contact pirates, thieves and “fair users” who’ve made use of your work in ways that infringe upon your copyright. Be willing to seek counsel. Be prepared to go to court. Standing up for your work and your rights will help others in the long run. No one has the right to earn kudos or money from your hard labor–let thieves know this. Don’t let property pirates get away.

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