How to Protect Your Content
Last week, I outlined the various ways bloggers should protect themselves in order to make sure there are no legal repercussions for their blogging activities. The other side of the legal blogging coin is protecting your content against theft and plagiarism. Here is what you need to know about your rights to your content under the law:
1. Your work is considered copyrighted the moment it is created. Copyright is granted automatically to the creator of the intellectual property, and registering for copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is entirely voluntary. However, in order to have the right to sue for copyright infringement, you will need to have your work registered.
But it’s important to remember that even if you do not register your blog entries, photographs, and images with the Copyright Office, you do still have recourse in the case of theft.
2. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects copyright holders and website administrators in the case of copyright infringement. Basically, the DMCA makes sure that a website administrator is not held responsible if someone posts copyrighted material to his site. A common example of this would be a commenter including copyrighted material in comments or on a forum on your blog. This means we do not have to be policing our blogs to make sure every commenter is complying with the law.
On the other hand, the DMCA also offers those bloggers who have been plagiarized with an avenue for having the offending content taken down. This is because even though web administrators and ISPs are not held liable for copyright infringement through DMCA, they are required to take down infringing material as soon as they receive an official complaint. (Click here for a DMCA complaint form through Google. In addition, Carolyn E. Wright of Black Star Rising has a great explanation of what is required in a takedown notice.) Generally, a WHOIS search will get you the necessary contact information for sending a takedown notice.
3. A DMCA takedown notice is not necessarily your first step. Politely emailing the offending website and requesting the removal of the material will often get results. Blogger Ang England provides an excellent sample email of what she sends to offending websites. She politely informs those sites that they have taken her copyrighted work and invites them to pay her a reprint fee or hire her to write something new for them.
As her post makes clear, in some cases offending websites have stolen content through ignorance of the law and are happy to comply with her request. England has gotten some new clients and jobs by starting her complaint process with these polite and straightforward emails—which helps make it clear that many people are simply unaware of bloggers’ rights.
It is only when the offending site ignores these email requests that it’s necessary to then send a DMCA complaint.
The Bottom Line
There is still a tendency to regard the work bloggers do online as somehow less legitimate than the work published in traditional print media. Because it is so easy to copy and paste information, it may seem as though there are fewer protections available for online media. It may be easy to steal copyrighted material online, but that does not mean that the material we work so hard to produce is not protected. Knowing your rights is the first step to making certain you keep them.