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What to do when someone steals your copyright

The wonderful world wide web poses many problems for creatives, when people use your work without your consent.  Engaging a lawyer can also be expensive.  Here the tips I give to creatives who suspect that their copyright has been stolen.

1.  Check yourself

Before you shoot of an angry message to the suspect, I recommend that  you get your “case” in order!  Firstly look at where you published the work, and understand whether and how you asserted your copyright.  Did you use the © symbol?  What the work given under client terms?  It is important to get your facts straight before you contact the suspect.

2.  Locate your suspect

You need to know the identity of the person who is using your work, and how to contact them.  This isn’t always easy with websites or blogs, in which case I recommend you find out who the website host is.  If that sounds too much for you, find a tech savvy person who should be able to help.

3.  Invite a response

I recommend you avoid going in with all guns blazing at your suspect.  I also strongly recommend you avoid some type of public confrontation.  You can expose yourself legally if you don’t approach this responsibly.  There is a lot of ignorance about copyright now days so I suggest you politely assert your copyright and ask for the result you want.

Here is an example of why stepping softly might work for you.  I know an artist who found his images being sold in a retail store.  The retailer had purchased the prints from a large wholesaler.  When he approached the wholesaler, they offered to pay him a percentage for each image sold.  He suddenly had national exposure and ongoing royalties.  This could have been an entirely different outcome if he took an accusatory approach. 

Make sure you record or document your contact with the suspect in writing and keep copies.

4.  They didn’t respond

Try again.  Up the anti and explain you will take further action if you do not receive a response in a certain number of days.

5.  Report the suspect

If all else fails you can lodge complaints with most legitimate social media and website hosts.  A breach of copyright is generally a breach of the platform’s terms and conditions giving the provider certain rights, such as to remove the page or the work.  This approach worked for a client of mine.

6.  Legal action.

I recommend legal action as a last resort, depending on the situation of course.  Sometimes it is necessary. Copyright can only be enforced in the legal jurisdiction that the right arises in, so if the suspect is based overseas this can be difficult.  However, if you are seeking financial compensation then legal action may be the best option for you.