Seeing someone use and profit from your work can be very distressing, and many creators feel powerless in these situations. You shouldn’t, however, as US copyright law is very strict, and, if you can prove that you are the rightful owner of the work, you should be able to get compensation.
You should know that what you do after your rights have been infringed upon will make a big difference in the outcome of the case, however. You also have to know that there are multiple courses of action that you could take to get compensated. Here’s what you need to do if you suspect someone of stealing your copyrighted work.
Know if You Have a Valid Case
The first thing you have to know is what can be copyrighted and what cannot. If someone blatantly plagiarised your work or used one of your protected images on their website or promotional material, then this is clear copyright infringement. But, if they created content inspired by yours or used some of your ideas to create a product, you won’t be able to sue.
This goes even if you can prove that you spoke with the person and shared your ideas with them. The only time when you can sue is if you have a patent for something and they copy it. Outside of that, you can’t sue them just because they picked an idea from the ether.
You also cannot copyright common phrases. And, believe it or not, fashion designs cannot be copyrighted. So, if someone stole a design you made for a dress or shirt, they could replicate it and make money from it. You can, however, trademark marquee logos and patterns, like Burberry did with its signature print, for instance.
Send a Cease and Desist Letter
If your main goal is to protect your work and you don’t think the infringing party did it maliciously, then you can always send them a cease and desist letter. This will allow you to avoid the headache of having to file a formal suit. If the infringer decides to stop, then you don’t need to do anything more. But, if they dispute the letter, you might have to escalate the issue.
Hire a Good Lawyer
If you do believe that you have a strong case on your hands, you need to start looking for a lawyer. It would also be a good idea if you hire one from your jurisdiction. If you live in Washington, D.C., for instance, then look for a Washington DC IP lawyer that is used to working on your specific type of case.
When speaking with them, ask questions like what their true area of expertise is and how many cases they take to court vs settling. It’s very important to know as some lawyers will do everything they can to expedite small cases and will only go to court for cases they know will bring lots of money and attention to their firm. So, make sure that they have experience on both fronts, as settling could still be a good option depending on the case.
These are all things you have to do if you suspect someone of stealing your work. Learn as much as you can about copyright law and only move if you’re 100% sure that your rights are being infringed upon.