So, how do you protect your IP from being stolen online? Unfortunately, the only way to make sure that someone does not steal it is not to place it online. Once it is online, there are very few, if any, ways to make sure someone does not steal it. Considering for many this isn’t an option (partly because many create IP specifically to put it online in the case of graphic artists and website designers or because people want to show off their work in the case of musicians and writers), there are some best practices for putting things online.
1. Watermark your work. If you are placing something like a drawing, cartoon, or photograph online, you can put a watermark on your picture to make it so that people may be less likely to steal the work (since your watermark will be on it). In addition, if it is stolen, it will be easier to prove (as long as the watermark isn’t removed somehow).
2. Post only part of your work online. If you are placing something like a novel or song online, you can put only part of it online and then send the full work by email (and you can charge for the full work if you are enterprising). Although this won’t guarantee that the work won’t be placed online by someone else equally as enterprising, you will have a record of who received copies and a note with the copy you send them may deter the person from placing the work online (something nice yet professional stating you have a copyright on the work).
3. Place smaller versions of your work online. If you are placing images online, you can put thumbnails online rather than larger files. By doing this, the work may be high enough quality to show your audience what you can do, put low enough resolution that someone else may not want to take it.
4. Read Terms of Services. If you are placing IP anywhere except your website, make sure you know who owns the rights to the IP by placing it on the site. The last thing most artists want is to find out that by placing a photo or article on a site means they have given up rights in that work.
Even if you use best practices for putting things online, if it is something that people want, there is a chance it will be taken and used somewhere else. If you find out your work on a site with a copyright policy, such as Facebook, MySpace, Google, or Yahoo, you should contact the site and ask them to remove it. In any case, if your work is something that is likely to be stolen (i.e. professional photographs, novels), it is a good idea to register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office. (I say this because you may not want to pay for a copyright on every photo you take on that trip to your grandmother’s house, but that is a call you should make with the help of your attorney.) By registering your work, if someone does steal it, it increases the amount of damages you may be eligible for and be able to get attorney fees.
If you find that the above post interests you, I invite you to come and listen to the Mile High Social Media Club presentation Thursday, November 19th at Strings in Denver at which myself and two other individuals will be on a panel discussing these types of issues. You can RSVP for the event at http://novembermhsmc.eventbrite.com.