What to do about copyright infringement errors and theft : Internet Scambusters #1,079
Copyright - protecting your ownership of the stuff you create - is a complex subject but, in the digital age, it's something we all need to know about.
In this week's issue, we explore the two main types of copyright scams - fake infringement claims and theft.
And we'll explain what you need to do if you fall victim to the tricksters.
Let's get started…
Copyright: What To Do If Someone Steals Your Creative Content
In the digital age, we've all suddenly become content creators, posting our thoughts, ideas, and photos online.
Scammers see this as an opportunity, a chance to steal and reuse others' work, or to falsely claim someone else has stolen their work - copyright infringement as it's called - and they demand it be removed or even paid for.
There have been multiple high-profile cases in the past where infringement claims have been used to force online publishers to take down true reports and photos, usually for political reasons.
For example, someone falsely tells an online news site that they own the copyright to a report and don't give permission for its use. This forces the site owners to remove it, at least while they investigate ownership - and that can provide enough time for whatever the complainant plans to do.
Similarly, songwriters sometimes find themselves the target of dubious copyright infringement claims on the basis of a few bars or a line of lyrics that seemingly appeared in another composer's work.
Common False Copyright Infringement Claims
Common false copyright infringement claims include:
- Social media rivalry. A competitor claims they own a video you created and posted, usually forcing the hosting site to take it down.
- Copyright trolling. Scammers send out random infringement claims and demand compensation. They hope that victims will pay up rather than risk getting embroiled in a possible legal action.
- Automated detection errors. Most big sites use an algorithm to automate checking copyright ownership. Sometimes these make mistakes and remove postings such as product reviews, for example.
If this happens to you, your likely first action should be to prepare your proof of copyright ownership and present it to the publisher. This may reduce the likelihood of it being taken down or at least shorten the amount of time for which it's removed.
And, of course, you should never pay money to someone who claims you infringed their copyright. If you know you haven't, you likely can simply rebuff the claim. Beyond that, it's best to take legal advice.
When Someone Steals Your Stuff
The other side of this coin is the issue of people who post their own content online, running the risk of having their text or photos stolen and reused, sometimes even sold, elsewhere without permission.
For instance, scammers have been known to copy online text and even entire articles, which they then re-publish in ebooks. Would-be fiction writers have also been accused of copying ideas and plots from earlier books, while photographers and artists have seen their painstakingly crafted works reproduced and sold without payment.
And, as we wrote about in Issue #1008, Buying Cheap Online Courses Could Land You in Court, scammers have been copying and pirating online courses, some of which are written by ordinary folk as a side gig.
How to Protect Your Creative Rights
First thing to know is that, in very general terms, copyright is actually (in most cases) automatically granted to the person who created it.
As soon as you create something original and tangible (e.g., a piece of writing, artwork, photograph, or video) or digital, it is protected by copyright.
However, you may surrender ownership subject to a publishing site's terms and conditions on certain social media sites for example, but, at the moment of creation, you own it.
Here are some steps you can take to protect your creative rights:
- Register your copyright. This is especially important if your creative work has significant value. The US Copyright Office is the best starting point. But note, there's a fee - between $35 and $55 per item.
- Make clear you own copyright by stating it within the content. Add copyright notices wherever your work is published, using the "(c)" symbol and, when appropriate, your name (or brand) and the date of creation.
- You can add to this by creating an additional request to readers not to infringe your copyright and perhaps reinforce it by suggesting legal action might be taken against infringers.
- Watermark it. Software can be used to insert semi-transparent wording or a logo in an image, video or document. Although this can be removed by a skilled user, for most it's enough to discourage unauthorized use.
- Limit who can see it. This is particularly important with academic and professional content. Post your work with a reputable site that uses a subscription or pay wall or uses a mailing list where you totally control who sees it.
- Use digital rights management (DRM) tools that encrypt your work, making it difficult to copy and share. This is a complex topic but there's plenty of help online.
- If you don't mind your work being reproduced under certain circumstances, you can license it under what is known as Creative Commons. There are different types of licenses that you can learn more about.
- Monitor your online presence. Search regularly for unauthorized use of your content. You can use reverse image searches for visual content (see Is It Genuine? Check That Photo with Reverse Image Search) and specialist software to search for plagiarized text.
If you discover that your copyright has been infringed, you should contact the publisher, who may require proof before taking it down. To go beyond this stage, you probably need to take professional legal advice.
Finally, if protecting your copyright is important to you, it'll pay to learn a little more about the laws of copyright. Again, a good starting point is the US government site Copyright.gov.
Note: This report is for information only and does not constitute legal advice.
This Week's Alert
Data breach record: Data breaches - where someone accesses an organization's customer details - are on course to hit a new record for 2023 according to a new report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). In the second quarter of this year - April through June - publicly reported data compromises more than doubled those of the prior quarter.
This makes it likely, says ITRC, that the outcome for the year will beat the previous record set in 2021.
More than 156 million people in the US - equivalent to nearly half the population - have fallen victim in the first six months alone. The list of compromises by victim count was topped by cellular company T-Mobile with 37 million people affected.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!