In the first part of our Quick Questions regarding copyright, we discussed establishing copyright. Now we’ll talk about using copyright, finding a copyright holder, defending your copyright claim, and how to use Creative Commons licenses.
Please keep in mind that copyright laws can be specific to your country. Check with the office or department which oversees copyright in your location for the most accurate and relevant laws. This is a quick overview of copyright laws and not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for specific and sensitive copyright-related questions.
How do I find the copyright holder?
Most mass-produced works (such as printed books, CDs, or DVDs) will have copyright holder information either on the packaging or in the work itself.
If you’re looking for the copyright holder for an obscure, damaged, or local product, you’ll have to do some sleuthing. First, you’ll need to determine the copyright holder’s country of origin. A French author who was published in France will not show up in the US Copyright Office records. If the work’s creator followed her country’s process, her work will be listed in her country’s database.
If the work was not officially registered, and you’re looking for a specific person, the only option left is search engines. People search engines such as Spokeo and Pipl can connect you to individals (for a price). Whois lookups can give you information about the owner of a particular domain name. And old standbys like Facebook or LinkedIn can provide you with other ways to track down copyright holders.
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons “is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.” They are most well-known for licenses that you, as a creator, can apply to your work. Customizable options let you decide specifics, such as whether other people can profit from your work or if others have to attribute your work to you in order to use it. You can even pick your jurisdiction! You won’t have to worry about country-specific laws if you apply an international license to your work. Please note, you must already own the copyright to the work.
How can I use Creative Commons?
Fill out some simple forms on the license generator page in order to create a personalized CC license.
How can I find CC-licensed work by other people?
The Creative Commons site itself has a search engine for CC-licensed work. If you’d prefer to look on individual sites, use advanced search options to search only for shareable work.
What if someone copied my work?
The answer to this question depends on the situation and location. We can only talk about the US, because we are unfamiliar with other legal systems.
If someone unlawfullly claimed your work as their own online, you can use a DMCA takedown notice to try to solve the issue quickly and easily. ReadWriteWeb has a lovely infographic which explains the process. For a more detailed explanation, check out this post by Black Star Rising.
If someone is unlawfully selling hard copies of your work, that’s trickier. The first step will be contacting a lawyer. He should draft a cease-and-desist letter to send to the copyright infringer.
Remember in the last post when we said you needed to pay to register your copyright in the US? This is why. If the DMCA takedown notice or cease-and-desist letter don’t have the desired effect, you may end up in court to defend your copyright. If you have the registered copyright to the work, you have a good chance of avoiding a trial. Lawsuits and trials are held to determine questions of fact: if you own the copyright, have proof of the copyright, and it’s corraborated by the US Copyright Office, there aren’t any facts to try. It’s unequivocally yours. If you didn’t register your work, you may still be able to prevail after a lawsuit. However, you’ll need enough solid evidence and enough money to cover those billable hours until the lawsuit is settled.
How likely is it that I will end up in legal trouble due to copyright issues?
Not very likely. It is far more likely that no one will ever read your work than someone will steal it. There’s even less of a chance that they’ll make any meaningful profit.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s useless to copyright your work. If you have written a full-length novel and you’re planning some serious promotion for it, it might be worth registering it for your peace of mind. If you’re submitting poetry to a local magazine, however, that peace of mind might not be worth the hassle and cost of officially registering your work.