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Writing Right: The Blog

DEFENDING AGAINST COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

Someone wrote me the other day asking how he could defend himself from a claim of copyright infringement even though he hadn't registered his own work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Sound like tough sledding? Read on for my response.

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It seems as if even attorneys can get this answer wrong if they don't read the question carefully. I understand that one entertainment lawyer advised that you'll need to show the claimant in this case had prior access to your work. That would be true if YOU were suing HIM for copyright infringement, but that's not the case. Just the opposite. In suing you, the claimant had prior exposure to your work, most likely because you had already published or otherwise made it available publicly. Now, he will have to prove that HIS version of a primarily identical work predated yours. You, of course, need to show that it didn't.


Your job, then, becomes primarily defensive. You'll need to round up all your evidence, including dated copies of your rough drafts and finalized version. Microsoft and other software manufacturers time-stamp your dated material every time you open a document and save changes, from your earliest saved version on up to the latest one.

 

Also, you'll have to gather together any correspondence referencing your work on the property, either physically or digitally through e-mail, messaging, texting, phone conversations, etc. Sworn statements from people who knew you were working on your property and when will also prove invaluable. So, too, will any inquiries regarding reference and research work you did and the people you contacted—like a query to a photo agency or a historical library. Ditto, friends, neighbors, drinking buddies, teachers, coworkers, and family members with whom you may have discussed various aspects of your work during its development. And don't forget any social-media postings or discussions of your work, which will also be dated. And, of course, interviewees whom you may have spoken to in preparing your material. Read More 

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BEG, BORROW (A BIT), OR STEAL

What do you say? Can you legally beg, borrow, or steal a line or two from another writer as long as it's not enough to put you in Dutch with the Copyright Cops?

 

Beg or borrow? Not sure those are legally definable words. Steal? Ouch. We don't want to go there. But the truth is you can use some of another writer's material as long as you attribute that material to the original author. "Some," here, is the operative word. Keep the usage to a minimum, as in this example in quotation marks:

 

I can't say it any better: 'Donita was a flake, and she knew it from the day she was born,' according to author Pete Markowitz wrtiting in his book, Dark Day at Diablo.

That's one way to handle a short excerpt from another author's work. If it's a little longer, you might grant the quoted material its own paragraph to set it apart further, as in this example:

 

As author Markie Mark said in his article, "Going My Way," in the June, 1972, issue of Motorist Magazine:

QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL.

Putting the quoted material in italics and indenting it in a block sets it apart from your original writing even further and prevents the reader from mistaking it for your own material. Read More 

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