Copyright Law Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Copyright Infringement

Under international copyright law mandated by the Berne Convention (which includes the European Union and United Kingdom), copyright is an automatic right and no official registration is needed. 

However, to avoid copyright disputes you must be able to prove that you are the original copyright owner of your creative work and when that work was completed.  This can actually be more difficult to prove than you first think, especially when you've created the work yourself.   Once you can prove you are the copyright holder, the date and time the work was produced, the liability falls to the other party to prove they created the work before this point.

With copyright infringement so prominent within the creative industry, especially on the internet, it's wise to know how to protect your copyright and about the legalities, as well as how to deter copyright theft in the first place.

What Is Copyright Infringement?

The definition of copyright infringement (also known as piracy) is when copyrighted work is used without permission of the copyright owner or for the specific use granted.  For example, a photographer can give permission to use a photograph on a tshirt design but not on a billboard advertisement.

If your work, as the copyright owner, is being used without permission, the first course of action is to contact the offending party with a copyright infringement notice usually in the form of a cease and desist letter and explain that your work is protected by copyright.  If you've protected your work with an online copyright service such as Protect My Work, give the reference number and send the digital certificate as proof of your copyright.  Ask them to stop using the work and remove it from the public domain. In the majority of cases, in our experience, this will end the use of your work amicably.

Should the other party ignore your requests and refuse to accept the copyright violation, you can contact the infringer’s Internet service provider, such as Ebay, Amazon or their web host provider if they are hosting the pages on their own website. With the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) now in effect, it gives you the right as the copyright holder to request from the infringer's ISP that they delete the infringed work from its servers.

A “Takedown Notice” can be filed as a provision of the DMCA but does require you give the proper notice and evidence when asking for a takedown. In the notice you'll need to clearly identify your copyright protected work as well as provide a statement and provide proof that you're the copyright owner. You will need to make sure you havesolid proof that you are the copyright holder and the work originated with you.

Lastly, should these two approaches fail, you have the right to take legal action and launch a copyright lawsuit and sue for damages in small claims court. In this case, if your work is registered with Protect My Work, will swear an affidavit stating that we received your work on such date and time. In addition to this, you will need to collect all your evidence proving infringement of copyright and present this to the court.  The burden of proof will then fall to the other party to prove they created the work before the point of time that you can prove.

Remember, the most substantial part of any copyright infringement case is proving that you are the original author or creator of the work and the date it was created. 


How To Avoid Copyright Infringement Of Your Intellectual Property

The best way to avoid a copyright infringement case is to be proactive in protecting yourself and your business and make sure you are able to prove that you're the original author of your intellectual property and make this public. Remember, third-party proof often has more weight as it will be deemed impartial.

  • Make sure you are able to prove the date and time your work was completed
  • Keep drafts of your work, as you are developing it and document the time at regular intervals
  • Add a copyright notice to your work where appropriate
  • Add a warning of how you have protected your work as a deterrent to others
  • Ensure your proof of copyright cannot be disputed
  • Keep a version history of your work if you are consistently working on and improving it


© How To Use The Copyright Symbol

To officially copyright work, use the copyright symbol and add a copyright notice similar to the following:


© Copyright 2010-2024 Company Name. All Rights Reserved.


If you do decide to register your work with a third-party, independent copyright service like Protect My Work, you'll receive a unique reference number for the work when it's submitted.  Adding that reference number along with the copyright notice above works well as an effetive deterrent, so we advise something that reads as follows:


© Copyright 2010-2024 Company Name. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright protected with Reference Number: 123456789


Indisputable Proof Of Your Intellectual Property

The use of third party, independent witness software such as Protect My Work to prove your copyright protection can be extremely beneficial.  There is three main ways that people tend to think of in order to prove copyright on their intellectual property.  These are:

  • The date and time on computer files
  • Emailing to yourself or a friend
  • Sending yourself a hard copy in the post

The advantages to these methods are that they offer a way to copyright for free and they're easy to implement.  The disadvantage is that they are not really indisputable so should you find yourself having to defend your copyright, you may find that there are extra delays, hassle and stress.



The date and time on computer files can actually be changed.  So, this on its own is not a 100% safe way to prove your copyright.  In addition to this, you would have to prove that the computer that the digital file was created on, was in fact yours.  Should this be disputed by third parties, the computer and files may need to be independently verified by a specialist which will inevitably cause delay and incur extra cost.


The second common method it to email the files to yourself which is in theory a good idea but again, email content and text can be changed.  So as with computer dates and times on files, if this was to be disputed you may find that you have to contact your internet service provider and ask them to verify through their web logs that the email, date and time was in fact correct and not altered.  This will take time and no doubt add a level of stress as you try and navigate yourself through to the right department and support technician with the right authority and request the required data. 


