What Should You Do If Someone Steals Your Work

Attention - Man Stealing White Stripe by Julian Mason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Attention – Man Stealing White Stripe by Julian Mason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Copyright infringement appears to be rampant on the internet. Some people don’t understand that they can’t use anything they find online. They don’t understand that the law lets the copyright holder dictate where their work is displayed and distributed. Some people get defensive when they get caught and say you should be happy that you’re giving them exposure.  Others know it’s illegal and take the gamble that you won’t notice or that you won’t object if you see what they’ve done.

Make Sure It’s Your Work They Copied
People don’t always own what they think they own. Check your contracts to verify that you are the copyright owner and not just the creator of a work. Remember – employees don’t own the copyright in anything they create within the scope of their job but independent contractors retain the copyright in anything they create unless there’s a written copyright assignment or work made for hire contract. Additionally, two artists can independently come up with similar ideas for original works and it may not be problematic so long as they’re only claiming rights in what they created.

How Do You Want This To End?
This is the question I ask all my clients who are in a suspected intellectual property infringement situation. Their goal determines my course of action. Ideally you should determine how you want to react to infringement before it occurs so you can lay the foundation in advance for your desired outcome.

If you just want the infringer to take down your work, you can respond with one of the following:

If you want the alleged infringer to pay you for using your work you can send a bill or sue them for infringement. If you want to pursue one of these options, you definitely want to use a lawyer to contact the alleged infringer on your behalf or through the court.

If you’re OK with the person using your work, you should send them a notice that gives them permission and requests they ask permission before using your work in the future. You always want to respond when you suspect someone is using your work without consent. Otherwise you could create the impression that you’ve attached a blanket license for anyone to use your work which could hurt your chances of going after other suspected infringers in the future.

Please note – you can send a notice without being a jerk about it. Jack Daniel’s sent what’s been referred to as the nicest cease and desist letter when an author copied Jack Daniel’s label on his book cover.  You could write or ask your attorney to do something similar

If you need a legal resource about how to avoid problems related to copyright and trademark infringement online, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to intellectual property and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

What to do if You’re Accused of Copyright Infringement

Watch it or lose it - thieves at work by Tristan Schmurr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Watch it or lose it – thieves at work by Tristan Schmurr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to control where their work is copied, displayed, and distributed. If they think that someone is using their work without permission, there’s a good chance they’re going to react. They may be passive aggressive and write a blog post about you. They might b direct and send you an email or call you. If they sell their work for a living, they may just send you a bill. They may also hire a lawyer to send a cease and desist letter, a DMCA takedown notice to your webhost, or they may just sue you.

If you are accused of violating someone’s copyright, the first thing you want to do is examine the situation. What are they claiming is on your site or your materials that belongs to them? Some people will tell you that you can use anything you find on the internet as long as you provide and attribution and a link to the original – and that’s just not true. What you may have done is commit infringement and admit it. So look at the image or text in question and try to determine where it came from. If you created it from scratch, there’s a good chance it’s not infringement. If you got it from someone else, you may have a problem.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your copyright lawyer if you’re accused of committing infringement, especially if the other side contacted you through their lawyer. He/she can examine the situation, explain your options, and help you choose the right course of action for your situation. In most cases, the person who claims you stole their work doesn’t want to sue you. They likely want you to stop using their material, and possibly pay a licensing fee for the time you used it. In many cases you want to respond either as yourself or through your lawyer with what you did or could do to resolve the situation.

There are times where you might want to risk not responding. Some people do this is they think nothing will happen if they ignore the notice from the person claiming you stole their work. Sometimes this is effective. Sometimes it leads the person to escalate and sue you or report your company to a regulatory body that oversees your company. It’s not a decision to make lightly.

So what are the best and worse-case scenarios in these situations? In the best-case scenario, the person making the claim against you is wrong because you haven’t violated their copyright sending a response to that end or ignoring them will resolve the situation. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be sued (and lose!) for willfully stealing someone’s copyright and sued for $150,000 per image or article you stole, plus the copyright holder’s attorney’s fees.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverBecause the penalties can be so high, you want to be careful when you use other people’s content on your website or marketing materials. You need to be sure that you own or have permission to use content created by third parties.

If you need a legal resource on this topic or anything related to the laws that apply to social media, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

The Real Cost of a Social Media Misstep

Money by Andrew Magill from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Money by Andrew Magill from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I was talking with some non-lawyer entrepreneurs lately, and I asked them what they thought would be the worst case scenario if their company broke the law via their social media, and they both responded that they would have to take responsibility for their mistake, apologize, and do some damage control. While I appreciate that these business owners appeared to have integrity and good intentions, I internally cringed that they both assumed that saying, “I’m sorry,” should be enough to fix a problem.

