4 tips to Protect Your Creative Work Online WITHOUT a Lawyer

When your creative work is your livelihood, you’ve got to protect it. It’s not cool when people use it without compensating you (though they may not know any better – maybe send them this post). But hiring a lawyer is expensive, and you may not have that kind of money yet. So what do you do?

If you think your work will make upwards of say $10,000, it may be worth it to invest in a good copyright attorney. But if it might not make that much, or you aren’t sure, start with these basics. As the work earns more money and popularity, you can reevaluate whether a lawyer can help you obtain even more protection.

For a brief background on copyright law, check out our Quick Guide to Copyright Law.

1. Don’t upload your work to Facebook or other social media

Facebook’s policy is to use any content you post to Facebook in any way it wants, and even to let other people use it any way they want:

For content that is covered by intellectual property [IP] rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

Of course you probably want to post links to your content or website, which is not the same as posting the content itself. You don’t give up any rights when you just link to your work.

2. Post a copyright notice on or next to your work

This is a lot easier than it sounds. The first thing to remember is that your work has automatic copyright protection the second you create it (though less protection than if you register the work with the Copyright Office). See more about this here. When you put a copyright notice on your work, you are telling the world you intend to claim your copyright (though you would have a claim even if you didn’t include this; the notice simply strengthens your claim).

Giving notice simply amounts to typing “© [year first published/created] [your name]” on your work or website.  For example: © 2014 Jane Doe. You may even want to give a quick statement like “I intend to pursue all copyright infringement” or even more plainly “Don’t copy my work. It is protected by copyright, and I will pursue you if you violate my rights.”

3. If you see someone taking your work, send a “Takedown Notice”

You have the right to require that any website that displays your copyrighted materials without your permission quickly remove it from the site. You simply need to send them a “DMCA Takedown Notice.” See here for details on this process, but it’s relatively straightforward and mostly involves providing certain information about yourself and the work.

If the person who directly posted the material won’t cooperate, you can go directly to the social media platform (for example, if posted on Facebook, talk to Facebook about it), or the web host or ISP that the person is using.

4. Use technology

You can implement tools on your website to make it logistically harder for people to copy your work. For example, you can prevent people from selecting/highlighting text so they can’t do a quick copy/paste job (of course they could just type it up themselves but this extra step may deter at least some people). You can also put a “watermark” on your images, and a copyright notice on your RSS feed. For more explanation on all these options, check out this post from ProBlogger.net.

See further explanation of these concepts and more at our Quick Guide to Copyright Law.

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