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Brian Cockburn Brian Cockburn's principal role is to teach and advise faculty, administrators and students about copyright, and intellectual property.
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What do I do if my copyright is infringed?



Whether you publish with a for-profit publisher, open up your course to the public web, write a blog, or create any writing, image, music, or video, your work will be infringed.  To reiterate I said WILL be infringed.  How you respond to this is your choice.   There are a lot of websites that offer advice on what to do if your rights are infringed.  However, they all offer something like the following...

Determine your ownership status--If you have signed a contract with a publisher that assigns or gives some or all of your exclusive rights to another entity, you may not have any ability to take action.  You must either be the owner or the legal representative of the owner to take action.  If you find that you no longer hold the copyright to your work, you may, of course, still notify the entity to which you assigned or gave your rights.

Scan the web regularly for infringement--Most copyright infringement claims have a three-year statute of limitations from the "last act" of the infringement. What constitutes the last act can vary.  Therefore, you might consider scanning the web about every three years.  The best way to do this is to perform a search on a few unique sentences within your work.  Images and other media are more difficult, but you may perform a search on subjects, locations, or keywords that might relate to your media.

Document the Infringement--Include screenshots of online infringement and any correspondence.

Send a Professional and Courteous Notice--If you find an unauthorized use, it is best to send a professional and courteous email to the contacts of the webpage or the publisher of the website or work.  This letter should be specific to the particular infringement and should include something like the following:  

"This is to advise you that you are using copyrighted and protected material without permission. Your use of [give specifics of location like page number or url] is originally from my [website/blog/article, etc] called [give specifics of original appearance]. This is original content and I am the author and copyright holder. Use of copyright protected material without permission is illegal under copyright laws."

You should suggest one or more of the following remediations:

  • Re-write the post to include excerpts with a link to the original content.
  • Credit the material specifically to me, as author, and my original publication [be specific].
  • Provide compensation for use of my copyright protected material of $XX.00 USD paid via [payment method].
  • Remove the plagiarized material immediately.

And indicate an expected response time--5 days is usually enough.

Research the Infringer--Determine if the infringement is based in a foreign country where infringment is regulalry ignored whether the infringement is by a single person or by a publisher, also what kind of infringement it is

Send a Cease and Desist Order--This should be more "official" and curt.  It should demand that the offender cease and threaten further remediation. Shorten the expected response time to 24 or 36 hours

Determine whether it is worth it to sue--Before proceeding, you need to determine whether you are ready to bring the case to court.  Once you submit a takedown notice, legal procedures take effect and it might require that you either bring a suit or the use may continue.

Send a Takedown notice to ISP and search engines--Every search engine and host company has an address where you may do this.  The notice should be formatted very similar to the above courtesy notice but should include (according to Google) the following statement: “I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above on the allegedly infringing web pages is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”  Also include the following statement: “I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.”  Once this is sent the offender will have a limited time to respond.  They may take down the infringing content or may respond that this is not infringment.  I recommend that you see a lawyer before taking this step as there are significant legal ramifications.