Copyright Infringement on the Internet: Problem is No Longer Confined to Entertainment industry

Have you done a search on the web lately to see if any of your company's creative works have been infringed?

Well, according to an article by The Mercury News discussing these new trends in digital piracy, publishers and authors are increasingly discovering that unauthorized copies of their works are being sold over the Internet in much the same way the unauthorized music and movie downloads have been sold over the Internet in the past. As The Mercury News explains:

Until recently, publishers believed books were relatively safe from piracy because it was so labor intensive for readers to scan each page to convert a book to a digital file. What's more, reading books on the computer was relatively unappealing. . . . Now, with publisher producing more digital editions, it is potentially easier for hackers to copy files. And the growing popularity of electronic reading devices like the Kindle from Amazon or the Reader from Sony make it easier to read in digital form. . . .

While the Internet can bring greater visibility to a creative work and thereby increase sales, in the copyright infringement scenario, an unrelated third party is generally making a profit off of the copyright owner's work. Even if the owner was only making a modest royalty from the sales, this is still money lost to the owner.

So, what can be done protect your company's works on the Internet?

First and foremost, you need to identify your company's works and file copyright registrations on what your company has created. While copyright protection exists in a creative work from the moment it is created and fixed in tangible form, the registration provides a formal record of ownership and also provides certain benefits in the event that the work is infringed. One of the biggest impediments to protecting a company's works is that many companies fail to realize what they have created and therefore cannot take any action to protect that work. If a company fails to recognize what intellectual property has been created, then it is unlikely that the company is going to be able to protect that intellectual property either.

Second of all, you need to police the Internet to looking for infringement of your protected works. I recently discovered that my firm had infringers on the Internet. I never would have discovered that my firm had an infringement problem if I had not been conducting searches on the Internet looking for references to me and my firm. In light of my personal experiences, I would advise all companies with protected works to allocate some time and resources toward policing the Internet for infringers.

Finally, when your company finds infringers or is approached by someone who wants to use your work, you need to make sure that your company's work is only used pursuant to well-drafted license agreement. You should not allow the company's works to be used without having a well-drafted license in place, which defines the permitted terms of use, and you should take steps to enforce your company's rights in the works.

Unfortunately, copyright infringement on the Internet is an issue that all companies need to be aware of: the problem is no longer confined to just the entertainment industry. If your company is creating marketing materials, publications, presentations, web content, or design work, then it is a potential target for copyright infringement. Companies of all sizes need to be aware of the issue and to take steps to protect their works.

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