Copyright infringement? Sometimes crappiocca happens when you’re writer, and some of the most angst inspiring have to do with copyright infringement. Whether you’re a new blogger, an established writer, or even a well known author, it’s a given that work will be copied, stolen, pirated and/or used illegally at some point in your career. Sometimes this is done by the clueless–if you’re a writer/blogger, please educate yourself!–but other times, individuals or companies know it’s illegal but infringe your copyright anyway because they rarely suffer any consequences. After all, how many writers have extra funds to hire a lawyer?
As it turns out, I had to resort to that. Read on for a bit about what happened…but meanwhile, there are some no-cost ways writers and authors can fight back.
BOOK PIRATE SITES
Pirate sites may be the bane of authors and I hear many complaints from colleagues. They steal entire books, upload to “torrent” sites that offer free downloads or charge fees for access. That’s the same as if someone stole all the keys from a car rental company and gave them out for everyone to use. Hey, nobody would be surprised if some other professional (a plumber, for instance) objected to giving away work for free–yet artists are somehow expected to be “flattered” when work is stolen.
All my books are given away free in various places. I even give away a book when folks subscribe to my newsletter, but that’s MY choice!
I no longer pay attention to these pirate sites because most also are phishing schemes eager to get credit card info, or inject Trojan infections for visitors. Those who seek out my books for free wouldn’t buy them anyway, and if they get a virus, well…sorry, I have no sympathy.
ONLINE CLUELESS COPIES
There is a perception that if it’s “online” and free to read, then it’s up for grabs. Nuh-huh. And you do NOT need to file paperwork or pay a fee to “copyright” your work. From the moment of creation, the creator owns copyright in the work, which means the creator has all say in how that material is used, displayed, and distributed. You don’t even need to include that little C-in-a-circle or “copr.” notice.
It’s very easy with the Internet to cut-and-paste and post material somewhere else. And if you don’t mind, that’s fine–simply make a public statement to that effect, so it’s part of the cut-and-paste that’s sent around. But if you do want to control your content (and honestly, that’s the smart thing to do), it’s easy enough to “google” and find out your rights.
I’m not a lawyer and don’t even play one on TV 🙂 but have learned all I can about copyright law to understand my business and protect my intellectual property. I worked as a legal assistant for several years and read and helped write countless contracts, which came in handy while vetting my own writing assignment and book contracts later. Here’s the deal: unless you have a contract granting another party the right to use your content in agreed upon ways, nobody but you can use your material. It doesn’t matter if they charge money, or offer it free of charge, they’re violating your copyright without that contract.
AMY’S EXPERIENCE DEALING WITH COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT
I’ve debated since January whether or not to go public about my recent experience, and decided to share what might be helpful to others. My situation is a bit different, as it entails several kinds of infringement all stemming from a contract dispute that is ongoing and not yet resolved. Therefore, for now I choose to redact the name of the parties involved–but may, indeed, “out” them in the future–and simply offer what has thus far worked to resolve the situation and how you may be able to benefit from these tips. This is the short version.
I was notified in early December 2015 that my contract with REDACTED would be terminated as of January 2, 2016. Further, I was assured the cancellation clause would be followed: my materials would be removed from the website(s) and no longer used in promotion of the company/products. They further informed me that they would not honor the termination payment portion of the contract. Of course, I objected, and requested they honor the terms of the cancellation clause in its entirety.
January 2 came…and went…and none of my material was removed, as they had promised and as the contract stipulated. My repeated requests to have my materials removed were met with excuses, and finally silence. In late February I hired an attorney who repeated my demands, whereupon REDACTED suddenly claimed they had decided to cancel the contract’s termination, so therefore I was still under contract and they had the right to continue using my materials–but without paying.
My attorney’s intervention ultimately resulted in removal of my author picture, reviews and videos from the site(s). However, all the articles/blogs and photos remained fully visible and promoted as Amy’s continued endorsement of the company/products.
