Of the seven billion people worldwide, there are over two billion people who can access the Internet. While it’s great to have increasing numbers of people to sell your products and services to all over the world, there are also challenges that come with it.
For example, today’s technology makes it so easy for people to steal content from others and then hide behind their remote location to try and get away with it. Nearly every business owner I know has faced piracy problems like this, and the problem continues to get worse.
The question then becomes, what do you do when it looks like your content or ideas have been ripped off? You don’t just have to sit back and be a victim. Here are some simple steps you can take to deal with the problem.
Step #1 – Determine Whether There Has Been an Infringement
First, you need to evaluate whether they actually stole something from you illegally, or whether they did something that was perfectly legal.
Many people think that they have been ripped off, when it was just their idea that was being modeled. If another person just modeled after your idea, but didn’t copy your actual work or your source code, then there is not likely any copyright infringement.
Only a patent can protect the idea itself. So unless you had the idea patented, others can model after your ideas without violating your copyright interests. Copyright infringement occurs when someone has access to your work and copies a substantial portion of the protectable elements. That means that they would have needed to see your work, and then copy a substantial portion from it (whether that be the text or underlying source code).
There are lots of online tools that make it easy to find out if someone has stolen your content. One example is Copyscape, which lets you paste the URL of an article into the tool and then it gives you a list of any other web sites that contain a substantial portion of the same words.
If you learn that someone really did steal a substantial amount of your work (your content and/or source code), then continue with the process below.
Step #2 – File a DMCA Complaint
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, third party Internet service providers can also be held liable for copyright infringement if they receive a copyright infringement complaint and don’t investigate it.
So you can submit DMCA takedown complaints to the service providers that the potential pirate is using to host your content. Let’s look at an example:
Suppose someone stole an article of yours and put it on a website hosted by a particular hosting company. You could submit a DMCA complaint to that web host to let them know that you believe that their client stole your work.
The web host will then investigate the issue and will let the potential pirate know that you have filed the complaint. The work then has to be taken down, or the potential pirate has to respond and claim that the work is theirs.
This is just one example. You could also submit DMCA complaints to providers like Payoal, file sharing sites, etc. You can look on the ISP’s website for a link to their DMCA policy. Their DMCA link is often found right at the bottom of their home page, or linked to from their Legal Policies.
You just need to make sure that whatever service provider you submit the DMCA complaint to is someone that is actually hosting or otherwise interacting with the potentially infringing content. Otherwise, they do not have any duty to look into the matter.
You also need to make sure that you don’t submit a DMCA complaint unless you really believe that your work was stolen. You can get into trouble for submitting false complaints.
It is also important to be aware that if the potential pirate does respond back and claim the work is theirs, the service provider is off the hook and no longer has to deal with the issue. You would then have to hire an attorney to pursue the pirate through a cease & desist letter and/or legal action.
But that is generally not necessary. The DMCA process tends to resolve about 80-90 percent of the piracies, and is something you can generally do without hiring an attorney.
Step #3 – Consider Filing a U.S. Copyright Registration
The next step is to consider filing a U.S. copyright registration.
You can earn a copyright in the U.S. by just creating the work, but you can get stronger copyright interests by filing a federal copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. For example, if you get a federal copyright registration before the particular infringement occurs, then you could get statutory damages and attorney fees awarded in addition to just the actual damages.
Before you are allowed to sue someone for copyright infringement in a U.S. federal court, you must have a federal copyright registration certificate to attach to your lawsuit. You should consider filing a federal copyright registration on your most valuable products, but it would not be practical to file one for every single article that you write.
Step #4 – Consider Hiring an Attorney For More Advice
If you need additional help, you should consider hiring an intellectual property attorney to advise you on the options. They can help you understand whether there was really an infringement of your rights, and/or send cease & desist letters to the potential pirate. They can also assist you in pursuing legal action if necessary for your situation.
Here’s the bottom line: Just make sure someone actually infringed your rights before you go after them. But if they really stole from you, there are several ways you can stop them, including using the highly effective DMCA process.