I found someone infringing a copyrighted work that I registered. Can the Copyright Office help me stop this?
Please be advised that the Copyright Office serves primarily as an office of record, a place where claims to copyright are registered and documents related to copyright are recorded. We are glad to furnish information about the provisions of the copyright law and the procedures for making registration, to explain the operations and practices of the Copyright Office, and to report on facts found in the public records of the Office. However, we are prohibited from giving specific legal advice on the rights of persons, whether in connection with particular uses of copyrighted works, cases of alleged domestic or foreign copyright infringement, contracts between authors and publishers, or other matters of a similar nature.
What Is Infringement?
Copyright is a bundle of exclusive rights. Section 106 of the copyright law provides the owner of copyright in a work the exclusive right:
- To reproduce the work in copies;
- To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
- To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
- To perform the work publicly;
- To display the copyrighted work publicly
- In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
Section 501 of the copyright law states that “anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner ...is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author.”
Generally, under the law, one who engages in any of these activities without obtaining the copyright owner's permission may be liable for infringement. Nevertheless, there are several limitations of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner. The copyright law provides exemptions from infringement liability by authorizing certain uses under particularized circumstances. These exemptions are enumerated generally in sections 107-122 of the copyright law.
What Do I Do If My Copyright Has Been Infringed?
Serving primarily as an office of record, the Copyright Office is not charged with enforcing the law it administers. Copyright infringement is generally a civil matter, which the copyright owner must pursue in federal court. Under certain circumstances, the infringement may also constitute a criminal misdemeanor or felony, which would be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
If you believe that your copyright has been infringed and you anticipate a legal dispute, if you have not yet done so, it is advisable that a registration be made as soon as possible in order to secure the opportunity for valuable remedies and litigation advantages available for timely registration under the Copyright Act. If a work is registered prior to infringement or within three months of publication, statutory damages will be available as an option for monetary relief, and the recovery for attorney’s fees may be available. In addition, a registration made before or within five years of publication of the work provides a presumption of the validity of the copyright and the facts stated within the registration certificate. A certificate of registration (or a rejection of an application for copyright) is a prerequisite for U.S. authors seeking to initiate a suit for copyright infringement in federal district court. See Circular 1 Copyright Basics, and sections 410, 411, and 412 of the copyright law.
Please be advised that there is no provision in the copyright law or the practices of the Copyright Office regarding any type of protection known as the “poor man's copyright.” The mere act of placing a copy in the mail addressed to oneself does not secure statutory copyright protection for the work, nor will it serve as a substitute for registration of a claim to copyright in this Office in terms of legal and evidentiary value.
Where Can I Get Help?
You may wish to seek professional legal advice from a copyright attorney and to discuss your legal options. The Copyright Office is unable to provide referrals or a list of attorneys. Your local or state bar association may be able to recommend a copyright attorney, or an attorney who specializes in intellectual property, arts, or entertainment law matters. Alternatively, you may wish to investigate whether a public interest organization that offers services to authors and copyright owners, such as Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, has a regional office in your area that may assist you with locating free or reduced fee legal services or assistance. In addition, local law schools may provide representation through clinical programs in Intellectual Property or Arts and Entertainment Law.
If you believe that a criminal infringement of copyright has occurred, you may contact the Intellectual Property (IP) Program of the Financial Institution Fraud Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Two main FBI divisions investigate intellectual property crimes:
- Cyber Division
-investigates intellectual property crimes involving all digital and electronic works (including Internet, CDs, DVDs, etc) www.fbi.gov/ipr
- Financial Institution Fraud Unit
-all other intellectual property crimes
There are three ways a complaint made be filed:
- Complainants may contact their local FBI field office, and the complaint will be properly referred.
- A complaint may be filed online at the Internet Crime Complaint Center www.ic3.gov and, again, it will be properly routed.
- Suspected criminal activity of any nature may be reported online at https://tips.fbi.gov and will be routed accordingly.
The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice is the federal entity that prosecutes intellectual property crimes. Parts III and VI of the Department of Justice primer provide further information on the prima facie elements of criminal copyright violations, both misdemeanor and felony, and the factors considered in determining when to charge. However, all criminal complaints should be directed only to the FBI.
Further, there are industry-specific organizations that monitor and prosecute copyright violations. Lists of copyright industry organizations and authors organizations are readily available on numerous sites on the Internet.