These blogs and articles only came down last week, a full three months’ worth of copyright infringement, and not by their choice but due to a DMCA take down notice I filed. As I said, the contract dispute continues but at least (most) of my material has been removed–it’s still being used other places, but that’s a topic for another blog, perhaps.
Here’s how I finally got the blogs/articles with their photos removed.
It’s of course ALWAYS better to contact the infringing person/organization and 1) explain you own the material in question and 2) request it be removed. As I mentioned above, not everyone knows or understands (although ignorance does not excuse breaking the law). You may be satisfied for the infringement to simply be removed, or for most to be deleted and a link to YOUR site with the remainder to be provided. That’s up to you.
When the person/organization refuses to remove illegal use of your content, you can request that their internet host take steps to remove that content. DMCA is a part of US Copyright Law but also works with hosting companies in foreign countries. Remember, it’s the HOST and not the “registrar” of the website name. Here’s what you can do.
FIND INFRINGED MATERIAL
Don’t be a copy cat!
There’s a neat site I like where you can check and see if your material has been copied and published illegally (or a part of it used elsewhere). A limited service is free, or you can purchase a premium account which is very economical. Simply copy and paste the content in dispute into the screen that comes up, and it will search for duplicates. Check out CopyScape.com — this is also helpful for folks who write a lot of material and you don’t want to plagiarize yourself!
UNCOVER THE WEBSITE HOST
There are a number of “whois” sites that will help you find information about a particular website, from the name of the person who filed the name, what company registered the URL, term dates and more. I typed in the url of one of the websites and discovered the name was registered through GoDaddy. After I contacted their complaints page, I received an email back referring me to discover the hosting company by looking it up on http://domainwhitepages.com/ I suspect there are other services that work well, too. You will find an email contact to send claims or disputes. Here’s a template that you can use. Just fill in the details pertinent to your situation.
Note: After I sent this, I was requested to be even more specific because in some cases, the blog text was my work but the image was not, while in other cases both were my work. I ended up sending the direct URLs to every infringed page on the two websites (more than 80 individual instances).
Attn: Copyright Agent, [company name here]
Pursuant to 17 USC 512(c)(3)(A), this communication serves as a statement that:
- I am [the exclusive rights holder | the duly authorized representative of the exclusive rights holder] for [title of copyrighted material being infringed upon, and, if possible, additional identifying information such as ISBNs, publication dates, etc — or, if the material is a web page, the URL];
- These exclusive rights are being violated by material available upon your site at the following URL(s): [URLs of infringing material];
- I have a good faith belief that the use of this material in such a fashion is not authorized by the copyright holder, the copyright holder’s agent, or the law;
- Under penalty of perjury in a United States court of law, I state that the information contained in this notification is accurate, and that I am authorized to act on the behalf of the exclusive rights holder for the material in question;
- I may be contacted by the following methods (include all): [physical address, telephone number, and email address];
[your full legal name]
This has been a horrible experience for me, in part because I never would have worked with this company had I not trusted them to be honest and forthright.
Having contracts cancelled is a normal part of business. That never bothers me. Schtuff happens, and most contracts have a termination clause to address this. That clause, though, is just as enforceable as the rest of the contract.
I don’t know what will happen going forward, and am relying on my attorney to guide any next steps. I spent half of today searching my own blog for references to REDACTED and removing them…yes, I promoted them and their products here on nearly every blog while under contract.
Doh! Never again.
My reputation and my intellectual property is something I must fiercely protect. Nobody else cares as much about your work as you do–and nobody can do what you do as well as you. Never sell yourself short, or settle. Be sure you know your rights, and understand any contract you sign.
Unfortunately, not everyone abides by contracts, even when they write the contract terms themselves. You can be sure I’ll be even more diligent in any future agreements. Today, though, I’m very grateful to have found a terrific advocate.
Heck, this may make it into the next thriller. Hmnnnn.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!