Copyright Protection

Wikipedia defines Copyright as:

[T]he set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. These rights can be licensed, transferred and/or assigned. – source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright

What that means is that the creator of a piece of original work has the right to do whatever they want with it. Copyright infringement, as Wikipedia goes on to define in the same page, is any use of that work that violates the creator’s exclusive rights. If someone is violating your rights by misusing your intellectual property, nobody but you can stop them.

Let’s focus on written works for a moment. There is international law that protects you, the author, from people reproducing your works without your consent. In fact, as soon as you record the original work to a physical medium, you are automatically entitled to those rights without the need for registration of any kind.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, and nothing I say should ever be interpreted as legal advice. Always talk to a lawyer before undertaking any legal action.)

For discussion’s sake, let’s say someone copies a large section of an article you wrote, and includes it as a chapter in his book. Your first step should be to have a lawyer draft a Cease and Desist letter, stating that:

  • You are the copyright holder
  • He is infringing, and how he is doing so
  • You want the infringement to stop, including destruction of all copies and master copies, and a time frame you want it done in
  • You want to be given the profits the infringer has made from using your work, again with a time frame
  • Failure to comply within the timeframe given may result in further legal action

These are all totally reasonable demands to make of someone stealing your intellectual property, and it’s backed by The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which has been ratified in 164 countries.

So what if they don’t reply within the timeframe, or just tell you to shove it? Note that the above letter merely states “may result in further legal action”. At this point, a common consideration is legal cost: “What if I have to go to court? I don’t have that kind of money”. In most countries, winning a lawsuit means the losing party pays your legal costs, which is distinct from paying damages. If you think your works aren’t worth the potential legal costs, ask yourself this: Is your name worth it? Is your brand worth it? If you allow copyright infringement to continue, more people will steal your work, and your name or brand associated with that work. You may even lose your copyright.

If you don’t take action to protect your copyrighted works, you are implicitly giving everyone permission to steal your works, and you forfeit any right to complain about it on the internet.


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June 2010
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