A person who has created an original work may be startled to find out that someone else appears to have copied, performed, or distributed it without permission. You may be able to bring a copyright infringement action in this situation, as long as you registered your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you do not register your work, you still technically have a copyright, but you cannot bring a lawsuit in federal court to enforce it.
You will want to make sure that you actually own the copyright in the work that you have created. Many people create works as part of their job. These works are known as works made for hire, which means that the employer owns the copyright in the work, unless the employer and the employee have agreed to a different arrangement.
Considering Alternatives to Litigation
Pursuing a formal lawsuit can be time-consuming and costly, especially since most copyright infringement cases will require the assistance of an attorney. You should make sure that your losses from the infringement are sufficient to justify the time and effort. Even if your losses are significant, you may want to try to reach an amicable solution outside court. Sometimes it makes sense to pursue an alternative to litigation before you hire an attorney, since negotiating on your own shows a more conciliatory attitude. If you know the infringer, you may be especially likely to reach a favorable agreement. You might even be able to resolve the matter during an informal meeting.
If you do not know the infringer, you may want to send them a formal demand letter to explain your rights and set up a meeting to discuss a resolution. If a company is responsible for the infringement, you can send the demand letter to the CEO.
People or entities that may have infringed on someone else’s copyright usually feel motivated to settle the matter outside court. This will allow them to avoid the negative publicity associated with being sued for infringement. If your arguments appear to have a strong legal basis, the infringer probably will reach a settlement in which they pay you a lump sum in exchange for releasing your legal claims. Sometimes mediation can help the parties reach a settlement if they are not comfortable negotiating directly. A mediator is a neutral third party who helps both sides of a dispute understand the other side’s perspective and reach an acceptable compromise.
Getting Started on Your Case
If negotiations or mediation break down, the copyright owner probably will need to hire an attorney to help them file a lawsuit. You should look for an attorney who specializes in the area of intellectual property law and who has handled other copyright infringement cases. You can ask an attorney for references from previous clients whom they have represented.
Your attorney will start the lawsuit by filing a complaint in the appropriate court and serving it on the infringer. They probably will file a response to the complaint, and then the case will move forward through the process of gathering evidence and preparing for a trial.