by Rachel Rodgers | Featured Contributor
Have you ever had your website content copied or stolen?
If you have been running a business with an online presence for any substantial period of time, than you probably have experienced that awful sinking feeling when you discover that someone has stolen your content from your website. It doesn’t feel good to know that someone has blatantly stolen the work that you spent days or hours pouring over to create.
So you may be wondering what you can do when someone copies or steals your stuff. There is a law that governs copyright infringement on the internet and its called the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA for short. The DMCA provides a process for having your content removed from an infringer’s website. But that’s the action you take once you’re work has already been violated.
There’s a much easier way to protect your intellectual property than reacting once it has been stolen. Sounds great right? Well, this proactive protection of your intellectual property is called copyright registration which is not nearly as hard, complicated, difficult or fancy as it may seem. We’ve all heard about copyrights, of course. But most people look at it as this big, looming, scary process reserved only for the big dogs. Wrong. So wrong.
Copyright is a form of protection, provided by the federal government, to any authors of original works of authorship, including books, e-courses, blog posts, plays, music, and more. So if you create something, if you have an idea for a book or blog, or program, design or piece of music, and you create it, then you can copyright it.
Now: anytime you create something, you instantly and automatically, have copyright protection of your original creative works. While that’s well and good, its not enough. You should register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Here’s 3 reasons why the official step of registering your copyright is absolutely worth it:
1. With a copyright registration, you create a government record that’s, you know, official. You create a paper trail that specifies you as the creator and owner of the work. I’m a fan of government records. Sending your official certificate of copyright registration along with a DMCA Take Down Notice can be very effective in your quest to get stolen material taken down. Those savvy infringers know that infringing on federally registered copyrights can come with penalties of the five-figure variety and up (more on that below) so they take those notices and registrations more seriously.
Plus, the official copyright registration can also come in especially handy when you are dealing with an unpublished work. You may have trouble proving ownership when you have a creative work that you’ve authored but haven’t yet displayed to the world. Again, like I said: official government records are a good thing. Paper trails help protect your assets!
2. That copyright registration also means that you have the exclusive right to share and profit from your work. If you don’t hold the federally registered copyright, there’s not much of a deterrent to stop anyone else from using it, from selling it, and profiting from it. Simply relying on morals is not enough. Sometimes people lack them and then you’re stuck dealing with a massive headache. The only real preventive measure you can take to protect your creative works is a federal registration of your creative works.
You see so many examples of it today: blogs, ebooks, workshops, and all kinds of intellectual property that are stolen and shared without the creator benefiting. People grab content and pass it on as their own work. Unfortunately, no one who has an online presence hasn’t had something stolen (whether they know it or not!).
3. Let’s look at the best part of registering your creative works in the case of downright thievery: you can actually collect statutory damages (the damages provided for in the U.S. Copyright Act) and attorney’s fees if you successfully sue someone for copyright infringement. The statutory damages can go up to $30,000 for each work infringed upon, and up to $150,000 if the court finds that the infringement was willful, (i.e., the infringer had notice that they were infringing on your work and chose to continue to do it anyway).
But, here’s the catch, if you don’t register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you aren’t entitled to collect statutory damages or attorney’s fees if you sue someone for copyright infringement; you can only collect actual damages.
That’s still something right? Well, actual damages are usually pretty minimal; they would be the money that the offender actually made from selling the stolen ebook, or the money you can prove you lost as a result of the infringement and nothing else.
So, let’s look at an example. Sophia writes a clever e-book and self-publishes it on her website where customers can purchase it for $100. Then a nasty little infringer comes along purchases a copy of the book, copies it, slaps his name on it and then begins to sell it on his own website for $50. By stealing Sophia’s work and undercutting her price point, he has diverted hundreds of sales from her website costing her $15,000 in lost profits. Without a federally registered copyright, you would only have the potential to be awarded that $15,000 and you would have to foot the bill for your lawyers. If it cost $6,000 in legal fees (it would probably cost more) to bring the lawsuit, you’d only be taking home $9,000. That’s a far cry from $150,000, isn’t it?
So be sure to register your creative works with the U.S. Copyright Office. Those ebooks, photos, information products and other important pieces of intellectual property you have created are part of your business’s assets. The rule of thumb is: if you make money from it, then you should register it.
Want to learn how to copyright your content? Check out my fun to read (no, seriously!) free legal clinic called Small Business Bodyguard, which contains a complete step-by-step of the copyright registration process, and a whole lot more to help you run your business like a BOSS.
Rachel Rodgers – Intellectual Property Strategy & Legal Counsel for Digital Entrepreneurs
Rachel Rodgers is the intellectual property and business lawyer for digital entrepreneurs. Her one-of-a-kind practice, Rachel Rodgers Law Office, is run entirely online making her services accessible and convenient for tech startups, online-based businesses and thought leaders. Her secure online law office was one of the first of its kind and has filled a void among entrepreneurs in need of savvy legal counsel without breaking the bank or compromising excellent customer service. Rachel and her practice have been featured in Fast Company, MSNBC, The Washington Post, Forbes and various other media outlets and publications.
Rachel co-wrote the most entertaining business law guide for entrepreneurs called Small Business Bodyguard: Cover Your Bases, Cover Your Assets, Cover Your Ass. It has been called “fun and engaging” by New York Times bestselling author Chris Brogan.
Prior to forming her law practice, Rachel served as Judicial Law Clerk to the Honorable James A. Farber in New Jersey Superior Court. Before law school, Rachel worked for non-profits in New York, at a premier lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. and on Capitol Hill in the Senate office of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At home, Rachel can be found baking in the kitchen, running after her two-year-old daughter, feeding her infant son (because who knew such a small person could eat so much?!), hanging out with her hubby, or planning her next trip to France, her absolute favorite place on the face of the planet.