© Julie Knapp, All artist rights retained.
My work is copyright protected with the U.S. Copyright Office. Thank you for respecting all copyright laws.

What To Do When Someone Steals Your Intellectual Property

Recently I was the victim of theft of my intellectual property. Four of my designs were copied and offered for sale as embroidery designs on another web site. You might wonder what to do if something like this happens to you. Don't worry, the law is on your side!

For anyone out there considering an easy copy of another artists designs, check yourself. Ask, is it ethical or moral to copy someone else's work? Will I hurt others? Will I break the law? Make no mistake, it is a crime to infringe on someones intellectual property.
Denial of the crime is silly as there are many methods to document, archive and trace this offense. In my situation, the offender is an author and teacher; she absolutely would know theft of intellectual property is a crime.

Evidence - Create an archive of the web site or simply use the Web Archive groups content. They are a nonprofit group that copies many sites online and preserves the images, links and other content posted. This is public record and can be viewed by anyone. Hopefully the offending site has been archived but if not, don't worry, create your own archive with the command under the file menu. This will preserve a static copy of the offending page and can be logged as evidence in future legal proceedings.

Contact The Offender - Look for a contact link on the site. Email the person at the other end. Ask them to remove your content and then keep watch to make sure they do. This would include any future posts. Use the Google tool and create an email alert so you know when someone online is mentioning your specific search text.

Payment Processing - Who processes their payment online? This one was easy for me as the offender used PayPal. PayPal insists on ethics in business and they have rules around how a business person can operate. If a business is in violation of the PayPal rules, their account can be suspended. Provide PayPal proof that you own the intellectual property and they will launch an investigation for you. Once you report the site, PayPal will witness the offense and take action. It's very hard to remain in business online, when you can't accept electronic payments. Thanks PayPal!

Web Site Host - Review the posted pages and look for the company that hosts the web site. You can find this information sometimes as simply as reading the URL or you may need to look at the bottom of the web pages for details on support contact. Contact the support group and report the infringement. Many host sites have rules of operation for businesses, one being, don't post copyright infringed material!  Their site can be shut down if they don't pull the content. In my case, the offending site is still in operation because I personally contacted the poster of the content and she removed the infringing designs.

Demand Action - Make a list of demands and send it to the offender. Include specific action steps for them to take, like removing the content, destroying any product they have created etc. Below is the list I used and no, it isn't extortion, it's your legal right to reclaim your property. If the offender has any business ethics, morals, or intellect in general, they will work with you to complete the list and avoid legal penalties.

Comply with this list of requirements and I will not seek intellectual property damages AND profits through legal penalties from you and your business. 
  1. Send me electronic copies of all files and image file types you have created from my designs.
  2. Remove all my designs from your site. This includes any images or 'add to shopping cart links' designed to conduct a payment transaction or free give away.
  3. Remove all my designs from any of your other business publications and communications in any and all media formats.
  4. Do not sell, distribute or share my graphics in any method or venue; online or in person or through third-parties.
  5. Destroy any physical products, supplies or advertising material you have embroidered or applied my designs on.
  6. Provide me with a list of customer contact information who have purchased my designs from you.
  7. Turn over any proceeds generated from my designs.
  8. Post a public apology to me on the page where you had my designs posted.
Keep in mind I have witnesses and archived electronic evidence that you copied my designs for the purpose of making a profit.

Please note this resource from Purdue University on penalties for copyright infringement:
"The legal penalties for copyright infringement are:
  1. Infringer pays the actual dollar amount of damages and profits.
  2. The law provides a range from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed.
  3. Infringer pays for all attorneys fees and court costs.
  4. The Court can issue an injunction to stop the infringing acts.
  5. The Court can impound the illegal works.
  6. The infringer can go to jail.
There are many resources for the protection of intellectual property. The most important thing you can do is copyright protect your designs! Although you are automatically protected when you create intellectual property, record it with formal copyright protection. The legal penalties for officially copyright protected material are higher and can include jail time. Use the USA government site. You can find and submit forms online or through the mail. The online method is SO easy and it's cheaper than the hardcopy method.

I am not a lawyer so please don't assume I am giving you legal advice. I encourage you to get a lawyer with specific focus and experience on intellectual property and copyright infringement. I have one and he is invaluable!

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