I want to share some numbers for the costs a business could easily face if they violate a law with their online posts.

Trademark Infringement – Cost of Rebranding
Think about how much time and money you’ve spent selecting the name for your business or product, your logos, your slogans, your domain, and your website. Now, how would you feel if you had to do it all again? That’s what could happen if you select a name for your business or product that’s already been registered by someone else in your industry. In the best case scenario, they’ll send a cease and desist letter and demand that you rebrand. In the worst case scenario, they’ll sue you for infringement, and you could be spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines.

This is why I suggest companies check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Database for registered trademarks to verify the name or slogan they want to use hasn’t been claimed by someone else.   I’m also an advocate of registering your trademark as soon as you can afford it, so no one can restrict your use of your own name or steal it from you.

Illegal Social Media Policy – at least $10,000
Every company needs a social media policy, but employers need to understand that a federal law called the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that protect union activities also apply to employees talking about their work – even in public online forums. If you fire an employee for violating the company social media policy and it turns out your policy violates the NLRA, you could be ordered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to pay the ex-employee back wages, damages, and offer them their job back. My friend who works on these cases says if you have to pay the ex-employee $10,000, you got off easy.

Copyright Infringement – $150,000 per Work Copied
Many business owners don’t understand that they can’t use any image they find via a Google Image search. There are even marketing “professionals” who will tell you that you can use any image you find online as long as you give an attribution and a link to the original. Both of these are excellent ways to commit copyright infringement. And photographers are becoming more savvy about protecting their rights so if you use their work they may send you a bill or a lawsuit instead of a cease and desist letter or a takedown notice. In the worst case scenario, you may face a lawsuit for $150,000 per image you used without permission.

Be careful if you outsource your content creation that your contracts clear state that the writer or artist who creates your content also indemnifies you if you are ever accused of copyright infringement because of something they created for your site or posted to your social media.

Defamation – $2,500,000
Defamation generally requires making a false statement about a person to a third party that hurts the person’s reputation. When I do talks about social media horror stories, I talk about a case where a blogger was sued for defamation because of one blog post and was ordered to pay him $2.5 million. 1 blog post. $2.5 million. (The case is currently up on appeal but I don’t think it looks good for her.) This is when little words matter because it’s easy to think you’re stating an opinion but your phrasing creates a statement of a fact – and if it’s a lie, it could be defamatory. Think before you post and check your sources.

ruthcover smallerPlease note, these numbers do not include legal fees you could face in addition to damages if you’re sued because of your social media posts. The legal issues listed above only scratches the surface of what wrongs a person or company can commit online. The good news is most of these problems are preventable with education and diligence. I strongly recommend you stay abreast of what laws apply to your social media postings and developments in this area of law.

If you need a legal resource for laymen on this topic, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to blogging and social media. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Works

Hueco Tanks Lightening Storm by Dana Le from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Hueco Tanks Lightening Storm by Dana Le from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I got a message from a photographer friend who said a company is using many photographers’ work on their site without permission. He investigated the company’s copyright policy and was astonished that they make people provide six things to get an image removed. He sent me the link. Here’s what they require:

  1. Information reasonably sufficient to permit us to contact the complaining party (e.g., address, telephone number and email address);
  2. A physical or electronic signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyrighted work(s) that is/are alleged to have been infringed;
  3. An identification of the copyrighted work(s) you claim is/are being infringed or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site;
  4. Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity, and information reasonably sufficient to permit us to locate the material;
  5. A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material is unauthorized; and
  6. A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

When I saw the list, I smiled. This is how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) works. When you send a DMCA takedown notice, you have to tell the web host who you are, which of your photos is being used, where they can find the image on the alleged copyright infringer’s site, and you have to promise that you’re telling the truth. If you provide this information, they are required to remove the image from the alleged infringer’s site.

This is what disturbs me about this situation. This company uses many images on its site. As an outsider looking in, it appears that they at least suspect that infringement is happening and their way to dealing with it to remove the infringing images when they’re notified. I would not be surprised to learn that this company outsources their content creation so they wouldn’t know if their use of an image was violating someone’s copyright. I hope they have a policy to fire contractors with a track record of copyright infringement.

Sending a DMCA takedown notice is only one option when a photographer suspects their work is being used without permission. Some photographers opt to send a bill or file a lawsuit against them instead.

