How Can Artists Protect Themselves?

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In 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA was signed into law to protect intellectual property. The main thrust of the act is to protect copyrighted works particularly in connection to technology—the internet and other digital media. If intellectual property is illegally copied, the website must remove it immediately, and publishers of intellectual property cannot distribute stolen or copied works.[1]

All this sounds like a great idea to me, as I am working on my first novel. Those of us who participate in the arts have an underlying fear that our work will be copied or otherwise stolen and used for the financial gain of another, to our loss.

To comply with this law, a DMCA Takedown Notice is sent to the site in which intellectual property is copied, demanding that the offending copied material is removed, or taken down. If the content belongs to one person and is claimed by another, the owner of the content can legally request it be removed, and expect that it be removed.[2]

I read something scary about this today. A novelist recently had her book blocked from Amazon and Smashwords because someone had sent in a DMCA notice, and as these companies obey the law, her work was removed.

The problem is, it was her work and the DMCA complaint was sent by someone who had cheated, lying that this work was not hers, for some unknown reason. Perhaps this person wanted to ruin her life, or steal her money. Perhaps she wanted to blackmail the author.

The purpose of this false accusation is not as important to me as the fact that her work was claimed by another, though it had been copyrighted. And the simple fact that it was copyrighted had no bearing on the take down. It is all one person’s word against the others—a classic “he said, she said” problem.

I’ve read a lot by other authors who worry that their work will be stolen and reprinted and sold on other sites, with the benefit of the sale going to others rather than the actual author. I see multiple examples of copyright infringement on photos and paintings, as well as music. This international Act was passed to protect the artist who created the property.

What do we do when someone uses the act written to protect us as a weapon against us? Can I share any of my work with another for help as a Beta Reader if I always worry about theft? How can I share even a small portion of my work in progress if I fear someone will copy it and then claim the total as theirs?

This is a problem for all artists, not just authors. What do we do?

What would you do? Do you have suggestions for me, an unpublished, yet, author? How should I handle this huge problem?

Please respond if you have a suggestion.

[1] Copyright Office Summary

[2] DMCA: Protect Your Content website

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