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4 Things You Can Do To Protect Your Online Content From Thieves

By Bobby Klinck | Intellectual Property

Feb 09

Last week, I wrote about 4 pervasive copyright myths that can be hazardous to your business. That post was all about how to avoid infringing someone else’s copyrights. Today, I’m going to guide you through what you need to do to stop other people from infringing your copyrights. If last week was about keeping you out of disputes, this week is about protecting yourself from thieves!

But look, I have to level with you on this one. There isn’t some magic bullet I can give you that is going to protect your copyrighted work. You need to come to grips with the fact that if you produce good content, people are going to copy it.

What I’m going to tell you isn’t going to stop people from copying your work. And it may not make it possible or worth your while to stop everyone who does copy your work. What these steps will do is reduce the risk of theft, give you options if someone does copy your work, and give you the tools to go after thieves.

For Important Works. . . Register Your Copyright

You don’t have to register a work for it to be protected by copyright law. Nope, your works are protected automatically as soon as you complete them.

Although you don’t have to register your works, there are advantages to registering, including:

  • Allowing you to sue for copyright infringement.
  • Creating the possibility of “statutory” so you don’t have to prove harm.
  • Entitling you to get attorneys fees in a successful lawsuit.
  • Providing a presumption of authorship and ownership.

For these benefits to apply to your case, you have to register your work either within a short time after its creation or before someone else starts infringing it.

If you have not registered your work before someone steals it, you can still register it and sue. But you won’t get the right to statutory damages, fees, or a presumption.

There are definitely advantages to registering your copyrighted works. But let’s be real. You aren’t going to register every piece of content you create. I mean, between blog posts, podcast episodes, lead magnets, paid courses, and on and on, you are creating a TON of content. Registering every piece of content would be pretty expensive, and you would spend pretty much all your time trying to register copyrights!

So how do you decide what to register?

Well, that’s a tough question (and it’s ultimately a business decision you have to make). Because the benefits of a registered copyright tend to come into play only in a lawsuit, you might start by asking yourself whether you would actually sue someone if they copied the particular work. That will generally rule out blog posts and probably lead magnets. But you also should consider whether the work has a long shelf-life or not. For something that you’ll only use for a very short period of time, the chances of ever wanting to enforce your copyright are quite low.

You probably should register a copyright for any books you write, movies you make, music you record and release, and paid course offerings. But each case requires you to weigh the costs against the upside.

Sorry that I can’t give you a clear answer here. . . but that’s just the way the law works sometimes.

If you decide to register, you can do so at the U.S. Copyright Office.

Put A Copyright Notice. . . Even Though It’s Not Required

Now, if you read last week’s blog post, you know that you don’t need to put a copyright notice on your material for it to be protected. But you should do it anyway.

Right about now, you may be scratching your head (or cursing my name), but hear me out.

Adding a copyright notice doesn’t help you legally, but it can have practical benefits. If you read last week’s post, you know that one of the most common misconceptions people have is that works have to have a copyright notice to get protection. That means that if you don’t include a copyright notice on your material, many people with wrongly believe they can use it without permission.

In other words, if you don’t include a copyright notice, some people will take your content without knowing they are doing anything wrong. Adding a simple copyright notice will keep these people on the straight and narrow and protect your content.

And there’s one other benefit of adding a copyright notice…you send a message to would-be infringers that you intend to protect your rights. Now, I’m not going to oversell the benefits of this. For the most part, if someone is going to knowingly infringe your copyrights, they aren’t going to be deterred by a copyright notice. That being said, it’s kind of like the broken window theory of policing…you might as well do the easy things that might have some positive impact.

So add a copyright notice. It’s simple, costs you nothing, and will have some positive benefit for you.

Use The Right Terms Of Service

One thing that many entrepreneurs don’t think enough about are the threats to their copyrighted material from their students, customers, and clients. Your customers might be a threat to your copyrighted material in a variety of ways.

Some might be so excited about what you provide to them that they’ll share it with their audience. These students aren’t being malicious; they just want to share the great content that you have created. While sharing is certainly caring, as an entrepreneur you probably don’t want your students to share the information from your paid courses and resources with the world.

Others of your students might have a more nefarious intent. Imagine that you are a Facebook Ads agency but you also offer paid online courses about FB ads. Those courses are intended for people who want to do-it-themselves (and are probably part of your sales funnel to the paid agency). You probably don’t want other FB ad service providers to take your course, copy the content, and then sell it as their own. But that happens.

While copyright law already protects you in both of these instances, you should add a layer of contract law to protect your platform as well. You should draft the terms of service for your programs to expressly state that students/customers will not share any of the content with anyone else. And you may want to include a provision that prevents your competitors from even buying the program or resource in the first place.

Are you ever going to be able to realistically stop competitors from taking your course? Probably not. But including the provision in your terms of service will give you extra ammunition if you have to sue. It’ll also give you a favorable forum to sue (because you certainly choose a convenient locale in  your terms of service).

Ultimately, the point is to include any express limits you want on the use of your content in the terms of service that your students must agree to when they register for your programs (and in your one-on-one client agreements).

The DMCA Is Your Friend

When you are dealing with a recalcitrant online thief, your best friend is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Here’s betting you never thought that any law would be your best friend.

I’m guessing you don’t really care about how the DMCA came into existence, so I won’t bore you with details. If you want to know more, check out the DMCA page on Wikipedia.

For your purposes, what matters is that the DMCA gives you a way to demand that the company hosting the infringing content take it down. Companies that allow others to post content (e.g., social media companies, website hosts, forums, etc.) can avoid being sued for copyright infringement so long as they take action to remove content after being notified that it infringes someone’s copyright.

In response to the DMCA, every company that hosts other people’s content has a procedure for responding to copyright infringement complaints. So if someone is posting your content of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any other social media platform without permission, you can go to the social media website and ask that they remove it. Just search the site’s terms of service for “DMCA,” and you’ll find express instructions about how to lodge a complaint.

The same will be true of website hosting companies, online course platforms, and any other company that hosts content posted by third parties. Just follow their instructions for sending a DMCA “takedown notice” and they will act.

Hopefully, you’ll never need to use the DMCA, but if someone is copying your content and posting it online, the DMCA will be your best friend.

Summing Up

There you have it. There are four common sense steps to protect your copyrighted material from online thieves. Copyright infringement sadly has become part of life for online entrepreneurs. You most likely will not be able to prevent all theft, but by taking these simple steps you should minimize it and give yourself options to address it when it occurs.

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About the Author

Bobby Klinck is an intellectual property attorney, but he’s not your typical lawyer. Sure, he went to Harvard Law School and worked at some of the most prestigious firms in the country, but if you look at the big whiteboard in his office, you won’t see much about the law. His whiteboard is filled with tasks related to platform building, inbound marketing, and sales-funnels. Bobby is a full-fledged online entrepreneur, whose area of expertise is the law.

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