It’s a Ripoff: How to Handle Work that Infringes on Your Own
The web has made it easy for copyright infringers: it’s the work of just a few minutes to copy an image, an article or even an entire website design. That leads big companies to establish big legal departments devoted to chasing down copyright infringement. As a freelancer, however, your legal department may amount to an hour or so that you can devote to such problems each week — bringing in a lawyer is rarely worth the cost.
You don’t have to let someone get away with stealing your work, though. There are steps you can take that will help resolve such problems.
Notify the Infringing Website
Starting with a simple email explaining the situation can actually have good results: a surprising number of people have no idea of what copyright does and doesn’t allow for. If that’s the case, you’ll likely find that the person who used your work without permission will take it down if you simply explain that you hold the copyright. It’s not always pleasant to go through the process, especially when you run into someone with extensive misconceptions about copyright, but it is the easiest solution.
Take Down Notice
If someone infringes on your copyright but isn’t willing to take it down after a civil email, issuing a take down notice is typically the next step. While you’re options may vary depending on the country you live in, the most common law to issue a take down notice under is the DMCA (U.S. law). Such a notice must contain your name, the name of the copyrighted material that is being infringed upon, the URLs where the infringing work is posted, your contact information (not just email) and a specific request to remove the material as soon as possible. You can also send a similar notice to the host of the website.
Depending on where the website owner who infringing on your material is based, it is possible that he will essentially ignore even legal communications. While there are international laws in place governing copyright, there are many people that use the lengthy process of enforcing copyright across borders as a way to avoid taking down material that infringes on your copyright.
When to Call a Lawyer
It’s not impossible to find a new example of copyright infringement every day, which makes consulting a lawyer a very expensive process. Most of the steps available to you don’t need a lawyer’s help, though, which can allow you to avoid paying for things you can cover yourself. However, there are some issues that make it worth your while to bring in some legal help.
If you find that someone is making money off of your work and refuses to stop when you ask, then it makes sense to contact a lawyer. Because most court cases on copyright (at least from a freelancing point of view) are considered with the damage an infringer has done to your potential earnings, it is much easier to make a case when that infringer is actually earning money off of your work.
Some freelancers also find it practical to call in a lawyer when someone simply will not stop using their work. The nature of the internet can make it difficult to reduce how often this sort of problem happens, however. Ideally, every freelancer could easily afford to defend his or her copyright. In reality, though, it’s up to you to decide just how much money you’re willing to put into the problem.
The Problem with Copyright
At the end of the day, unfortunately, most freelancers just don’t have the resources to get every piece of infringing work taken down. It’s important to prioritize your efforts, or course, but it’s also important to realize that there are some battles that you just won’t be able to win. Moving forward is often the only option.