Ask Author Law

How do I send a DMCA takedown notice?

February 3, 2016

Tags: DMCA, ISP, Author Law, Writing, Sallie Randolph, Authorlaw, Copyright, Publishing, Books, Contracts, IP Law, Intellectual Property, Journalism, Authors, Trademarks

Ask Author Law is a Q&A blog about legal issues for authors. I am a practicing attorney, freelance writer, and publishing consultant. I focus my law practice on the representation of authors, often consulting with or serving as co-counsel to other attorneys on publishing cases. This information is for general purposes only and is not legal advice. Asking a question or reading an answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Q: I found a website that has posted actual copies of my articles without permission. I have heard about something called "Notice and Takedown." How do I do that?

A: The notice and takedown provisions of the DMCA offer copyright owners a way to protect their works online while limiting the liability of ISPs for copyright infringement. Notice and takedown requires you to police the Internet and search for infringing materials. If infringing material is found, you must submit a notification, under penalty of perjury, to the ISP's designated agent. The notification must:

• bear your physical or electronic signature, or that of your agent;
• identify the work that you claim has been infringed, or, if more than one work is infringed on a single web site, a representative list of the works at that site;
• identify the infringing material that is to be removed, and include any information necessary so the ISP can locate the material;
• provide your address, telephone number, and, if available, an email address, so that the ISP can contact you;
• state that you have a good faith belief that use of the material on the web site has not been authorized by you, your agent, or the law; and
• state that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that you are the owner of the copyright that has been infringed or that your agent who is filing the notification is authorized to act on your behalf.

If you fail to comply substantially with the statutory requirements, the notification will not be considered by a court in determining whether the ISP has the requisite level of knowledge to support a liability claim.

Upon receiving your notification, the ISP must promptly make a good faith effort to remove the infringing material from its network or disable access to the material. This is called “takedown.” The ISP will not be liable for any action based on the fact that the material was removed. The timely removal or blocking of the infringing material also means that the ISP will not be liable for monetary damages of you file an infringement action in court.

After removing the infringing material, the ISP must take reasonable steps to promptly notify the subscriber that the material has been removed or blocked. If the subscriber responds with a counter notification, the ISP must provide you with a copy of that response and notify you that it will replace the removed material or cease disabling access to it in 10 business days. Unless you notify the ISP’s designated agent that you have filed an action seeking a court order to restrain the subscriber from infringing your work on the ISP’s system or network, the ISP must replace the material within 10 to 14 business days.

The DCMA provides the subscriber to respond to the notice and takedown by issuing a counter notification. The counter notification must:

• bear the physical or electronic signature of the subscriber;
• identify the material that has been removed or blocked and the location at which the material appeared before it was taken down;
• state under penalty of perjury that the subscriber has a good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of mistake or misidentification;
• provide the subscriber's name, address, and telephone number, and a statement that the subscriber consents to the jurisdiction of Federal District Court for the judicial district in which the address is located, or if the subscriber's address is in another country, for any judicial district in which the ISP may be found, and that the subscriber will accept service of process from the you or your designated agent.

The DCMA imposes damages, including costs and attorney fees, incurred by the alleged infringer, the copyright owner, or the ISP against any party who knowingly misrepresents material facts in either the notification or the counter notification.

How to fire your agent

January 19, 2016

Tags: Agent, Agents, Agency Agreement, Author Law, Writing, Sallie Randolph, Authorlaw, Copyright, Publishing, Books, Contracts, IP Law, Intellectual Property, Journalism, Authors, Trademarks

Q: My agent sold my first two books, which are still selling well, but he hasn’t really done anything with my two most recent proposals. I get the feeling he has bigger fish to fry and that my books aren’t the blockbuster types he would prefer. I’ve decided that another agent might be better for me, but I’m not sure how to proceed from here, from a legal perspective. What do you suggest?

