market is big – and keeps getting bigger. Over the past ten years, the number of Internet users has doubled, to a total of 3 billion world-wide, or some 40 percent of the global population. As with all big markets, the competition is severe and the pressure to innovate rises together with the number of actors trying to make it in the field. Nowhere is that more evident than in the field of intellectual property, especially the seemingly intangible digital assets.
Why Is It Important?
While they rarely exist as more than a lump of zeroes and ones on a hard drive, your digital assets translate into real value, be it monetary or otherwise. Images, blog posts, YouTube videos, and other content you create and publish on the Internet are valuable – and you have responsibility to yourself to ensure that it is adequately protected.
Why would it need protecting? The sheer size of the Internet means competitors are plentiful and where’s competition, there is a subset of users who will use everything they can get their hands on to succeed. This includes taking your hard work and plagiarizing, selling, or otherwise benefiting from it.
Starting With the Basics
The first step in any asset protection plan is to take an inventory of your assets. You need to know what you have in order to decide on how to best protect it. As you may probably know, your body of work is protected by common law copyright, granted automatically the moment you create content. However, while it may suffice in resolving minor issues, the best way to protect it is to register it with the United States Copyright Office.
Registration is a basic, but effective method of protecting your intellectual property. It provides you with numerous benefits common law copyright does not, including a public record of your right, statutory damages, and attorney’s fees in litigation. In fact, if you wish to pursue a copyright claim in court, you will have to register your work first.
That requirement cannot be circumvented. While tales of “poor man’s copyright” circulate (mailing yourself a copy of your own work), United States copyright law does not recognize such an institution. Only registration works.
Keeping Track of Your Work
Of course, registration is nothing if you don’t know that your content is misappropriated in the first place. Fortunately, the maturation of the Internet as a market has also led to a maturation of the tools available. Regular searches for fragments of text are a cheap and easy way to find potential copyright offenders, while reverse image search is a boon for content creators focusing on graphics. Search engines are some of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal for finding people who take your content and confronting them.
Some might feign ignorance, not aware of the fact that ignorantia iuris nocet – ignorance of the law hurts. To minimize the likelihood of encountering this kind of excuse, it is in your best interest to ensure that all of your content is clearly marked as subject to copyright, including:
- boilerplate copyright notices on all pages of your website,
- clear copyright information on your content, especially images,
- watermarking as needed,
The specifics of copyright marking will depend greatly on the nature of the content you protect. For obvious reasons, watermarking won’t work for written content and written notices might be insufficient for images. Tailor your solutions, but remain aware that they shouldn’t get in the way of the user experience. Blocking context menus on your website might prevent image leeching by less tech-savvy users, but it will also discourage users who enjoy saving various pieces of content for later perusal. Moderation is key.
Dealing with Infringement
Nowhere is that more applicable than in situations when you have to confront someone who took your content and used it without your permission. While you might instinctively move to protect your work, it is important to take a step back, analyse the circumstances, and then pick the appropriate response. After all, to err is human.
In many cases, simply contacting the person who committed the infringement is enough to resolve any outstanding issues. Communication allows you to give notice of that fact and allows for finding an amicable solution without reaching for more severe methods of dealing with copyright problems.
The standard option is a cease and desist letter, a formal demand for the infringing party to take down the offending content and refrain from committing any further actions of this type. One of the most severe actions you can take, short of taking the matter to court, is the DMCA notice.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, a DMCA notice can be served to the Internet service provider hosting the infringing content. Such a notice obligates the provider to block access to or remove the infringing content from their servers and drives. It bypasses the infringing party entirely and while effective, it should be used sparingly and with great care.
Finally, lawsuits are the most expensive and complex option, which should only come into play when you have exhausted all of the other options – or the infringing party has drawn tangible profits from your work, without the proper licenses and permissions. Of course, as with any legal cases, you ought to work together with an attorney specializing in copyright law, to ensure your case is airtight.
While you can easily handle copyright issues that arise when you start out as a content creator, as your work gains exposure and popularity, the complexity of copyright issues that inevitably arise increases exponentially. The easiest way to tackle this problem is to face it with the backing of professionals. The Van Horn Law Groupprovides concrete advice and digital asset protection plans tailored to meet your specific needs, ensuring that what you create remains yours.