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Asociates1 writes regarding
Information on Copyrights

I am looking for information regarding the designers/illustrators rights in 
regard to someone scanning and stealing  their original art.
Can you show me the way? Thanks

Your Rights:
What to Do Until the Lawyer Comes

The internet is a continual buffet of articles, photo collections, sound files and content free for the taking. Your file(s) can turn up virtually anywhere and you'll not even know. The Web also happen to house lots of detailed information on how to protect yourself from this theft. (references below)

The Best Advice:

  1. Don't publish anything you're not willing to walk away from. (My first rule)
  2. Register your copyright. While it won't deter the real thief, it will inhibit most law abiding citizens from stealing. At least we hope they'll contact you.

In the US and most other countries, you're covered by what's called "common law" copyright automatically at the time you publish the work. You must register it however if you want the copyright to stick. Why?

  1. it makes YOU the certified creator of the work.
  2. it gives you grounds to sue for statutory or punitive damages from infringements if you so choose to do so. Sometimes you can win damages far higher than what you suffered from the infringement -- and sometimes you will pay out the ying-yang for legal fees and not win anything. It's your guess.

Discovering you've been ripped off

Of course it's very difficult to find and locate. Most crafty thieves will change the document to ward off the cops. I recently served as an Expert Witness in a theft case however where the ISP was so stupid, they simply copied over the pages making no changes whatsoever. Duh.

Catching the thief...
Use the search engines like AltaVista and others to search for words on your pages that you think will be fairly unique. (This is how we catch every time!)
__ If there's a graphic, search for the specific NAME of the graphic file. Chances are the thief didn't change the name to avoid fixing the links.
__ Seed your pages with a "unique" word. In other words invent a word then embed it in the html structure of the page. Some search engines index comments. So if you comment your unique word, then the SE will find it. You can also seed with unique strings of words. Most readers will read right across them, but you'll know the exact string to search for thus turning up any pirates. (Use the search engine's command for "string" ... like putting the string in quotes (AltaVista) or parens.

Graphics are really tough. They can be changed and modified to the point that it's even questionable whether it's an infringement or a "unique" new work. Use the Title as mentioned before. Digital watermarks offer some degree of identify ownership but won't help you search for them. Putting an obvious watermark in the middle of a photo will help prevent use, but still -- a good Photoshop user can override any watermark. Best policy is rule #1 above.

Caught the Thief? Now what?
So, how do you respond when you discover you've been ripped off?
__ People really believe that everything on the Web is in the public domain. It's amazing to find who rips stuff off. When I find one of these people I take one of two attacks:

  1. I chide them, telling them about copyright infringement, encouraging them to take it down. I also offer to "fix" it or change it so it's custom for their site... for a small fee of course.
  2. I encourage them to go ahead and use the art, but give me a credit, and link back to the Design Center. In many cases, I'm happy to report, they do just that.

Off to Court?

Court is a drastic measure. First, you'll be called upon to prove that you've lost income due the infringement. The costs can be staggering.
__ Sometimes in instances of commercial infringement, you want to protect your property because of brand name, and lost sales. In these cases you can usually justify the cost of an attorney.
__ If you're a professional writer or artist and your work is being used for content in another site, you've probably got a good case. But in order to win you're going to have to prove that the work was used in sufficient method as to violate fair use laws, which are becoming more and more lenient.
__ In most cases your first line of attack will be to gain payment, or perhaps even work from the offending party under the threat of litigation. Maybe you'll win, maybe you'll lose.
__ When all is said and done, copyright infringement is going to happen. It hurts your ego most. But keep in mind my methods of dealing with the crooks, and maybe you'll get some links and traffic. If you're nice, and don't make an enemy of the perp, ideally you'll get a check or maybe even an ongoing new client.

Further Reading:
Before some tips to remember, you can pull up this reference material in another window:

  1. *** Intellectual Property Rights in the United States: Your Rights Under Common Law
  2. *** Basic Information about U.S. Copyrights: What is a Copyright?
  3. *** Basic Information about U.S. Copyrights: What is "Fair Use"?
  4. The Copyright Website brings you some insights into the issue, with real-life examples that illustrate many Internet copyright issues.
  5. U.S. Copyright Office of course is the final word on copyright registration. They even have downloadable forms for copyright available.
  6. BitLaw, is a large reserve of information for non-lawyers, and gives you a good start on some in-depth means at your disposal for protecting yourself.
  7. The Fair Use Rule from Nolo Press explains a bit about "Fair Use". You've heard me talk about NOLO before, they're an excellent resource for all kinds of legal information from starting your own corporation to setting up a 501(c)(3) non profit.

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