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How to Protect Your Blog Content From Copyright Infringement

December 22, 2009

The Internet is full of thieves, from Pirates to Plagiarists.  For example, in this episode of the Simpsons, Homer steals copyrighted material from all over the internet.  [Interestingly, this video probably infringes on copyrights held by Fox].

So, how can you, as a contributor to the online marketplace of ideas, protect what you’ve written from this type of thievery?

The law provides that all original tangible works are inherently copyrighted.  You don’t even need to include the © symbol anymore.  Also, the Creative Commons provides an easy way to license your content.  That’s the good news. 

You own your original content.  Fair and square.  If someone is pilfering from your work for their own uses, you have some recourse. 

First, you can contact them directly.  This is intimidating, and might not yield results without a formal demand letter.    You can be as informal as you like in this step, leaving a comment on their blog, for example.  In any case, you should be polite, explain that they have used your content without your permission, and ask them to remove it.  If the user doesn’t respond, take more action. 

Second, you can contact the website owner, registrar or hosting service.  You can find information on the owner of a website by doing a whois search.  Hosting services like GoDaddy and Google, even YouTube, have adopted policies on copyright infringement.  These policies essentially allow for easier enforcement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, legislation which basically expanded copyright law to accommodate for new technologies.

This type of contact [example] should be at least somewhat formal, signed, and include exactly what the policy requests.  If done correctly, these letters do yield results [the site the example complained of, presumably has been removed by Google].  Google will also remove search results that use your content to compete for prominence in results, but that process is more complicated.

You should know, however, that making this kind of complaint with some companies, like Google, will land your complaint on ChillingEffects.org, a site which “aims to support lawful online activity against the chill of unwarranted legal threats.”  They’ll take your personal information off, but the substance of the complaint will remain.  So be sure, before you send a complaint, that you own the copyright, and there use is unlawful.  There are several ways an infringer can be absolved, through a claim of fair use, but I will not address those in this post.

Unfortunately, while the law provides many safeguards, and many major companies will help you along the way, if you truly believe your content has been stolen, you may need a lawyer to handle the complexities for you. 

If you send all the requests you can muster, and the material remains posted, and you can handle the expenses, you might consider proceeding with legal action.  Lawyers are expensive, so you should be sure that you have exhausted all other options, and consider that the cost of allowing the plagiarism might be lower than the cost of enforcing the copyright.  You should also take any steps you can required for litigation, such as registration with the Copyright Office, before contracting a lawyer to do them for you at a much higher rate.

Next substantive post: How to Ensure You Do Not Infringe on Another’s Copyright.

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