How to Stop Copyright Infringement Without Being a Jerk

    You don't have to be a jerk to stop copyright infringement.

    You don’t have to be a jerk to stop copyright infringement.

    You’re a creative artist, and you’re proud of your work. If you find out that someone is using it without permission (giving away free downloads, for example, or releasing bad covers of your songs without asking permission), you are, understandably, less than happy about it—and you want it to stop.

    What are your options? You could bring the copyright infringer to court (if you’ve registered your copyright, anyway). You could write them a nasty cease-and-desist letter, threatening legal action if the infringer doesn’t comply, sending lawyers after them.

    But you’re not a jerk, and in this particular case, you just don’t feel like charging out with guns blazing. Here are two other ways the situation might be handled—and two success cases that had very positive results.

    Cease and Desist, Human-Style

    While a typical cease and desist letter appeals to a copyright infringer’s sense of self-preservation—no one wants to be sued, right?—there’s an alternate track that has proven remarkably effective: treating people like humans.

    After learning of an author’s book cover that, content aside, more or less exactly copied their famous Old No. 7 label, Jack Daniels (through its legal team) sent what Mashable describes as probably the nicest cease and desist letter they’ve ever seen: they explained the concept of weakening a trademark, they showed how the book cover is contributing to it, and they asked politely for reprints to carry an alternate cover.

    (Read excerpts from Jack Daniels’s trademark letter)

    Rather than bringing the full might of their legal team down upon the author’s shoulders, they treated him with dignity and respect. And, my musician friends hoping to become public figures, this does not happen in a vacuum.

    While it’s great to maintain goodwill with a fan of your brand whose sense of intellectual property law is somewhat skewed, don’t fool yourself: with today’s always-watchful media, the likelihood that your response (in whatever tone you take) will end up in the public eye is greater than ever before. Being polite and respectful is just good PR.

    Preemptively Encouraging People to Buy

    Louis C.K. is known for, among other things, a great respect for his fans: he puts together an all-new show for every tour without recycling material; he publishes his financial figures on his website for anyone who cares to know; he releases most material out of his own pocket, with no middle-man, directly from creator to consumer.

    Given this attitude, it came as no surprise when he accompanied his album, available (free of DRM protections) for direct download for $5, with a heartfelt statement asking people not to torrent the video.

    What did come as a surprise, however, was how successful this tactic was. Because he explained to consumers that he’s just a regular guy who created a product all on his own and thinks it’s only fair for him to be paid for it (and, seriously, only $5), people listened.

    (Read a statement from Louis C.K. thanking his fans)

    As it turns out, not only was Louis C.K. able to make back the money he spent on the production costs—he did so in the first twelve hours of making the show available.

    What does this mean for you?

    When it comes to your own intellectual property, no one can tell you what do to with it and how fiercely to protect it but you (and your lawyer). Do you crack down on even the smallest sign of infringement, however good-natured and complimentary? Do you let everything slide, from YouTube cover videos to malicious unauthorized distribution? Do you have the time, resources, energy, and desire to fight legal battles?

    The cease and desist letter absolutely has its purpose, and a very valuable purpose at that. But when you consider some of the success stories from brands doing the unthinkable—being humane and respectful—it’s clear that there’s more than one way to go about protecting your copyrighted material. It’s up to you to determine which response best fits your circumstances.


    How have you discouraged copyright infringement with your materials? Leave a comment and let us know!

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