X. What can I do if someone is trying to use my copyrighted work without permission?

What can I do if someone is trying to use my copyrighted work without permission?
When someone reproduces your work without your permission, it can be very frustrating. If you suspect someone might be infringing on your work, you should do a bit of homework by determining if the use of your work actually violates copyright law or not. 
1. First, you should determine if your work that has been copied is protected by copyright law
To recap, copyright law protects the expression of almost every creative expression imaginable, as long as it’s fixed and original. It doesn’t protect ideas, facts and any utilitarian language. 
Imagine that you spoke to someone about writing a screenplay about a spy who needs to go to therapy while undercover, and then that person writes a screenplay about a spy who needs to go to therapy. At first glance, you might think that that person has stolen your idea, thus infringing on your copyright. That’s not accurate, though. Since when you spoke to this person about your idea, it wasn’t a fixed expression, it was still only an idea. Ideas aren’t protected by copyright law. 
2. Next, you should determine whether you actually own the rights to the work.
If the work was created for someone else or during the course of your employment, it’s possible that you may not own the copyright. Only the copyright holder can enforce his or her own copyrights. So if the copyright holder is the company that you worked for, your only recourse for infringement is convincing the company to sue the infringer. You do not have any legal right to send a cease-and-desist letter or a DMCA takedown notice, although you can do it anyway. And you definitely don’t have the right to sue

You must also consider whether you gave a license to someone to use your work. This license could take the form of a written contract, or it could just be oral agreement granting them permission. Either way, what looks like an infringement could actually be an authorized use. It could even just be a misunderstanding by someone who interpreted the scope of the permission they received more broadly than you did when you gave it.
3. Even though the person has used your work, they might have a successful fair use defense. This means that their use of your work is not illegal.
While this isn’t directly related to the law, if you’re bothered by another’s non-infringing use, you can contact that person to let her know why you’re bothered and work out a solution  without actually invoking the law. Besides, formal legal procedures and threats often complicate simple problems that can be solved through communication. 
Keep in mind that the law does allow anyone to reuse, adapt, quote, criticize portions of your work without your permission as long as they adhere to the guidelines of fair use, 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 of fair 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.
Frequently asked questions about how to react if you believe someone is infringing your copyright

If I recopy someone else's work using my own time and money can I get around copyright law?

What is the penalty for copying someone’s work without permission?

What is copyright infringement?

Is it legal to download works from peer-to-peer networks and if not, what is the penalty for doing so?

Can I go to jail if I am accused of copyright infringement?

Can you sue someone for copyright infringement if your work is not federally registered beforehand?

How much can a musician borrow from another person’s music in his or her own song?

When do you give attribution?

Is downloading Morpheus a copyright issue?

What legal consequences can there be for illegally downloading movies?

What can happen to someone if they get caught illegally copying or distributing copyrighted material?

Is watching streaming movies legal?

Is it considered copyright infringement if you sang someone else's song but gave them credit for it?


The contents of this guide were created through support from the CCPF - the California Consumer Protection Foundation


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