Finally, online service providers must comply with certain conditions if they wish to take advantage of certain limitations of liability when a user publishes infringing content on their systems. One of these obligations is the designation of an agent for notification of claimed infringement. To qualify for certain limitations on liability, online service providers must, among other things, provide contact information to the Copyright Office and through the service provider's publicly accessible website on “designated agents” who will receive notices of alleged infringement. The Copyright Office website includes a directory of agents for notification that lists “designated agents” for online service providers recorded with the Copyright Office. For general information on this provision of the law, see section 512. Also, see a summary of this provision of the law.
The Copyright Law
You may access the provisions of the copyright law related to litigation procedure, statute of limitations and available remedies in Chapter 5.
Expedited Registration And Recordation
Under special circumstances, e.g., anticipated litigation, the expedited processing of an application for registration of a claim to copyright (“special handling”) may be requested. It is granted in a limited number of cases to those who have compelling reasons for this service, such as pending or potential litigation. If granted, the Copyright Office makes every attempt to process the application within 5-10 working days from the date of approval for this service by the Office. The fee for special handling of an application for registration is in addition to the registration filing fee. The fee for special handling of the recordation of a document is in addition to the applicable recordation fee. If the application is already being processed when the need for special handling arises, please contact the Office for guidance in how to request a change in requested service level. For further information on the special handling procedure, please refer to Circular 10. For more information on fees, please refer to Circular 4.
Investigating Copyright Status
The Copyright Office maintains a searchable online catalog of the records of all registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership made since 1978. These records may be searched by title of the work, name(s) of author(s) or claimant(s), or by registration number. The registration record will contain the registration number, the title, a description of the physical work, the name of the author(s) and claimant(s), the year the work was created, the year published, and the date of registration. The record may also include a note as to any limitation on the scope of the claim, or an indication of whether there was correspondence concerning the application between the applicant and the Copyright Office during the processing of the application.
A search of registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership made before 1978 generally requires a manual search of our card files, which are open to the public and are located in Washington, DC. Upon request, and at the statutory rate for each hour or fraction of an hour consumed, the Copyright Office staff will search its records and provide a written report. If desired, an estimate can be provided. See Circular 22 regarding information needed to perform a thorough search of our records. Estimates for searches are based on the information furnished and are provided for a set fee that is applied toward the cost of the search and report. Fees for estimates are nonrefundable and are good for up to one year. Requests must include an address and telephone number where you may be reached during business hours and an email address if available.
Preferred payment is by personal check or credit card. Contact the Copyright Office for information regarding payment with money orders or by overseas banking institutions.
For information, correspondence, or payment, contact:
Library of Congress
Reference and Bibliography Section
Mail Stop 6306
101 Independence Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20559-6000
Phone: (202) 707-6850, M-F, 8:30-5:00 p.m., eastern time
Fax: (202) 252-3485
TTY: (202) 707-6737
Other records available for searching include the publication entitled Catalog of Copyright Entries. The Copyright Office published the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE) in printed format from 1891 through 1978. From 1979 through 1982 the CCE was issued in microfiche format. The catalog was divided into parts according to the classes of works registered. Each CCE segment covered all registrations made during a particular period of time. Renewal registrations made from 1979 through 1982 are found in Section 8 of the catalog. Renewals prior to that time were generally listed at the end of the volume containing the class of work to which they pertained. A number of libraries throughout the United States maintain copies of the CCE, and this may provide a good starting point if you wish to make a search yourself. There are some cases, however, in which a search of the CCE alone will not be sufficient to provide the needed information. For example: since the CCE does not include entries for assignments or other recorded documents, it cannot be used for searches involving the ownership of rights.
For further guidance in investigating copyright status, please refer to Circular 22.
Visual inspection of copies of works (or identifying material) deposited in connection with a completed registration or rejection, or completed records and indexes relating to a registration or a recorded document, may be undertaken on-site at the Copyright Office, upon request. Please refer to Circular 6 for further information on this procedure.
Obtaining Certificates and Certified Copies of Deposits
During the course of litigation, copyright records may be requested for use in legal proceedings. The Certifications and Documents Section of the Copyright Office will prepare certified or uncertified copies of certain public records, including additional certificates of registration and copies of published or unpublished works deposited in connection with a copyright registration and held in the Office’s custody. Please note that copies of the work itself are provided only under limited conditions to specific parties. See Circular 6.
For litigation purposes and upon request, the Certifications and Documents Section will also initiate in-process searches as well as searches in the Correspondence and Unfinished Business (“UB”) files of the Copyright Office for material that may contain original letters from authors and publishers, deposit copies (possibly unique examples) on which no cataloging action has been undertaken, and similar information.
If requested, and upon payment in full, the Certifications and Documents Section will expedite certain services with prior approval.