DISCLAIMER: Recent conversations with the Copyright Office have led me to change my stance regarding blogs and copyright registration. Please see this post for my updated views.
My cause for the next year is to encourage independent writers and artists to register the copyrights in their work. If you have a blog, you have to register your content every three months to maximize your options when someone steals your work.
I know a lot of people wouldn’t notice if someone stole their content, but what if someone did that to you? What if someone did that to you and it pissed you off? You might want all your options to be open for you then.
The U.S. Copyright Act says you get the most options when someone steals your content if you register your work within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement – whichever happens first. For most bloggers that means they have to register their blog content every three months. Here is a simple breakdown of your possible options depending on when you registered your work.
Possibility #1 – You Never Registered Your Content
The law says you have to register your copyright to sue for copyright infringement. If you refuse to register your work, that’s your prerogative, but that means you can likely only send a cease-and-desist letter or a DMCA takedown notice if someone steals your content.
Possibility #2 – You Registered Your Content After Three Months of Publication
You can sue for copyright infringement, but you can only ask for your “actual damages.” This is the amount of money the thief made from stealing your work and/or the amount of money you didn’t make because he stole your work. In the blogging world, your actual damages could easily be $0.00. Most people don’t sue for actual damages unless the thief made bank off what he stole. You’d also be responsible for paying your attorneys’ fees.
Possibility #3 – You Registered Your Content Within Three Months of Publication
You can sue for copyright infringement, and you can ask for “statutory damages.” Statutory damages can be as high as $150,000, regardless of how much money you lost or the thief made from stealing your work. If you register your work within this time frame the court can make the thief pay your attorneys’ fees too. A lot of attorneys ask if and when you registered your work when you come to them with a copyright claim because they suspect you can’t or won’t want to pay the legal fees that go into fighting one of these cases.
Registering your copyright is preparing for the worst-case scenario. Hopefully you’ll never need to deal with copyright infringement, but you may want to have all your options available to you if it does. You can read about my experience registering my blogs’ copyrights in a post I did just after my first registrations. Registering a literary work only costs $35 per application.
If you are a writer, blogger, or artist, please consult a copyright attorney about the best ways for you to protect your work. Many people can register multiple works under one application, but there may be instances where it’s worth it to register a work separately.