Two weeks ago, I talked about how to request that stolen content be removed from the offending site. Using the methods provided by the DMCA, you can submit a request for removal of the stolen content to the host of the offending site. But how do you prove and protect your copyright?
How and when do you have copyright?
According to the U.S. government:
Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.
In simpler terms: once something is out of your head and in a created form, you (the creator) have copyright. You needn’t do anything more in most cases.
However, you still need to be able to prove that you hold the copyright, or that you are the creator if someone steals your content.
Keep originals and drafts
You may know that you created the content, but once it’s online, people can change timestamps, change links, crop out image watermarks and suddenly it may look like someone posted the content before you did, implying that you stole it.
So, stay safe: keep your original files and drafts of the content. If you took a few photos and only used one, keep the others on hand to prove you staged the shoot. For example, take the image I’m using for this post: I wrote the words in a notebook I have, took a photo with my camera, and then touched it up a bit in Photoshop to give it more of that yellow legal pad feel (as opposed to the pale green it really is).
Here’s the original, pre-Photoshop shot.
And here is a wider shot of the whole notebook.
I have all of these files saved, including the original, full-size shots from the camera. When presented with that evidence, it is pretty clear that I created that image, isn’t it?
If you type up your posts in a word processor and then paste them in your blog editor, keep those files. Keep a running list of blog topics and when you posted about them. Having a paper trail makes it far easier to claim creation than only having the final published product. Copyright aside, if something ever happens and your blog goes down, having those backups may make you extremely happy.
For a safe way to back up your original files, sign up for a free* Dropbox account. Free has an asterisk because they do have paid accounts, however free accounts get 2GB of space, with the opportunity to earn up to 8GB free by watching a couple of promo videos, referring friends, etc. I have 2.5GB, which has proven to be plenty of space so far. I use Dropbox daily for backups as well as sharing files between work, home, my iPad, and my phone..
Although current copyright law does not require you to provide a copyright notice i.e., © 2011 Rachael Arnold, having one clearly states that you hold the copyright on your content. This means you have removed any good faith claims that the thief didn’t know you held copyright.
A notice also allows you to provide stated limits on how your work can be used by other people. Sometimes you will see “All Rights Reserved”, which generally means that the creator does not allow you to use any of the content without their express permission.
An alternative is to use one of the Creative Commons licenses, which gives a wider range of use without explicitly asking you, but still allows you to keep ultimate control over certain aspects of your copyright.
For instance, I license my content on this site by Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, which means you can freely use my content for non-commercial purposes and create derivative works from it, so long as you attribute the original content to me and license your own derivative work with the same license.
Register with the government
To recap so far, copyright exists as soon as you create copyrightable content, and you don’t even necessarily need to provide notice. However, there are advantages to registering your copyright with the government. The advantages are numerous, especially if you are selling the content. Among other things, they set up evidence of copyright creation, establish a date, and allow you to recoup more of the costs of legally defending your copyright. Also, if you do have to take legal action, you must register your copyright before you can take the case to court.
For more information on the benefits of copyright registration and how to do it, visit copyright.gov.
Remember, IANAL, so if you have questions or need help in claiming your content as your own, your best bet is to contact a lawyer about what opportunities you have available to you.
This is part two in a series of three posts about copyright. Head over to Part 3: Defending a DMCA Notice.