Claiming and enforcing copyright

Copyright is automatic in most of the world. It is essentially a private right so decisions about use of a copyright work and how to enforce copyright are generally for a copyright owner to take for him or herself.

Do I have to mark my work to claim copyright?

Although a few countries require that a work be marked with the international © mark followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication, this is not essential in most countries. However, marking in this way may assist in infringement proceedings.

How can I prove originality in my work?

Ultimately this is a matter for the courts to decide. However, it may help copyright owners to deposit a copy of their work with a bank or attorney or send a copy of their work to themselves by special delivery (which gives a clear date stamp on the envelope), leaving the envelope unopened on its return; this could establish that the work existed at this time. (Further details of special delivery should be available at Post Offices).

What can I do if my work is used without my permission?

Although you are not obliged to do so it will usually be sensible, and save time and money, to try to resolve the matter with the party you think has infringed your copyright. If you cannot do this, then you may need to go to court. Before doing so, you should consider obtaining legal advice. Courts may grant a range of remedies, such as injunctions (to stop the other person making use of the material), damages for infringement, or orders to deliver up infringing goods.

Isn’t infringement of copyright a criminal offence?

Deliberate infringement of copyright may be a criminal offence. If the infringement is on a large scale (e.g. pirate or counterfeit copies of CDs are circulating) then it is worth informing the police . They can decide whether action by them, including possible prosecution, is justified.

Will my material be protected overseas?

Usually, but not invariably. The US is a member of several international conventions in this field, notably the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). Copyright material created by US nationals or residents is protected in each member country of the conventions by the national law of that country. Most countries belong to at least one of the conventions, including all the Western European countries, the USA and Russia. Protection overseas can also arise from obligations in the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which forms part of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement.

What about marking my work and enforcing copyright when I put it on a web site?

Generally, when you put your work on a web site, it is probably a good idea to mark each page of the web site with the international © mark followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication. In addition, you could include information on your web site about the extent to which you are content for others to use your copyright material without permission. Although material on a web site is protected by copyright in the same way as material in other media, you should bear in mind that web sites are accessible from all over the world and, if material on your web site is used without your permission, you would generally need to take action for copyright infringement where this use occurs.

See also…

Copyright, Trademark, Patent