If you want a resource that explains the legalities of copyright and social media in plain English, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Copyright FAQs

Large Copyright Graffiti Sign on Cream Colored Wall by Horia Varlan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Large Copyright Graffiti Sign on Cream Colored Wall by Horia Varlan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I speak, I often refer to previous blog posts as potential resources for attendees. I frequently talk about copyright issues and I realized I haven’t written a post about copyright basics. So let me fix that.

What is Copyright?
The copyright law gives you rights to your original work. Your work may be comprised of text, drawings, photographs, video, sculpture, music, etc. When you create something, you have the right to control where your work is copied, distributed, displayed, performed, and what derivative works can be made from it.

What’s a Derivative Work?

When Do You Get Copyright Rights?
You get your copyright rights the moment your work is fixed in any tangible medium. It has to be a work you’ve created, not just an idea in your head. You do not have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office or even put a copyright notice on your work (“©[YEAR] [YOUR NAME]”) to get your rights.

How Long Does Copyright Last?
For all works created on or after January 1, 1978, the duration of copyright is as followed:

  • For work created by an individual: Life of the author + 70 years
  • For work created by a company: 120 years from the date of creation

After this time period, the work become part of the public domain and anyone can use it for any purpose without needing the copyright owner’s permission. The owner of a copyright can give up their rights to their work at any time by releasing it into the public domain. If they release a work into the public domain, they can never reclaim their copyright rights.

What’s the Difference Between Copyright and Trademark?

What’s the Benefit of Registering a Copyright with the Copyright Office?
There are two main benefits for registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. It is strong evidence that you actually own what you claim you own.
  2. You cannot sue for copyright infringement unless you register your work with the Copyright Office.

If you want to be in a position where you can sue for copyright infringement when someone steals your work, talk to a copyright attorney about your copyright strategy. There are many ways to protect your work. This is where the law can get really complicated and you want to make sure you’ve set yourself up for your desired outcome.

How Do You Register Your Work with the Copyright Office?
You can register your work on the Copyright Office’s website. You’ll need to fill out the form, upload a copy of your work, and pay a filing fee. The filing fee for a single work is $35-55. You can do this yourself, but the Copyright Office’s website is not very user-friendly.  I recommend at least hiring an attorney to walk you through the process the first time.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverIf you want to do it all yourself, allot at least 2-3 hour to get through it the first time. And you might want to have an adult beverage on ice as a reward at the end of the process.

To put it in context, it took me an hour the first time I registered my own work and I knew what I was doing. (I have a certificate in intellectual property in addition to my law degree.) Now, I can submit an application to register a copyright in under 30 minutes most of the time.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have questions about how copyright works in terms of the internet, social media, and /or blogging, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. Approximately half the book addresses copyright issues.

If you want to talk more about copyright, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Is It Fan Art or Copyright Infringement?

Toying with the Men by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Toying With The Men by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I have the pleasure of speaking about copyright and fan fiction and fan art at Phoenix Comicon this year. It’s always fun to hear about the projects fans are working on, and to see that so many of them are mindful about the copyright. I wish I had more black and white answers for them about what they can and can’t do.

Fan fiction and fan art falls squarely into the murky realm of copyright and fair use. The owner of a copyright controls where and how their work is copied, displayed, distributed, performed, and what derivative works are made. Fan fiction and fan art can be derivative works but they also may be protected by fair use.

Fair use is part of the copyright laws that acknowledges the fact that many works are inspired by past art. This law allows artists to build on existing works in creative and innovative ways. One thing to always remember is that fair use is a defense, not a permission slip. There is always a risk that the copyright holder will claim you’re infringing on their copyright and you’ll have to basically tell the court, “Yes your honor, I used their work but it’s OK because . . . .”

When a court considers a fair use case, these are some of the main factors it considers:

  • Purpose and character of your use of another’s work (Is what you did transformative and did you do it for commercial use?)
  • Nature of the copyrighted work (What did you copy?)
  • Amount and substantiality of the copyrighted work used (How much of the original – quality and quantity – did you copy?)
  • Effect on the market (Would someone seek out the original and accept your work as a substitute?)

These are some of the main factors, but the court can consider others if it wishes. This is also not to be treated as mathematical equation. Regardless of how many fair use factors favor you, you can always lose.

For Phoenix Comicon this year, I wanted to create an easy mnemonic device that fans can use to remember the fair use factors; and here it is: PAIN.

P = Purpose and character of your use

A = Amount of the original used

I = Impact on the market

N = Nature of the work you copied

Another thing to consider if you want to use another artist’s work is how the copyright holder historically responds to fan fiction and fan art. Some encourage it; some are OK with it as long as you’re not making money off of it; some are OK with it as long as it’s not sexual (i.e., slash fiction); and some dislike all fan fiction and fan art and will try to lay the smackdown on you if you create it.