A: You should start with a clear understanding of the legal relationship between you and your present agent. Do you have a written agency agreement or a handshake deal? If you have a written agreement, it probably spells out how the relationship may be ended. For example, either party might be able to terminate upon written notice to the other. The contract might spell out the timing of such notice and, perhaps, specifics such as a requirement to use registered mail. So examine the contract and follow the specified procedure exactly. This is important even if your agent says it’s not necessary. It’s very important to be precise when dissolving a contractual relationship. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your agent ahead of time to reach an informal understanding. It just means that you should follow up by dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s. If you have no written agreement, you should plan to give your agent reasonable notice that you’re making a change and you should do so in writing so there can be no misunderstanding.

Be aware that the change you’re making is only for future deals. You will remain obligated to your first agent for any commissions and expenses related to your first two books. He will also probably continue to receive payments on your behalf and forward them to you after deducting what is owed to him. It may be possible to negotiate a different arrangement, but, if you do, be sure to get a written acknowledgement of the new terms from him. Since your books still generate income, the first agent will probably want to remain agent of record. In the future, though, when the income thins out, he might be agreeable to a change.

Ask Author Law is a Q&A blog about legal issues for authors. I am a practicing attorney, freelance writer, and publishing consultant. I focus my law practice on the representation of authors, often consulting with or serving as co-counsel to other attorneys on publishing cases. This information is for general purposes only and is not legal advice. Asking a question or reading an answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Does my catchy title present a trademark problem?

September 23, 2015

Tags: Author Law, Writing, Sallie Randolph, Authorlaw, Copyright, Publishing, Books, Contracts, IP Law, Intellectual Property, Journalism, Authors, Trademarks

Ask Author Law is a Q&A blog about legal issues for authors. I am a practicing attorney, freelance writer, and publishing consultant. I focus my law practice on the representation of authors, often consulting with or serving as co-counsel to other attorneys on publishing cases. Readers are reminded that this information is for general information only and that any specific legal problems should be discussed with an attorney. Questions are presented anonymously, with the asker’s privacy protected. Some are composites based on issues I have been asked about in the past. Some were asked at workshops and conferences where I have presented. If you have a question for this blog, leave a comment below or send it to Authorlaw@yahoo.com. Your question may be edited or combined with others. I cannot answer questions privately and not all questions can be used, but I’ll try to give full coverage to the matters that writers care about most. Ask Author Law is published for information only. Answers are not legal advice. Asking and/or answering a question does not create a lawyer/client relationship. The solutions to legal problems depend entirely on the specifics of the situation, so any writer in need of legal advice should consult privately with a qualified attorney.

Q: I'm writing a book with a catchy, appropriate title and just discovered that an organization in another state uses the exact same words as the name of their ongoing workshop. In their promo literature they have a tiny "sm" (service mark) next to their name. Am I out of luck? Does this mean I now have to come up with a new title or ask this organization to give me permission to use their workshop program name as the title of my book?

A: This is one of those questions to which the answer is a resounding “it depends.” There are many factors to consider as you decide what to do. The answer depends on whether those looking at the book would assume sponsorship by, endorsement of, or affiliation with the organization. You should ask yourself whether people buying your book might assume that you represent or support the organization and its point of view. If the answer is yes, then you should probably find another title or get the organization’s permission to use the title. Another possibility is to use the title with a disclaimer that says your book is not associated in any way with the organization.

If your book is going to receive nationwide distribution and the subject is similar to the subject of the organization’s workshop, there could very well be a potential problem of trademark infringement and you would probably be wise to change the title. If your book, however, covers a different topic from the organization’s workshop or the organization operates in only a small geographical area and isn’t widely known outside of its home turf, then you might not have a problem. In that case you would be wise to ask an attorney to have a trademark search performed. Such a search will identify whether the organization has taken steps to register its service mark at the federal level for workshops or services that might be similar to the topic of your book. If it has taken such steps, you’ll probably decide to change the title in order to avoid a potential trademark infringement problem.

