Imagine pouring your heart and soul into writing an original screenplay, hoping for it to be produced by a major television network. Despite meeting with a network executive and sharing your script, your proposal gets rejected, with claims of lack of interest. But to your utter shock, the following year, while flipping through the channels, you hear your exact dialogues being spoken by characters on a show aired by the same network. No one approached you, and you were never compensated.
If someone has used your original content without your consent, you may have grounds for a copyright infringement case. But how can you determine if your copyright has been infringed, and should you consider consulting an attorney?
Determining Whether Your Copyright Has Been Violated
In essence, as a content creator, you automatically own the copyright to your work. Whether you’ve penned a book, composed a poem, painted a masterpiece, or sculpted a piece of art, the Copyright Act of 1976 grants you certain exclusive rights over your creation. These rights include reproduction, performance, and distribution of your work. If a third party uses your work without permission, thereby violating any of these exclusive rights outlined in 17 U.S.C 106, it’s highly likely that your copyright has been infringed.
It’s important to note that registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is not mandatory for the existence of your copyright. However, it is a practical step to take before pursuing legal action in federal court.
It’s worth mentioning that you may not own the copyright if you were commissioned or hired to create the work. In such cases, it would be considered a “work made for hire,” and the copyright would belong to the entity that paid you. For example, if you were employed by an advertising agency and produced copy on behalf of clients, you wouldn’t have the right to claim copyright, as the agency would be the rightful owner. Similarly, if you were an independent contractor hired by a company to develop software without a contrary agreement, the company would argue for ownership of the copyright to what you created.
Caution While Considering Legal Action
Before rushing to hire an attorney and initiating a lawsuit, it’s wise to consider the practical implications of the infringement. If the violation hasn’t caused you significant financial harm, the costs associated with litigation may outweigh the potential benefits.
Lawsuits are time-consuming, involving numerous meetings, phone calls with your attorney, depositions, and court conferences. Moreover, litigation is often expensive, with attorneys charging substantial hourly rates. Unless you have a contingency arrangement, you’ll have to bear these costs regardless of the case outcome.
In certain situations, resolving the dispute without immediately involving an expensive copyright attorney might be a viable option. Hiring an attorney can send a confrontational message, indicating a readiness to fight rather than seeking collaboration and compromise. Your approach may depend on your relationship with the infringing party. Are they a former colleague, friend, or an unknown third-party entity?
In the case of a colleague or friend, you could consider initiating a conversation over coffee to calmly but firmly discuss the situation, explaining your role in creating the work in question, whether it’s writing, painting, or any other form of art.
When it comes to an unknown third-party entity, you might need to adopt a more formal approach. For instance, writing a demand letter addressed to the company’s CEO to assert your copyright ownership and request an in-person meeting.
Often, a direct conversation with the alleged infringer may prove effective in avoiding litigation. In the example of the aforementioned television show, the network would likely be motivated to settle promptly to avoid potential embarrassment over intellectual property theft. They would also want to prevent any legal complications that might delay or halt the show’s broadcast. Most companies prefer to mitigate legal risks and might be willing to offer a settlement if they believe your claims hold merit.
In some cases, suggesting mediation could be a viable option. A mediator, as a neutral third-party, can facilitate mutual understanding and help with negotiations. Mediation may prove more effective than direct negotiations, especially when dealing with a suspected copyright infringer.
Finding the Right Copyright Lawyer
If negotiations fail to yield a satisfactory solution, you may need to seek legal representation. But how do you find the right attorney? Copyright litigation falls under the broader umbrella of “intellectual property law” and is a specialized field. Many lawyers specifically focus on copyright law.
As you search for a lawyer, consider finding someone with experience in copyright litigation and infringement. During your initial consultations, inquire about their representation of clients in situations similar to yours, specifically artists, writers, or photographers whose works were infringed upon by third parties. Request references to gain a better understanding of their relevant experience.
If you need to consult a copyright lawyer, you can explore Garrity Traina’s Lawyer Directory. The directory provides profiles of local lawyers, offering information on pricing, practice philosophy, experience, and more.
Remember, protecting your copyright is crucial in preserving the value and integrity of your creative work. By understanding your rights and seeking appropriate legal advice, you can take necessary steps to defend your original content.