By Helen Sedwick (@HelenSedwick)
I 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.”
All 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 http://whois.net/ 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.
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.
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.
About the Author
Writer 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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