What To Do If Your Work Is Copied
If you find unauthorized copies of your work, either Online or offline, you have several options, but first you'll need to decide what you would like to happen.
If You Want the Unauthorized Copies Removed or Destroyed
In many cases, you simply want the copies removed from the web; or, if someone has made physical copies, you want them destroyed.
Here are a series of steps you can take:
Be Sure of Your Rights
Before claiming rights, be sure you understand what is protected by copyright!
Contact The Person Who Copied Your Work
First, you'll need to determine who to contact. If your work has been copied on a blog or small website, there may be a contact form or e-mail address. If not, you may be able to look up the site, by using the domain name (for example, xyz.com) on a Whois server to obtain the contact information.
If you are able to find contact information, you can:
- Send an informal request. Clearly identify the material that has been copied, explain that the content is yours and you have not given permission for it to be used, and request that it be removed, or
- Send a formal "cease and desist" letter (download our sample cease-and-desist letter, and tailor it for your needs), or
- Hire an attorney to send a cease-and-desist letter. Letters from attorneys often carry more weight with the recipient.
File a DMCA Takedown Request with the Website Hosting Company
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows you to file a "takedown" request with any US-based online service provider, to remove unauthorized copies from their servers. Note that many non-US hosting companies will also honor takedown requests, so it's usually worth trying.
Under the law, the account holder - the person who posted the content - can contest the request. In that case, your only recourse is legal action (see below).
There are several steps to filing the takedown request:
- Identify the hosting company or service provider. In some cases this is readily apparent. For example, for purposes of the DMCA, sites like YouTube and Pinterest are considered hosting companies. If the host in not apparent, you'll need to track down the information using the procedures outlined in our DCMA Takedown Request instructions.
- Once you've determined the hosting company, you'll need to search their website to determine if they have a standard procedure for filing DCMA takedown requests. We've provided instructions and links for many of the major websites and hosts.
- If you can't find instructions on the hosting site, you can complete and send a "standard" DCMA takedown form (download our sample DMCA takedown request form).
If you cannot identify a contact, if the contact refuses to comply, if the site contests your takedown request, or if the hosting company is not located in the United States, the only remaining recourse is legal action. Your need to find an intellectual property attorney to advise you (see Finding an Attorney, below).
If You Want To Collect Financial Damages
You ability to sue for "damages," and the amount you can collect, will depend on several factors, including:
- Whether the copies were made for commercial purposes,
- The degree to which you were harmed financially by the unauthorized copies, and
- Whether you have registered the copyright beforehand.
Pursuing financial damages will require an intellectual property (IP) attorney. You may be able to get a recommendation from your own attorney, get a referral from your local or state bar association, or use a website like LawyerRatingz.com to search for an IP attorney in your area.
Many attorneys offer an inexpensive or even free consultation to determine if you have a case, and advise you on how to proceed.
You can also search to see if your state has a "lawyers for the arts" organization that provides low-cost legal help for artists.
Neither the author of this document nor the operators of this website are attorneys or accountants. The information presented here should be considered a general overview. This information does not constitute legal or financial advice.