Copyright law, which protects a person’s rights to his or her own creative works, dates back nearly to the invention of the printing press. It protects a creator’s ownership of a creative work and the rights to use the work publicly. It also gives a creator remedies against anyone who infringes those rights. Where trademark law protects brand names, logos, and other “marks” representing a product or service, copyright law protects creative works like novels, songs, photographs, designs, or software. Computer technology, particularly the internet, has made copyright infringement quite easy and created new challenges for copyright owners.
Nearly any original creative work has copyright protection. Online, this can include graphics and designs, text, photo or video files, music, or code. A website created for a business most likely contains content subject to the protections of U.S. copyright laws. Technically speaking, copyright protection applies the moment a work is created in a physical form, which includes creation as a digital file. While copyright laws apply to a work upon its creation, enforcement is very difficult unless the creator takes additional steps to document the work’s creation and ownership with the government.
The U.S. Copyright Office allows copyright owners to formally register their works in a central location. Registration may deter others from infringing on a work, and it allows a copyright owner to effectively defend a work through the litigation process. Evidence of registration with the Copyright Office serves as prima facie evidence of ownership in a legal dispute. Most importantly, registering a work in a timely manner allows the owner to claim statutory damages in an infringement suit. Courts can award damages of up to $150,000 per act of intentional infringement, but only if the copyright owner follows the registration procedures.
Before the Internet became a daily medium of communication for large numbers of people, copyright infringement usually required significant effort to be harmful to the owner. An infringing use required printing or recording, then publication. Today, copyrighted works can appear instantly on blogs, social media sites, and message boards around the world. Congress enacted the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 to allow copyright owners a relatively efficient means to notify alleged infringers and give them an opportunity to cease and desist. The law imposes penalties on people or businesses that use or distribute infringing works over the Internet.
A “DMCA takedown notice” to a service provider, which could be any website or service that hosts content uploaded or posted by third parties, typically requires it to remove the allegedly infringing content. The feature of the DMCA that causes the most legal controversy is the “safe harbor” provision. This provision protects service providers from liability for copyright infringement for works posted by third parties, provided they have an approved agent designated to receive DMCA takedown notices. Ongoing litigation, particularly between Viacom and Google, has left the precise meaning and protection of the “safe harbor” provision in flux.
The California internet copyright lawyers at the Law Offices of Salar Atrizadeh guide businesses and individuals through the regulatory and transactional pitfalls of the Internet, using legal knowledge and technological skill to create innovative solutions for our clients. Contact us today online or at (310) 694-3034 to set up a confidential consultation.
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Internet Piracy Results In Arrests In New Zealand, Internet Lawyer Blog, January 22, 2012
$1.5 MILLION FINE FOR DOWNLOADING 24 SONGS, Internet Lawyer Blog, November 5, 2010