What should you do if someone steals your copyrighted material?

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You have written an award winning article or a prize-winning short story, and when you Google it to show it off to your friends, copies of your work shows up within the returned results, under other people’s names.  What should you do when you think someone is violating your copyright for the work that you worked so hard to accomplish?  This would be an outright act of multiple copyright infringements, and, as long as you did copyright your material in one of the proper, accepted forms within your country, or according to the Berne Convention, then you can take action against the culprits.

Although copying you is a form of flattery, and also a sign that you have become successful at what you do, having someone steal your intellectual properties and put their name on it is a lot worse than simple plagiarism, it is theft.  When software programs are copied, it is called software piracy, and when other artistic materials are stolen, copied, displayed or used in some other public format that could generate money, but not for charity, then it is referred to as artistic copyright infringement.

When you see your works under someone else’s name, and their copy is dated well after your publishing date, then you would have an open and shut case of artistic copyright infringement.  Once you have established that the thief of your works is not a charity, nor is it being used as a part of a review of your works, then you should contact the Copyright Office in your country, or in the country that you made the copyright in, and instigate an investigation.  If you win the case, the offender will have to pay all of your legal fees, as well as to cease and desist with using your work in their name.  Public apologies can be asked for and granted through civil litigation, but if you want help from the Copyright Office, you must have a proper copyright, and not just the “poor man’s copyright”.

With your works properly copyrighted, you should first contact the person or organization that has used your works and tell them that they are using your copyrighted materials, and if they do not remove your works, or cease and desist, then you will take further legal action.  This should be good enough, unless your work has been made into a national advertising campaign, a novel, or a major blockbuster movie.  If you deem that the value of your work, or the value of the materials made with your work is well worth the cost, then your next step should be in contacting a copyright lawyer.

A copyright lawyer will have the copyright office do a search for any and all references to your works, as well as to check if enough of your work has been stolen or inserted into the offending materials to warrant a lawsuit.  If the cost of the lawyer is prohibitive, then sending the cease and desist letters should be your last avenue of retort.

If the works that you suspect to be stolen from you are online, then you can contact the owner of the website that has your copied works, and explain that the copied works are yours.  You then give them a link to your original works, where the date of publishing is stated.  Include a warning that if your copied works are not removed immediately, you will be contacting a copyright infringement lawyer, or the copyright office (if you have a filed copyright with the copyright office for the stolen works) to pursue the matter in a court of law.

Know your rights, and protect your intellectual properties.  You never know, you could even receive a major financial award if the copyrighted works go on to make a lot of money for the person who stole your works.

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