How to Prevent Others From Infringing on Your Copyright

By Cindy Hill

Copyright is the scheme of legal protection for people who develop original creative works including art, literature, film, architecture and software. Copyright attaches the moment an original creative work is fixed into a tangible medium, like a sketch or a digital file. Enforcement of copyright against infringement by others is primarily up to copyright holders, who must carefully protect their copyrighted works through notices, registration and, if necessary, civil lawsuits.

Copyright is the scheme of legal protection for people who develop original creative works including art, literature, film, architecture and software. Copyright attaches the moment an original creative work is fixed into a tangible medium, like a sketch or a digital file. Enforcement of copyright against infringement by others is primarily up to copyright holders, who must carefully protect their copyrighted works through notices, registration and, if necessary, civil lawsuits.

Infringement

A copyright holder has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform and display original work and use derivative works, such as in sequels or product merchandising. Anyone who engages in any use of the work without the copyright holder's permission is usually committing a copyright infringement. A few narrow instances in which use of a copyrighted work without the copyright holder's permission may not constitute infringement include a legitimate fair use, such as quoting a small portion of a work for purposes of literary or academic criticism. Purchasing a compulsory license to record a cover song is another means of using a copyrighted work without constituting infringement.

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Notice and Registration

Placing a copyright notice on your work is no longer required by law, but it still makes good common sense. The best way to prevent copyright infringement is to make sure that anyone viewing your work knows it is copyright protected and can readily identify the copyright holder. The clearest, traditional means of placing the world on notice of your copyright is to mark your copyrighted works with the letter C inside a circle, followed by the year of first publication of the work and the name of the copyright holder. Although registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is not mandatory, doing so helps to notify potential infringers of your rights as a copyright holder. Registered copyrights are listed in a searchable national database, which can be used both to determine if something is protected by copyright and to find the copyright holder in order to buy a license or negotiate terms for lawful use.

Cease and Desist

The first step in preventing copyright infringement is to ask the person who is using your protected work to stop doing so. Send the infringer a cease and desist letter to let that person know you are the copyright holder; you intend to protect your copyright; you are aware of the use of your copyrighted work; and you do not approve of that use. You can include a request for compensation in the cease and desist letter. Once you send the cease and desist letter, you can often negotiate an amicable agreement for use of the copyrighted work.

Litigation

If you cannot reach an amicable settlement with someone who wants to use your copyrighted work, you may have to bring a copyright enforcement lawsuit in federal court. To do so, you must register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration permits the copyright holder to seek additional damages, as well as attorney's fees and costs of bringing the copyright enforcement suit. The advantages of registration make it more effective to protect your copyright from infringement with enforcement litigation, if necessary.

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Copyright Registration Advantages & Disadvantages

References

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Sound Recordings & Copyright Law

Section 102 of the U.S. Copyright Act includes sound recordings as a category of “original works of authorship” eligible for copyright protection. Like any other category, a sound recording is protected by copyright from the moment it is “fixed in any tangible means of expression.” Under the 1976 Copyright Act, copyright protection exists regardless of registration of a copyright claim or publication of the work.

Copyright Rules About Screenwriters Using Songs

Musical compositions and sound recordings are two categories of original work protected by copyright under U.S. law. Copyright gives authors the exclusive rights to duplicate, distribute, perform, display and create derivative works of their original creative expression. Copyright holders can also grant licenses to others to exercise these rights. Screenwriters who want to use copyrighted compositions or recordings in their films must obtain a license to use the works or risk being sued for copyright infringement. Typically, the musical composition copyright is owned by the songwriter, while the sound recording copyright is held by the producer or recording company.

Copyright Laws & Guidelines

There are many laws and guidelines related to applying for copyright registration, the basis for bringing a lawsuit for copyright infringement and what constitutes fair use under copyright law. Although most copyright law is established by the United States Copyright Code and common law applications by judges, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act relates more directly to modern applications of the law. Copyright laws are codified by statute, but many other copyright guidelines exist, such as the first sale doctrine and the doctrine of fair use.

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