What should you do if suspect that someone is infringing on your copyright?

 
That question really depends on your situation as well as what is being infringed. What a large company should do if it expects another large company of infringing a work with millions of dollars of market potential differs from what a person should do if an individual copies her blog posts. This is not at all to say that one infringement is more worthy than another, but there are a variety of practical realities that make the two situations very different. 
 
If you choose to sue, you should first contact the person or organization that has used your works. Tell them that they are using your copyrighted materials and if they do not stop, you will take further legal action. This should be enough, unless your work has been made into a national advertising campaign, a novel, or a major blockbuster movie. If you deem that the value of your work, or the value of the materials made with your work, is worth the cost of further legal action, then your next step should be in contacting a copyright lawyer.
 
Once you contact a copyright lawyer, he or she will enlist the copyright office to search for any potential infringements to see if it warrants a lawsuit. If you can’t afford a lawyer, your last move would be to send a cease-and-desist letter
 
If you think someone on the Internet has stolen your work, you should contact the website’s owner and detail what of your work has been copyrighted, complete with links to your work with clear publishing dates. Warn the owner that, if the situation isn’t rectified, you’ll contact a copyright infringement lawyer or even the copyright office (if you have your copyright registered).
 
Often, cases of websites infringing on your copyrights may just be people who have the misconception that anything found on the Internet is free for anyone to use. So they may agree to your request to take down the infringing material if you inform them. If it’s someone who knowingly copied your work, the person may be more difficult to deal with, which will require taking more serious measures to rectify the situation.
 
Moira Allen of Women on Writing suggests investigating your situation before sending any sort of communication. For example, checking your contracts may reveal that someone has legally used your work by contacting your publisher or the actual copyright owner, if you created the work in a work-for-hire situation. In cases like that, you should check with your publisher or the copyright holder, as it would be their responsibility to enforce their copyrights. She also recommends ensuring that you didn’t actually authorize someone to reuse your work. This is a possibility if you authorized someone to do so years prior and simply forgot that you did or forgot who you allowed to do so.
 
After that, she suggests putting together proof that you created the original material “such as contracts, editorial correspondence, manuscript files, published clips, or dated printouts of the material if it appeared online.” Basically, you need to prove that “the material was originally published under your name.” You should also make copies of the infringing work, just in case the infringer decides to hide their infringement by, for example, taking it off their website.
 
Additionally, you can see if the infringer stole work from other people, for example, by Googling “a distinctive phrase or two from other articles on the site.”
 
After this, Allen advises that it’s a matter of deciding what you want from the infringer, whether it be having the material taken down or receiving payment for the infringer’s use your work. After that, decide how much work you’re willing to put into pursuing the infringement claim, including the potential court costs.
 
In some cases, as stated above, you can talk to the infringer. In others, you may be able to talk to someone related to the infringer, such as the editor of the publication that’s published the infringing work. This will usually rectify the situation as well as inform the editor (and perhaps even his or her colleagues) that this person is copying other people’s work. 
 
In the case of websites, you can contact the website’s ISP. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires ISPs to remove infringing material, even if it isn’t “officially” proven in court.
 
Keep in mind that the law does allow someone to reuse, adapt, quote, criticize portions of your work without your permission as long as they adhere to the guidelines of fair use [link: Fair use, main section], even if you object to the way that person has re-appropriated your material, and even if they don’t give you credit for it. Before going forward with an infringement claim and hiring a lawyer to analyze your situation, it would be highly beneficial to educate yourself on the basics offFair use and whether it may apply to your situation. 
 
If you believe someone has copied your work in an unauthorized way and would like to know your best course of action, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here. 
Find additional articles by

What's the best way to avoid legal problems for your business or creative work? 

Read our book

Paperback Ebook | Audiobook

Don't Panic is used in undergraduate & graduate classes nationwide to teach business and legal concepts to non-lawyers. Professors & Teachers can request a discounted copy from support @ newmediarights.org