10 Steps to Protecting Your Copyright

by Amy Atwell

This article came about through the research that I’m doing as I build the Author EMS website. Author EMS (Entrepreneur.Management.Solutions.) is a growing online resource library for all things related to the business of being an author.


Ever had your wallet stolen? I have, and it’s a nightmare of paperwork. Calling the credit card companies, filing police reports, dealing with the bank. At least there are lots of resources to help explain what steps to take to protect yourself from illegal charges and identity theft.

But what do you do when someone steals something that’s less physical from you? I’m talking about intellectual property. Digital books. Blog posts like this one. Personal photos you posted on Facebook. How do you tell people when it’s okay to copy your work and how do you stop them when it’s not?

Step 1: Know your rights. Every original work of text or art or music you create belongs to you. It’s copyrighted as soon as you create it. (Note: this doesn’t apply for things you’re hired to create or create for your employer—you employer most likely owns those.)

Step 2: Register your claim. Maybe not for every blog post or your website content, but for every story or book you plan to publish, you should consider registering your copyright with your national agency. (U.S. Copyright Office) This makes life much easier should a question ever arise over who owns the work.

Step 3: Post a copyright notice on your published materials. This means inside your digital books on the copyright page and also on your website or blog. Online, most sites have a copyright notice in the footer, so it automatically appears on every page of the site.

Step 4: If you want to allow people to copy or repost your work, explore Creative Commons licenses.  Creative Commons lets you announce your work as public domain (anyone can use it) or select from the other licenses to grant certain rights while protecting others. This is what drives all those free apps on your smart phone and even WordPress development.

Step 5: Learn about piracy. Pirates are those people who take your work and find ways to share it with thousands on the Internet. I’m not talking about the reader who downloaded it on Kindle and is now lending it to a friend (all supported by Amazon). I’m not talking the reviewer who posted your entire first three chapters on her website because she was totally stoked about your story and she gave you ten million plus stars. Pirates are the people who take the text of your book, slap a new cover and title on it, then re-upload it to the retail sites under their name. Or they make a .pdf file of your book and post it to a torrent site, a site that allows users to upload and download files. Often, torrent sites charge a fee to join.

Step 6: Monitor your name and book titles via Google Alerts. These are easy to set up. Google Alerts sends you an email every time their search engine identifies a new Internet entry that mentions you or your book.

Step 7: If your work is pirated, use the DMCA to have it taken down. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act sets specific rules to protect copyright owners and online or Internet service providers. (Read the actual legislation.)

Step 8: Hire help as needed for dealing with pirates. If you have a lot of published books and are tired of dealing with pirates, explore using a paid service such as Muso or DMCA.com to handle the pirates for you. (Both offer free trials.)

Step 9: Report piracy as a cybercrime. Information is available from the Department of Justice.

Step 10: Hang in there. It may feel like everyone in the world is out to get your work, but remember that the vast majority of people are still honest. Piracy often happens because a book isn’t available for purchase in some countries. It may also be that your book is on a piracy site, but it’s only been downloaded twice. Remember, there are thousands of books, songs, movies and television shows pirated every day. Try to keep it all in perspective—and get back to writing the next book!