If you want to talk more about the legalities of fan fiction and fan art, come see me at Phoenix Comicon on Sunday, June 8th at noon. Both talks will be in North 130. I’m also doing a panel on Creator Rights on Saturday, June 7th at 10:30 a.m.  You can connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Register Your Copyright Before You Self-Publish

Eero facepalmaa by Tuomas Puikkonen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Eero facepalmaa by Tuomas Puikkonen from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A few days ago, a friend and fellow author posted on Facebook that someone put his book online as a free download without his permission. Some authors make their work available for free as part of their marketing campaign and that’s their prerogative, and they control where and when they do this.

My friend and I started chatting about what he wanted to do to remedy this situation. A person who owns a copyright has the right to control where their work is copied, displayed, and distributed and has recourse if someone else steals or uses their work. If someone blatantly copies your work and is giving away copies of it, it’s likely copyright infringement.

I thought my friend could qualify to sue for copyright infringement and sue for statutory damages. The copyright laws say that if someone willfully steals your work, you can ask the court to award you up to $150,000 plus attorneys’ fees. Alternatively, you could ask for actual damages, which is how much money you actually lost due to the infringement.  My friend is self-published in this case, so I suspected the potential statutory damages would be higher than the actual ones.

Then my friend dropped a bomb – he hadn’t registered his copyright yet.

I cringed with defeat.

My friend is a smart guy, so he knew that he couldn’t sue for copyright infringement until he registered his copyright.  What he didn’t know what that you have to register your work within 3 months of publication or 1 month of learning of the infringement – whichever happens first – to be eligible for statutory damages.  He can still register his work and sue for the actual damages (which is likely low) and he’d be responsible for paying for his attorneys’ fees. If he doesn’t want to put in the time, energy, or money to sue for infringement, he can still get is legal eagle friend (that’s me) to send a cease and desist letter or a DMCA takedown notice to try to make the infringement stop.

So here’s the take-away lesson from my friend’s experience: If you are a self-published author, register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office before you offer it for sale or download. That way, if someone steals your work, all your options for recourse will still be available to you. You can register your work online and the application fee is only $ 35 or $55, depending on your situation. And if you don’t want to register your work yourself, it’s not that expensive to hire a lawyer to do it for you.

If you want to talk more self-publishing and copyright, you can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.  You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Be Leery of Free Image Sites: You May Inadvertently Commit Copyright Infringement

Palm Sunset by Lawrence Rayner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Palm Sunset by Lawrence Rayner from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I cringe every time I hear people says they use Google Images to find pictures for their websites because I know most of them are using anything they find in the search results without adjusting the settings to only show images that give them permission to use them. And I love it when people, especially entrepreneurs, use Creative Commons, seek out other sources for free images, or purchase a license to use images from iStock. Unfortunately, there are times when business owners think they are doing everything right, and they don’t realize they’re not until they’re threatened with legal action.

I have heard about a few situations over the years when someone has stolen images from a photographer and made their work available for free without the artist’s permission. Sometimes the person who steals the original image cuts off the photographer’s watermark or signature before posting them online. These photo thieves may post these images on their own site as free images or wallpaper. You might download this work and use it on your site, thinking that you are acting within the limits of the law.

When the photographer realizes that their work has been stolen, they’ll probably be angry – and they might send letters than demand payment or threaten legal action to every site where their work has appeared without their permission. And rightfully so – as the copyright holder, they have exclusive right to control where their work is copied and distributed. The fact that you didn’t know that you were doing anything wrong will not absolve you. If you’ve used an image where the watermark or other copyright notice was removed, they could accuse you of committing copyright infringement (punishable by up to $150K in statutory damages per violation) and removing the copyright management information to facilitate the infringement (punishable by up to an additional $25K per violation).

So what do you do if you receive one of these demand letters? Contact a copyright lawyer immediately. You want to verify that the claim is legitimate and strategically plan your response. If the claim is legit, the artist likely wants you to pay their licensing fee and/or stop using their image. It’s probably best to let your lawyer respond on your behalf but if you choose to respond to the letter yourself, it’s a good idea to have your lawyer at least review your response before you send it to make sure that it’s thoughtful and reasonable.

What should you do to avoid this type of problem in the first place? Be leery of free wallpaper sites. I have more faith in images I find through Creative Commons – though it is possible that someone could steal another’s image and make it available with a Creative Commons license. You can always run the image you want to run the image through the Google Image search engine to see where else it is being used online. That may help you determine if the image might be stolen. If there ever is an image that you want to use on your site and you’re unsure if you have permission to use it, explicitly ask the artist for their permission.

