How to Enforce Your Copyright if Someone Infringes on Your Work

By David Carnes

A copyright gives you legal protection over a work you created. Copyright protection extends not only to works of authorship such as musical compositions and novels, but also to software algorithms. The U.S. Copyright Act provides a variety of legal remedies that you can use against copyright infringement including injunctions, civil damages and statutory damages. Although you don't have to register your copyright in order to have grounds for an infringement lawsuit, prior registration confers significant legal advantages.

Step 1

Attach a copyright notice to each copy of your work, if it you are about to publish it. A copyright notice contains the copyright symbol (C in a circle), the year of first publication and the name of the copyright holder. A copyright notice is no longer required for copyright protection, but it will help you prove that any infringement was intentional.

Step 2

Register your copyright online with the U.S. Copyright Office, if you have not already done so. You must complete Form eCO and pay a filing fee of $35 per work. The Copyright Office will send you a copyright certificate. If your copyright has already been infringed at the time you register it, however, you will not be entitled to the enhanced legal benefits of registration unless your work has been published and you registered the copyright within three months after first publication. As long as you registered your copyright before the infringement occurred, you will be entitled to enhanced legal benefits: you won't have to prove damages, and you can obtain statutory damages of between $750 and $150,000 per act of infringement..

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Step 3

Send a warning letter to the infringing party identifying your work, stating that it is copyrighted and that you own the copyright, identifying the act of infringement, and ordering him to either stop infringing your copyright or face legal action. Include a copy of your copyright certificate with the letter.

Step 4

File a petition for a copyright infringement injunction with the federal district court that has jurisdiction over your place of residence. An infringement injunction is a court order demanding that the alleged offender stop performing infringing acts. To obtain an injunction, you will be required to submit evidence of the infringement. If you file a lawsuit and lose, the injunction will be lifted.

Step 5

File a copyright infringement lawsuit in the federal district court with jurisdiction over your residence. If your damages are large and you are confident you can prove the amount, seek civil damages in the amount of your actual losses. If not, seek statutory damages. You are likely to receive higher statutory damages if you can prove that the infringement was intentional and committed for the purpose of financial gain.

Step 6

File a criminal complaint with the FBI's Intellectual Property Fraud Unit, if you believe the infringement constitutes a criminal offense. Infringement can be criminally prosecuted if the infringing party continued infringing the copyright after receiving a warning letter from you, and the infringement was committed for financial gain or the infringing party reproduced or distributed more than $1,000 worth of copyrighted material. The maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
Punishment for Violating Copyright Laws



Related articles

How to Copyright a Website in Canada

If your website is online, it already enjoys copyright protection under Canadian copyright law as long as its content is original. You can also register your website with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Registration constitutes public proof that your website is copyrighted and that you are the copyright owner. Registration also makes it more difficult for an infringing party to claim unintentional infringement, and allows potential licensees to contact you for permission to use material on your website.

How to File a Copyright Application With the U.S. Copyright Office

As the author of an original creative work, you automatically acquire basic copyrights as soon as you create the work and fix it in a tangible form. A tangible form refers to physical documentation, from a pencil drawing on a cocktail napkin to a first draft of a screenplay or an audiovisual recording of an opera. When you file a copyright application, you claim ownership of the material. Once the copyright office processes your application, it makes your copyright registration information public through its federal database of U.S. copyrights. Copyright registration requires a certified application, filing fee and deposit of the original material.

Why Should I Copyright My Thesis?

Copyright protection of your thesis exists once you've written it -- you don't necessarily need to do anything more. The copyright for your thesis will last for the length of your life plus 70 years. Determining whether you should take the additional step of registering your thesis’s copyright depends on several factors.


Related articles

How to Pursue Copyright Infringement

When someone copies your original work, such as a book or a song, without your permission, that individual has ...

How to Copyright Something in Canada

Under Canadian law, a copyright is created as soon as you reduce an original work of authorship to tangible form. Full ...

How to Apply for a Copyright

Copyright law protects works of authorship, including art and software algorithms. To fully protect your work, you must ...

What Can a Business Do if Its Copyrighted Material Has Been Copied by a Competitor?

Copyright law protects your work against being copied by a competitor. However, protection is not absolute. If your ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED