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Protecting Copyright

Joseph Wu asks for ways to prevent other people from copying his Web pages without permission.I write as an English lawyer (now retired), but the way the law works and also the law of copyright are much the same in England as in most of the United States.

Of course, at any rate in theory, Joseph has the Law entirely behind him. Nobody is ever enthusiastic about instituting a copyright case in the Courts. The costs could be phenomenal. But don't rule out legal action altogether. If the law is never invoked, it will be disregarded. A stitch in time can save nine. A well-chosen case can have miraculous results far beyond the immediate complaint, and in a successful case costs may well be negligible or even non-existent, depending on how the lawyer wants to charge.However, what you must have for a cast iron and sucessful case is clear and provable evidence. Cast iron case rarely come to court. So keep records.

It might, be a good idea just to consult a lawyer on at this stage. He could review the particular facts and give specific advice and if you should need him again, you have already made contact. of other things you can do which fall short of all-out conflict.

The first thing to do is to make every page immediately identifiable as that of Joseph Wu. Of course, make sure that the copyright sign (C), followed by Joseph Wu and the year is consistently used. (But the C must be within a complete circle - I don't think I can show this on E-mail, but everyone knows the international symbol.) Sprinkle it liberally about the text and especially the diagrams: the more symbols there are, the harder it is to copy.

In addition, however, try to incorporate small individual quirks in the text and diagrams which wil not be readily noticed, but which will make them easily identifiable as your own. The odd spelling mistake or individual use of punctuation marks are useful for this purpose. A friend of mine who lives in the United States protected his drawings of flags by drawing each flag with a tiny turned up corner: it made any unauthorised reproduction immediately identifiable. But he also incorporated other small deviations into his drawings, which plagiarists would blithely copy, not realising that they were not part of the original design and that they were giving themselves away. And it really worked, because I knew of an instance.

Before the advent of the word processor and E-mail, the problem was with usually ordinary photocopying, but I think that the same ideas would apply to electronic copying using computers as well.

Next, you must jump sharply on any copying that comes to your notice - at once and without delay. A strongly worded letter sent by ordinary mail, with a copy kept by you (not by E-mail) will often work wonders. If you do this reguarly as a matter of course every time you come across a contravention, your vigilance about copying will become generally known and people will be less likely to attempt to copy your work: they will move over to softer vicims. Demand that the offending matter must be withdrawn immediately.If you have clear proof that it really is your work that has been copied, you are in a very strong position.

If this fails, do not flinch from going to a lawyer. A single letter from a lawyer often works miracles and should not cost too much. (But make enquiries about your lawyer first and find one who charges sensible fees!)

Remember that if you have clear proof that your work has been stolen and that the copyright sumbol was displayed, few offenders are likely to stand up to even the threat of being sued.

Keep full copies of every instance where your work is copied without permission, with particulars of the date ,place and source. Keep hard copies and not just electronic copies in your computer memory. Write on them the date you found the offending material, what matter of your own was stolen and anything else that may be relevant. You may, perhaps, be willing to overlook one isolated instance, but if you discover more than one instance from the same offender, then you will need evidence of every contravention from the very start..

In the end, vigilance and an unwillingness to be sat upon are the best weapons in the battle It may mean a bit more work in presenting your material and in keeping records, but it can save a lot of trouble, difficulty, work and money for the future.

All strength to your arm!


David Lister



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