Copyrights are an author’s stock in trade, whether the author has written a book or a blog post. Anyone who writes, photographs, sculpts or otherwise places a creative idea into some type of tangible medium creates a copyright. The resulting copyright is a personal property right owned by the person (the “author”) who took the picture, wrote the words or sculpted the clay (the “work”). “Copyright” is thus a noun, not a verb.
Many authors are finding new outlets for their created works on the Internet. YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Vine, Flickr, Tumblr, Amazon, Kobo, Twitter and Reddit are just a few of the current crop of social media platforms that permit instantaneous sharing of content to a potentially worldwide audience.
With this vast new exposure comes the concomitant risk that an author’s work will be copied and used without permission. This may seem innocuous, but when that which is copied is a book that the author sells for $2.99 or a photo that the photographer licenses for $100, the financial impact to the copyright owner whose works are being stolen soon becomes apparent.
When someone copies or sells the work without the author’s permission, that is copyright infringement. The money lost by an author as a result of the unauthorized copying is the author’s “damages.” It is difficult, at best, to obtain redress against an infringer on the Internet because of its inherently large and anonymous architecture. If an author wishes to have some type of remedy against an Internet copyright infringer, she should remember these five rules before placing her works on the Internet:
- Go to the copyright.gov website and timely register her copyrights in the works she authors. Registration is inexpensive and permits the copyright owner to maintain a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court, if such is needed to address the infringement.
- Read the terms of service of the sites on which she posts content. Some terms of service give the website broad rights to use and re-use content without either having to pay for it or give attribution. For example, Twitter’s terms of service state: “By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through [Twitter], you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).”
- Be familiar with how to use a “take down notice” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act so that she can cause her illegally copied works to be removed from websites where they are displayed.
- Be familiar with services like Digimarc.com that offer commercial assistance to authors to help police content on the Internet.
- Set up Google Alerts and use Google Image Search to monitor the Internet for unauthorized appearances of her works. For example, I have Google Alerts set up on my novel, The Cure, and my publisher, Diversion Books. When someone places a copy of The Cure on a website, I get an email notice and can determine if I want to have it removed, if it was posted without my or my publisher’s permission.
It may be that an author has a “share-and-share-alike” mindset and does not worry about acts of copyright infringement on the Internet, even if such acts steal money from the author’s pocket. In my experience as a copyright lawyer, even if money is not the motive, it makes sense to police how content is being used on the Internet and act, when appropriate, to seek redress. If certain acts are ignored, then, as the old saying goes, the camel’s nose is in the tent and it is much more difficult to obtain a remedy in the future when it really does matter.
Brad Frazer is a partner at Hawley Troxell where he practices Internet law, publishing law and copyright law. He is a published novelist and a frequent author of Internet content. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.