The third method is known as the “Poor Man’s Copyright”.  This is where you send a hard copy of the work to yourself in the post.  The date stamp of the post office serves as your time stamp and the work inside is obviously the work that is your copyright.

Whilst that has generally been accepted as proof, it means that copyright holders have to keep these envelopes for the rest of their life.  If they become lost or damage, they don’t serve as proof.  In addition, with the Internet, your copyright can be infringed several times over, not just once. 

So to protect from this, you would have to send yourself several envelopes containing the work in case your copyright was infringed multiple times.  This is not a particularly easy, practical or effective way to protect from copyright infringement. 


An Independent Copyright Service

For a copyright owner, using a specialised service like Protect My Work to protect against copy infringement can both deter copyright violators in the first place and save much time and stress in the event of an infringement. 

Simply register an account for £41.65 (ex. VAT) per year and you're free to upload as much work as you want.  You simply buy "tokens" for £1 (ex. VAT) each, pay-as-you-go, You need one token to upload a set of work (up to file separate attachments).

Once you upload your work, you'll receive a digital certificate as proof of your copyright with details included such as your name, company or pen/stage name, date and time the work was received and of course links to the work.  You will be able to share this proof with any third party you may need to and prove that the work is registered.   

This can be a big advantage and a huge time saver, when it comes to explaining your rights to third parties, by being able to clearly show the evidence required, especially for a takedown notice to be served or a small claims court action to be issued.

As already mentioned, adding the reference number of the registered work in the copyright notice, shows that you are serious about protecting your intellectual property.  As a member of Protect My Work, you are also entitled to use our copyright theft deterrent stamp, which is a visual warning to would-be copyright violators.  This stamp can be placed on graphics, packaging or websites or used as a watermark on photos and makes it immediately obvious that the work is protected.  These two practices form a strong deterrent.

Lastly, having a central digital hub of all your creative work means you can manage all of your copyrighted work in one place in an organised and searchable format.


What Are The Penalties For Copyright Infringement?

Should you need to file a copyright infringement case in court, you will have to put a monetary value on the damages, for example, loss of sales.  You will also be able to ask for your court costs to be covered by the offending party. 

The United States is slightly different in that it's advised if you are going to be doing business in the US or if you're a US citizen that you file your copyright material there too.  Costs for this are between $35 - $55 per submission can take around two months to complete registration. If you ever need to launch legal action in the US and sue for damages and attorney fees, your work needs to be registered with the US Copyright Office.


What Types of Copyright Infringement Are There?

A copyright infringement can occur when logos, photographs, graphics, artwork, books, songs, poems or website content (to name some of the most creative common) are taken and used without the copyright holders' permission. Equally, copyright protected material can't be used for purposes outside the licensed agreement or given permissions.

Copyright infringement can also occur if a copyright protected piece of work is copied and an edit made to try and change the look slightly.  The line between using an existing creative work for inspiration and copying and changing it is not an absolute so this would be subject to judgement.  If you are doing this, make sure you're comfortable that the work you have created is different enough than the original works you may have used for inspiration and that you are happy that you could defend this in any legal action if you ever had to, to a third party or judge.  Obviously, the best advice we can give is never to fly close to someone else's design.


Copyright Infringement Examples To Be Aware Of

Copyright infringement can be violated in several ways under copyright law, it's not just a matter of stealing the work outright.

An example of a common copyright infringement is using music in videos. Without obtaining permission to use a song in a video, even for your home movies, this is copyright infringement. Websites like YouTube and Facebook are proactive against copyright infringement and will flag down or mute songs and music for copyright violation.  If you are going to use music in any of your work or videos, make sure to have the correct permissions to avoid any conflict.

Another common form of copyright infringement to be aware of is correct licensing.   If you've bought a copyright license for photos, graphics or artwork, it's usually for a specific use, such as an online. You cannot use the artwork for purposes outside of that agreement, for example, to print on Tshirts or other merchandise.  This can be misunderstood, some people mistakenly thinking that if they buy a license for an image from iStockPhoto, it allows them to use the work for anything they wish.  This isn't always the case and it may be that your permission is only granted for use on a website for example but not on printed merchandise or a billboard.

Even open source software or computer code can have licenses and there will be some form of copyright on the project.  Don't assume that by the name "open source" this means the code is free to use and edit but make sure you do the appropriate research into the license and copyright before you edit anything. 


Conclusion: Protect Your Copyright

Copyright can be confusing, especially when you're first getting to grips with it.  The main thing to realise is that under international copyright law, the copyright of creative work is an automatic right but being able to prove that you created the work and the date of creation is key.

Without having solid proof of these two points, if your work is used without permission, fighting any copyright infringement case becomes a lot harder and can add significant stress and frustration.  Third party copyright services such as Protect My Work can help prove the originality of your work, the date of production and act as a solid deterrent to copyright infringement in the first place.