Enforcing and Litigating Copyrights
You automatically have a copyright in any “work of authorship” that you create. However, before you can enforce your copyright – sue someone for infringing it – you must register your copyright with the US Copyright Office.
Your copyright has been infringed if someone:
- Copies your work
- Distributes copies or recordings of your work without your permission
- Publicly performs your copyrighted work (such as a play, song, or choreographed dance)
- Publicly displays your copyrighted work (such as a photo or movie)
One of the big challenges in today’s digital world is knowing when your copyright has been infringed. If someone “rips” a CD you created to their computer and gives a digital copy to a friend, they’veve infringed your copyright — but it would be hard for you to discover the infringement.
Another issue is that for small scale copyright infringement the cost of enforcing your copyright could be much greater than the financial damage.
There’s an exception to copyright protection called “fair use.” According to US copyright law, whether or not a use of someone else’s copyrighted material is “fair” depends on:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
If someone quotes a few sentences from your book in a review or article, your copyright has not been infringed. If someone quotes an entire chapter, it likely has been infringed. A copyright attorney can help you determine whether someone’s use of your material is allowed under the fair use doctrine.
Cease and Desist
If your copyright has been infringed, the first step is often to send a “cease-and-desist” letter. The letter informs the recipient that they’re violating your copyright, and if they don’t stop you’ll sue them. You can send such a letter yourself, but many people and companies respond more promptly to a letter from a lawyer.
If the infringer doesn’t stop, the next step is to file a lawsuit. Copyright lawsuits are generally filed in federal court. Some violations of copyright can also be criminal offenses that would be prosecuted by the US Department of Justice.
If your lawsuit is successful, the court may award:
- Monetary damages
- Reimbursement of your legal fees
Working with a Copyright Attorney
An experienced copyright attorney can explain your rights and the remedies that are available, whether you’re the plaintiff or defendant in a copyright infringement case.
I can assist you with all aspects of copyrights, including registering your copyright and enforcing your copyright via litigation.