Copyright infringement is the use of a work that belongs to someone else without permission. If someone copies your book, it’s copyright infringement. They didn’t ask permission to copy the words, photos, or images on your pages, or use any of your content––in short, they stole it from you.
But how do you prove that? How do you make sure there are consequences for them stealing something valuable enough for someone to infringe on the law?
What You Need to Know About Copyright Infringement
First of all, there are two very important things to remember about copyright infringement:
1) Copyright infringement is not the same thing as plagiarism.
No matter how much text from your book may appear verbatim in someone else’s book without your permission, it does not constitute plagiarism if it was properly registered at the USCO and if the author of the infringing work in question is properly attributed to such text. Plagiarism is a form of stealing someone else’s work, whereas copyright infringement is about people stealing your work after they’ve been given ample opportunity and notice not to do so.
This brings me to my second point:
2) Giving credit is no defense against copyright infringement!
For example: If you give credit on every page of your book for each quote from other authors who have influenced your writing, it doesn’t undo the fact that you’re illegally publishing their books without permission from them as well––so cease and desist immediately or be prepared to face consequences. In some cases, this has meant paying all court costs on one hand and all damages/fines on the other.
Now, to give you a better idea of what constitutes copyright infringement under U.S. law: If an author publishes material that would be considered substantially similar to your copyrighted work in terms of plot, theme, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, and character but does not contain verbatim text from your book––he or she is infringing upon your copyrighted material even if he or she changes the title and his or her name appears as the author while yours remains unaccredited (i.e., “The Catcher in the Rye” by J D Salinger). The only way such a book wouldn’t constitute copyright infringement is if it was expressly in writing otherwise (i.e., you granted prior permission to do so).
How to File Copyright Infringement for Your Book
When you have a registered copyright, filing a lawsuit in federal court becomes a lot easier. And that’s where this post comes in: we’re going to tell you how to register your book for a copyright with the US Copyright Office and then file an infringement lawsuit if it becomes necessary.
#1 Register Your Work With the U.S. Copyright Office
Before you can file a copyright infringement lawsuit and most other things in life, you need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO). Here’s how:
1. For books, it includes things like anthologies; computer programs; instructional texts; contact lists or databases (but not including “compilations”); collective works such as magazines and newspapers; drawings or paintings; dramatizations; movies or filmstrips––in short, anything original enough to warrant copyright protection…for now.
2. Fill out the online form, paying special attention to sections 1-4b) where you declare your intent to register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office and send in the required filing fee of $35 perform.
3. Print out a copy of your completed electronic form, then sign it with a pen by hand on the bottom portion (the certification) and send it to:
U.S. Copyright Office
Library of Congress Cataloging In Publication Section
101 Independence Ave SE Washington DC 20559-6000
4b) Please note that if you are submitting an application for registration under section 408(b)(2) of title 17 as a compilation or derivative work, the applicant must also submit a clear statement specifying what parts are subject to protection and how they can be identified within the application; identifying any part that is not subject to copyright protection; and specifying the access code or CD/ROM number.
4c) If your work is unpublished, you can file your application electronically if you are on a personal computer at http://eco.copyright.gov . You will need to have an Electronic Information Product Specialist assigned by the U.S. Copyright Office review your submission before it is transmitted online.
5) Repeat steps 2 through 4 for each book you want to register with the U.S. Copyright Office, paying special attention to sections 1-4b).
6) Wait anywhere from 8 weeks to 6 months for someone at the USCO to process your registration form(s). Once they’re processed, they’ll send in back to you with a certificate confirming that your book is now registered as a published work with the U.S. Copyright Office.
7) When you receive your certificate, print it out and keep it in a safe place where it can be easily retrieved if needed for evidence of copyright infringement––which we’ll talk about more later on.
#2 File an Infringement Lawsuit
Now that you’ve registered your book with the USCO and have all the necessary elements to prove you were the first publisher of your book, filing an infringement lawsuit becomes much less expensive than $35 per form (the basic filing fee). Bear in mind though, that while this process may not cost anywhere near $1,000 x 1-3 forms filed electronically online at http://eco.copyright.gov, it will cost a lot more than the $35 filing fee you paid to register each book with the USCO––unless of course, you’ve registered your work(s) under a pseudonym rather than your real name and therefore did not have to pay a filing fee at all.
In order to file an infringement lawsuit against someone whose been illegally distributing, selling, or trading your copyrighted book without permission from you as the publisher of that book,
follow these steps:
1) Gather together all evidence of copyright infringement, including any copies of pages from books that show the infringing use of the same on every page where possible. Note especially sections containing text copied verbatim from your own book which can be used for direct comparison between your work and the infringing copy.
2) Keep a journal of account on any expenses you incurred to try and track down the person who’s been illegally distributing your book(s). Include itemized receipts from phone calls made, postage used for mailed letters, mileage driven to follow up leads, etc.
3) Get together all documents that support you as the copyright owner of the books in question––receipts for purchase of books by you or anyone associated with you, copies of catalogs promoting you/your company/your publishing house as a publisher(s), and author(s), contracts or agreements between yourself and other parties stipulating which party is responsible for what regarding publication rights and your copyrighted material, correspondence with publishers who have purchased exclusive rights to your book/articles, etc.
4) Use the USCO’s online system to submit a Form VA for each infringing book you wish to register with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Note that even if you have registered any part of your work(s) with the USCO under a pseudonym, it is still necessary to file copyright infringement lawsuits against anyone who has illegally reproduced, distributed, or displayed your work without permission, under the legal name by which you are and/or were commonly known when you published the material in question (the publisher’s true legal name). Therefore even if an author publishes his or her work anonymously or under a pseudonym––like JT Leroy, Elena Ferrante, or Harper Lee––it remains necessary to register his or her book(s) with the USCO under his or her real legal name for purposes of pursuing copyright infringement lawsuits.
Copyright law under U.S. law allows for certain exceptions to prevent making it too difficult for people to discuss and criticize copyrighted material, however, these exceptions do not apply in cases where a writer is using your copyrighted material without your permission––so don’t be afraid to file an infringement lawsuit against anyone who has stolen from you or plans on doing so.