Copyrights and Copy Wrongs: What is Copyright and Copyright Infringement?
This is the first of multiple posts on copyright, and what you can do when someone takes the content from the pages of your web site or blog and republishes that content on their site without permission and without attribution.
Hopefully this series will give you an idea of some of the steps that you might be able to take when someone has copied content that you have created, and used it without asking first.
It is inspired by an actual event which will be described in more detail as the series continues, and I am hoping that the series will help others who find their work on other websites without their knowledge.
Have you ever had something like the following happen to you?
You write a blog post, and it contains a number of unique elements, including a series of definitions from other web sites, quotes personal definitions from other bloggers, your own definition, and introduction to a video, and the video itself.
A few weeks later, you come across a blog post on another site which looks very familiar, though it’s postdated a couple of weeks later than your post.
It shares most of a title with your post, the same definitions from different web sites in the same order, your own definition, modified very slightly, an introduction to a video, and then the same video. It doesn’t include the quotes from the other bloggers, but otherwise the post is very similar.
The language of the post isn’t the same, but as I noted, it’s very similar, and the elements contained in both posts are in the same order.
When the writer of the newer post is contacted, he states that he never heard of you until you blogged about his post and he followed a reference from a link back to your site.
He also claims to have never heard of the site that your post is from, and that he came up with the post himself, even though there’s proof that he has interacted with you in the past a number of times.
What is copyright?
Copyright is simply a protection authorized by law to the creators of artistic works to exclude others from earning money or recognition or other benefits from those authors’ works for a certain period of time.
Under the United States Constitution, Congress has the power:
To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
Congress has acted to protect the rights of creators with copyright laws that have changed somewhat over time, but which offer those creators rights to exclude others from copying their works.
Copyright does apply to content found on web sites, and the US Copyright Office has another circular that describes Copyright Registration for Online Works (pdf).
What is Copyright Infringement?
Copyright doesn’t protect ideas or information, but rather the expression of those ideas or information – however, it would be a mistake to assume that something has to be copied exactly to be an infringement of copyright.
The IP Law Blog, in The Complexity of Proving Copyright Infringement , provides us with an example of a copyright infringement claim based upon an HBO miniseries, and a film that had a similar storyline. They tell us that:
Absent evidence of direct copying, “proof of infringement” involves fact-based showings that the defendant had “access” to the plaintiff’s work and that the two works are “substantially similar.”
So, to pursue a claim of copyright infringement doesn’t necessarily mean that an infringing work has to be identical to the original, but rather that the person responsible for infringing the work had access to the original work, and that the newer work is substantially similar to the original.
The website of Ladas & Parry LLP provides more about the similarity of works in a page of theirs on Copyright Infringement. They tell us that:
The similarity between the two works need not be literal (i.e., phrases, sentences or paragraphs need not be copied verbatim); substantial similarity may be found even if none of the words or brush strokes or musical notes are identical.
Various tests have been developed to determine whether there has been sufficient non-literal copying to constitute substantial similarity between a copyrighted work and an allegedly infringing work.
Other Copyright Laws and Resources
I’ve written about copyright protection in terms of US law, but copyright laws cover artistic works across the globe.
- Canada – Copyright Act
- UK – UK Intellectual Property Office
- Ireland – Copyright Association of Ireland
- Australia – Australian Copyright Council’s Online Information Centre
- New Zealand – Copyright Council of New Zealand
- United Nations Educational, Scientifc, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – Copyright
- World Intellectual Property Organization – Copyright and Related Rights
Nonprofit and not for profit resources
- Design and Artists Copyright Society – Copyright Factsheets. See Copyright Protection and Remedies for Infringement
- EFF Bloggers Legal Guide Intellectual Property
If you find that someone has copied the content of your page or pages, you may have the right to exclude their use of your content. It’s not a bad idea to contact an attorney who has some experience with pursuing a claim of copyright infringement to help you with your claim.
The use of infringing content doesn’t necessarily have to use exactly the same words as yours, and an attorney can help you get a sense of how a court might rule on a claim of infringement.
Future parts of this series will detail some of the defenses to copyright infringement, such as fair use and parody, information on how to collect evidence in the case of infringement, and how sites such as search engines and social bookmarking and voting sites can be informed of links on their sites that point to pages that infringe copyright.
Added: I’m adding a disclaimer to this post – While I have a law degree, I am not a practicing attorney, and these posts on copyright (more to come) are written to inform rather than as a definitive set of steps to take if confronted by copyright infringement. If you have a copyright dispute, and need legal guidance, you should contact an attorney who can take the specific facts of your case into account and advise you on the best course of action.