A third factor to consider is how common and generic your proposed title is. If it’s distinctive and closely associated with the organization, you should probably not use it. If it’s based on a common phrase and accurately describes your book’s content, it’s less likely to be a problem. If you really want to use this title and you’re not confident about the potential implications, you might want to confer with a trademark attorney. (more…)

Another question about trademarks for authors

December 15, 2014

Tags: Trademarks, Author Law, Writing, Sallie Randolph, Authorlaw, Copyright, Publishing, Books, Contracts, Collaboration Agreement, IP Law, Intellectual Property

Ask Author Law is a Q&A blog about legal issues for authors. I am a practicing attorney, freelance writer, and publishing consultant. I focus my law practice on the representation of authors, often consulting with or serving as co-counsel to other attorneys on publishing cases. This information is for general purposes only and is not legal advice. Asking a question or reading an answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Q: I’d like to know about titles and trademarks. I understand that titles cannot be copyrighted, but what about trademarks? I’d like to trademark the title of my book because it’s the first of a series of self-pub books and is the theme of motivational speaking I do. Is it possible to trademark my title? If not, can I trademark a concept belonging to me? Does that mean someone else can’t use this term in their title? If so, do I need to register my trademark somewhere like you do a copyright? Can I register it myself? What if I just use a trademark symbol without the hassle of registration. I hope you can shed some light on this perplexing topic. I need to go to law school!

A: Copyright protects the exact expression of ideas, but not the underlying facts or concepts. Trademark can protect underlying concepts and ideas if they identify the source of a product or service and help distinguish it from others in the minds of consumers. Trademark law really offers two kinds of protection – it protects consumers from being confused or misled about the source of products and services and it protects businesses from having the value invested in their brand and reputation from being ripped off by competitors. A good example from the field of publishing is the Dummies series. Consumers know what to expect when they buy a Dummies book and because the concept is trademarked, the publisher has a right to keep others from stealing readers by using a title that appends the words “For Dummies” to a subject.

Generally, you can’t get trademark protection for individual titles, but you can protect the overall concept of your series of books and speaking programs because the trademark tells consumers who you are and what you offer that is different from the offerings of other speakers and authors. Trademark protection might be possible for an individual title if it develops something lawyers call “secondary meaning” by becoming so closely identified with a particular work or author that readers have come to associate the title with a particular work. Gone With the Wind is an example of a title that has acquired secondary meaning.

From the description of your idea for a series of books and related programs, it sounds like your concept would qualify for trademark protection. It is permissible to use the TM symbol with any mark, even if it is unregistered. The R in a circle symbol, however, cannot be used unless the mark has be registered by the Patent and Trademark Office. While it’s possible to handle trademark registration yourself, it’s a much more complex process than copyright registration and there are numerous ways to get into trouble along the way. I routinely advise clients to save money by registering their own copyrights, but I almost always advise that trademark registrations be handled by an experienced intellectual property attorney.


Using trademarks in fiction.

November 24, 2014

Tags: Trademarks, Author Law, Writing, Sallie Randolph, Authorlaw, Copyright, Publishing, Books, Contracts, Contract Termination, Collaboration Agreement, Writing, IP Law, Intellectual Property

Ask Author Law is a Q&A blog about legal issues for authors. I am a practicing attorney, freelance writer, and publishing consultant. I focus my law practice on the representation of authors, often consulting with or serving as co-counsel to other attorneys on publishing cases. This information is for general purposes only and is not legal advice. Asking a question or reading an answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Q: I am writing a novel and was told by an editor that I must remove the words “Ford,” “Greyhound,” “Chrysler,” etc. or be prepared to fork out royalties. I've never been told this before, and don't know what to do. I've researched trade name law but can't find anything pertaining to this in particular. If I'm using say, “Ford,” for example, as simply stating what it is my character drives, (i.e. Ford pick-up, etc.) does this pose legitimacy to said editor's advice? Any information you can share is most sincerely appreciated.

A: This editor is way off base. Of course you can write about trademarked products in your fiction. What the trademark protection prevents you from doing is marketing your own automobile under the brand name of another or using the trademark in commerce or advertising without identifying it as a registered trademark. Your proposed use is legally acceptable and the editor is incorrect. Which leads me to ask just how credible this editor is about publishing issues. Is this someone you plan to do business with? If so, please be careful.

One point to consider -- most of the time when you write about something that has trademark protection you should capitalize. That's courteous and correct. You do not need to use a trademark symbol in editorial copy.