Ways to Avoid Getting into Copyright Trouble
One should always create their own content or artwork, get written permission from the author to reproduce, or purchase the rights from the creator (or stock company). At the very least, one should give the author or artist credit wherever it it used. If the author or artist cannot be contacted or found, it’s better to not use it at all. It’s better to be safe, than to get sued or worse yet, be convicted of a Federal crime.
Taking someone else’s work, changing it in subtle ways, and claiming ownership is also illegal. Even if the modifications to the work are substantial, you may have a difficult time proving your case in Federal court.
If you are contacted by someone claiming copyright, promptly remove the art or content in question in order to avoid serious consequences. You can claim ignorance, but that will not protect you if it isn’t removed in a timely fashion.
If you are the author or creator, I would recommend displaying the copyright line so that it is obvious that you take copyright seriously, and would prosecute anyone who violated these rights. To have the ability to prosecute in a Federal court of law, the author or creator, can register the copyright for an individual work. This can be done by going to the United States Copyright Office’s website. The cost is less than $50 per item, and the application process is pretty straightforward. Of course, you can hire an intellectual property lawyer to do this for you as well.
What to Do if Your Work is Taken
Promptly notify the owner via email or phone (or both) and politely ask for the item to be removed. Give them 24-72 hours to remove or respond to your communication.
If the art/content is not removed, and you have not received a response from the owner within 24-72 hours, contact the company who designed/developed the piece where the art/content appears. For websites, often there is an area at the bottom of the site where you can find this info. If not, contact the web hosting company, which can be found by going to Network Solution’s site which keeps a public database and lists all of the contact info by domain name. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org citing your specific example of the copyright violation and demanding a prompt response to the situation.
If you don’t have any luck with the above, it’s time to contact a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property. Most lawyers at this point, would create a firm cease and desist letter and send to the above parties. This letter would explain the situation, cite the violation and copyright law, request the removal within a specific time frame, and detail the consequences if it is not removed.
Most owners will remove the art/content in question after receiving a cease and desist letter from a lawyer, but if not, your only other option is to litigate and bring the case to court. This is only an option if the author or creator of the piece in question had registered the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. If one only displayed the copyright line: © Copyright. Date the piece originated. Your company name, then you would not be able to take this case to court.
As you can see, copyright infringement should be taken seriously. Whether you are trying to avoid copyright issues with others or trying to protect your own work, it’s important to remember these guidelines.