Learning Lessons the Hard Way

Copyrights are created at the click of the shutter. But to enforce your rights in court for infringement claims, you must first register your copyright before you bring suit in federal court. Period. It doesn’t matter when the infringement is committed or the registration is completed, you still must register before filing suit.

It’s too bad that a freelance writer, Glynn Wilson, in Alabama didn’t learn this lesson earlier. He recently sued Kitty Kelley alleging that she used without permission some of his material for her best-selling book about the Bush family, “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty.” The validity of his claim will never be decided in court. He had to withdraw his copyright infringement suit after realizing that he was likely to lose because he had failed to register his copyright with the United States Copyright Office. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/19/arts/19kell.html

Stephen D. Henninger, Mr. Wilson’s lawyer, said Mr. Wilson mistakenly believed that his copyright was protected because he had secured an International Standard Serial Number from the Library of Congress and had displayed the copyright symbol on his Internet site.

The misunderstanding of copyright law continues. Lawyers for Ms. Kelley said that the material had not been “copyrighted.” That is wrong. The copyright for authors is created when pen is put to paper or the words are typed on a computer. If Mr. Wilson wrote those words, he owned the copyright to them. However, since he apparently did not REGISTER the copyright to those words, he couldn’t sue for the alleged infringement.

Lessons to be learned here:

1. While you own a copyright at the moment the work is created, you MUST register that copyright with the US Copyright Office before you can file suit.

2. Register your copyrights preferably before the work is published, but always before you file suit for infringement.

3. Hire an attorney who knows copyright law and can counsel you correctly on the requirements to prosecute or defend an infringement suit.

Take my advice; get professional help.

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