Do-It-Yourself Copyright Protection

By Helen Sedwick (@HelenSedwick)

I’d like to welcome writer and lawyer Helen Sedwick, who will be writing for this blog regularly. In this post, Helen addresses a frustrating situation that many authors have faced, and explains what we can legally do about it.

ID-100267391I confess that when my novel COYOTE WINDS was released, I obsessively searched the title online to see if any buzz was brewing. When I found a site that said CLICK HERE FOR FREE PDF OF COYOTE WINDS, I felt sick.

I am not alone. Search your book’s title and ISBN. Chances are you will find similar listings.

The situation is worse for blog posts, poems and lyrics. You could find your words pasted onto a kitten photo and posted on Facebook or Pinterest with someone else’s name on it.

Believe it or not, some people still believe that everything on the internet is free to use. Or, they figure no one will find out or care.

What is an author to do when she finds her work used without permission? Plenty. And in 99% of the cases, you won’t need a lawyer. You can remove the infringing material yourself thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The DMCA set up a mechanism for “taking down” infringing work appearing online. The law was passed to protect social media sites and internet service providers (ISPs) from liability when users posted infringing material. But to enjoy that protection, they must remove infringing material promptly after receiving a ”takedown notice.”

SP Legal Handbook Kindle coverx300All writers and artists should know how to send takedown notices. Like locking your car or home, it’s easy and sensible. And unlike other infringement remedies, your copyright does not have to be registered or marked with a © (although it should be for other reasons).

Social media sites like YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Facebook have online forms for reporting infringement. Typically, you’ll find them under links titled Legal, Copyright, Report a Problem, or Help. Here are the links for Facebook and Pinterest.

If the infringing material is on a blog or website, start by sending the owner a simple email explaining that you own the work and requesting removal.

In 99% of the cases, submitting a form to the social media site or contacting the blogger or website owner works. The infringing material disappears, and you may even get an apologetic note.

Then there’s the other 1%. Here things can get complicated.

If you are dealing with a website, you’ll need to send a formal “takedown notice” to the ISP hosting the site. To figure out which ISP, go to and type in the domain. Send the ISP a takedown notice meeting the following requirements:

  • Is in writing;
  • Signed by the you as the copyright owner;
  • Identifies the copyrighted work;
  • Identifies the infringing material;
  • Includes your contact information;
  • States you are complaining in “good faith;”
  • States “under penalty of perjury” that the information in the notification is accurate.

Here are some good examples: National Press Photographers Association, and IP Watchdog

Once the social media site or ISP receives a takedown notice, it contacts the alleged infringer. If the infringer does nothing, then infringing material is taken down. End of story. But if the infringer disputes your claim by submitting a Counter Notification, then the process gets more complicated.

First, you may have given the user permission to use your work without realizing it. For instance, if you posted the material on a critique site such as WeBook, you may have given them permission to use your material in promoting their site. Same with FaceBook and Google+. Look closely at the Terms Of Use of the site.

Second, the use may be fair use if it is for commentary, news, review or educational purposes. Here’s a great post explaining fair use.

In the worst case, the infringer may lie and say it has the right to use your work. Law or no law, a few people refuse to live by the rules the rest of us respect.

If your takedown notice is disputed, then the online service will repost the material unless you notify them within 14 business days that you have filed a legal action against the alleged infringer. Sure, if you sue and win, you may be entitled to collect damages, but for most writers hiring an attorney will not be worth it. Damages (lost sales) may be small and difficult to prove. The infringer may be overseas and unreachable. And litigation consumes money like wildfire, not to mentioned time, attention, and sleep. In most cases, you would be better off focusing on your writing and accepting a little piracy as part of the business.

Now, about the site offering a free PDF of COYOTE WINDS, I was curious and clicked. I went to a page that had my Amazon blurb followed by a lot of gibberish. I hovered over the download button, then worried I might download a virus. I didn’t want my work tied to a virus, so I sent a takedown notice. The link disappeared, and the problem was solved, at least for awhile.

For more information on protecting your copyright, check out my book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook, or my blog at

About the Author

Sedwick.Headshotx175Writer and lawyer Helen Sedwick has thirty years of experience representing businesses and entrepreneurs as diverse as wineries, graphic designers, green toy makers, software engineers, investors, restaurateurs, and writers. Her newest release Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing is assisting indie author in navigating the legal minefield of self-publishing and blogging. Her historical novel Coyote Winds earned five-star reviews from ForeWord Reviews and Compulsion Reads and is an IndieBRAG Medallion Honoree.


Disclaimer: Helen Sedwick is an attorney licensed to practice in California only. This information is general in nature and should not be used as a substitute for the advice of an attorney authorized to practice in your jurisdiction.

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  1. Great post by Helen. Question about Facebook: When you say “may have given the user permission . . . without realizing it,” do you mean Facebook (the company) or Facebook users? What if you post on FB, then delete your post. . . would that protect your content? I know you don’t actually delete from FB’s computer storage files, just delete from public view. Thanks for this great post.

    • Marlene, My biggest concern are the sites where writers post their work for others to read and comment, such as WeBooks. If you read their Terms of Use, they typically claim the right to repost (and sometimes edit) your work for promotional and publicity purposes.

      Many contests do the same. If you remember the AMTRAK contest that got some buzz last year, they claimed the right to use all entries for any promotional and advertising purposes. Most people did not realize they were giving AMTRAK free content.

      Social media sites such as Facebook are constantly changing their rules. Typically, they change the rules to permit themselves to use all posted content, then back off if there is public backlash. You should assume that anything you post will be reposted, so keep that in mind.

      For now, once you delete a post from Facebook, it should disappear from your timeline. However, it might still appear in the timelines of those who commented on your post. It is very difficult to make something completely disappear once it’s posted.

  2. I wonder. . . does this explain why some photos are missing from my blog? I have permission and some of the photos that are missing are my photos . . . ones I took. They are inexplicably missing from past posts.

    • Marlene, How mysterious. This might happen if they were free images from Getty Images. I know Getty reserves the right to remove those at any time.

      If someone sent a take-down notice about images on your site, you should have received an email from your hosting ISP and had the opportunity to file a counter-notification. If you took the photos, there would not be any basis for a take-down notice.

      Try putting them back into your posts. Perhaps there was a technical problem.

  3. The DMCA takedown process applies only to websites and webhosts physically located within the United States. When copyright-protected material is being published or hosted on servers located outside the United States, one useful enforcement tool is to send Google a request to remove the webpage from its archive. The webpage will not be “taken down” but it won’t show up in Google’s natural search results when the name of the literary work is searched.

    • Dan, Great point.
      Yes, DMCA applies to U.S. sites. However, it’s still worth sending a take-down notice even with foreign sites. Since they their sites are available to users located in the U.S., many will honor take-down notices.


  1. […] take-down notice if your work is posted online. Here’s a post I wrote explaining that process. Do-It-Yourself Copyright Protection. Katie says: This would have been really useful last week when I found out pirates had stolen my […]

  2. […] about copyright. You do not need to register a copyright for it to be valid. You can send a DMCA takedown notice without registering your work. But registration gives you additional legal remedies in the event […]

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