Finding Infringing Material Online: Can Services Help Protect Your Intellectual Property?
*Originally published 8/30/2016, updated June 26, 2020.
You've created your material and sent it out into the world, whether in a print edition or simply "out there" on your blog or website. You have loyal customers and fans. But what do you do to make certain that someone unscrupulous doesn't take your material, adopt it as their own, and put it out into the world as a competing product?
Searching for infringing uses of your images, art, or writing on the web can be a daunting project. Simply typing in the title or description of your work into a search engine will likely bring back matches, several of which may be infringing.
Then, the process of notice-and-takedown begins. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA Act) allows for copyright holders to follow a process to notify and request that infringers remove illegal content from their sites. You really don't need another person involved to send a DMCA letter, but if you are unfortunate to have your material copied in multiple places, it may be like a game of whack-a-mole to get all of that illegal content removed. Many artists, photographers, writers and even publishers do not have the resources to tackle this kind of monitoring and pursuit beyond an ad hoc basis.
Companies and services exist to help content creators more easily find infringing material and issue notice. Case in point, a product listed in this article purports to assist photographers find their material online (for free). Others, such as DMCA.com sneakily adapt the moniker of the original law to promote their services to publishers (for a fee).
Buyer beware, of course.
What should you do? So set realistic expectations for what you want accomplished when you contract with any new anti-pirate service or company. Consider whether there is one product in particular that you feel has been infringed on most? Does that product contain the heart of your mission or is your reputation at stake as a result of the infringing activity? Is the investment in time or money worth pursuing pirates and bad links?
Ultimately, when it comes to protecting your intellectual property, your best move prior to engaging a service to pursue infringing material online is to register the work with the US Copyright Office. Without that record, any DMCA takedown that ultimately results in an infringement suit will likely sit dead in the water (and there is not yet a small claims court for copyright).