If you want to learn more about copyright issues on the internet, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It has several chapters dedicated to copyright. You can connected with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Why You Have to Respond to Suspected IP Infringement

Cease and Desist by H.L.I.T. from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Cease and Desist by H.L.I.T. from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A few weeks ago we all had a good laugh when Jeff Briton, owner of Exit 6 Pub and Brewery in Cottleville, Missouri got a cease and desist letter from Starbucks when he named one of his craft beers “Frappicino.” Starbucks said this was too similar to their Frappuccino and even took the liberty of contacting the beer review website Untappd to get the Frappicino beer listing removed.

Briton responded with a letter and a check for $6 – the profit he made from selling the beer to the three people who reviewed it on Untappd. If you haven’t read this letter yet, go do it. It’s hilarious.

My hat’s off to Briton for writing such a brilliant response and turning this situation into an awesome opportunity to promote Exit 6. Some people might say that Starbucks’ lawyers were being jerks for sending a cease and desist letter to the little guy who wasn’t their competition anyway. But it was what Starbucks had to do to protect its intellectual property.

When you have a copyright or a trademark and you know that someone is using your intellectual property without your permission and you do nothing, you send a message that you don’t care about protecting your intellectual property rights. If you let the little guys get away with things like Frappicino beer and then one of your big competitors does something similar and you try to lay the smack down on them, your competitor will have an argument that your track record shows that you let others use your property without permission or penalty. By not protecting your intellectual property, you put yourself at risk of losing your intellectual property rights.

It’s because of this risk that Starbucks has to send cease and desist letters to Exit 6 Pub. This is why I tell clients to keep an eye out for other people using their intellectual property. In trademark situations, a cease and desist letter is usually the proper response, even in situations like Frappicino beer.

This is also why I tell bloggers and photographers to be diligent about who is using their work. If they find that someone’s using their copyrights without permission, even if they’re ok with it, I often recommend they contact the alleged infringer and grant them a license after the fact and request an attribution if the infringer didn’t give them one. If they’re not ok with what the alleged infringer did, we discuss whether the artist wants to send a cease and desist, a DMCA takedown notice, a licensing agreement with a bill, or sue for infringement. There should always be a response.

If you have questions about your intellectual property rights or your strategy to protect them, please contact an intellectual property attorney in your community. If you have questions related to copyright or trademark and blogging, please check out my book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed.

If you want to chat with me more about this topic, you can connected with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

To Watermark or Not To Watermark

How to Create a Watermark in Photoshop by Michele M. F. from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

How to Create a Watermark in Photoshop by Michele M. F. from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I was recently asked to talk about whether there are benefits to putting a watermark on your photos before posting them on the Internet. Is it worth the extra effort? Do they really prevent people from stealing your work?

Like all legal questions, the answer is, “It depends.” But let’s look at it.

When you take a photograph, you have copyright rights in your work the second the image is put on film or saved in your camera. You have the exclusive right to copy, distribute, display, and make derivative works from your picture, even if you don’t register it with the U.S. Copyright Office  or put the © [Your Name] [Year] on it. If you want to sue for copyright infringement if someone steals your work, you have to register your work and if that’s the case you should consult a lawyer to determine the best copyright protection strategy for your work.

I look at watermarks similarly to home security. Your home doesn’t have to be fortress; it just has to be less appealing than the other houses on the block. A watermark makes your photo less appealing to potential infringers who can probably find (and possibly steal) a similar image elsewhere that doesn’t come with a watermark.

For people who understand copyright, a watermark is a visual reminder that they don’t own the image and they should contact you if there’s an image they really want to use. The problem with watermarks is they can obscure the image itself and interfere with people’s ability to enjoy the image which was the purpose of posting it online in the first place.

You could try to avoid this problem by putting the watermark in the corner so it doesn’t obstruct the image, but then you open yourself up to the possibility that someone will steal you work and crop off the watermark before using it. If an infringer does this, it is a separate additional penalty to copyright infringement. If you sued the infringer you could ask for damages for the infringement which can be up to $150K if you qualify for statutory damages and up to an additional $25K for removing or altering the “copyright management information.

So, should you take the time to put watermarks on your photos? It’s your call. You can deter potential infringers with watermarks and/or using software that prevents them from downloading your images from your website. But if someone is dead set on stealing your work, there’s probably nothing you can do to completely stop them. The questions then become how much energy are you willing to put into prevention and how do you want to respond if someone steals your work. How you want the situation to be resolved usually tells you what you have to do on the front end to set yourself up for the desired outcome.

If you want to chat with me more about this topic, you can connected with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. I’m also available to speak at events on Copyright for Creatives.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm monthly newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.