While lawyers and judges are the ultimate legal experts, of course, I believe that every citizen should take the time to learn a little about law for several reasons. First, it is important to know your rights, and knowing them can come in handy if anyone ever accuses you of a crime you didn't commit or threatens you legally in another other way. Second, learning about your local, state, and federal laws can help you act as a better citizen. When election time comes around, you can then truly understand ever change in law being proposed by a candidate and whether it benefits society or not. I plan to share posts about law topics explained in plain English on my new blog, so you can come back often to sharpen your legal knowledge!
The world of writing has changed in massive, somewhat unpredictable, but understandable, ways as the internet becomes more accessible. More people are able to write, more people can read the writing, and more places can store that writing with massive storage limits that make a text document as insignificant as a speck of dust. It's easier to collaborate as well, so your great idea or fully-written work could find itself "inspiring" parties that you may have never met. If you have a developed, identifiable written work or artistic idea that seems to have found itself in a profitable position for someone else, here are a few things you can do to make sure your rights are protected.
Charity Is Fine, Uncontrolled Profit Is Not
The internet has delivered a culture of sharing that often tests the limit of what it means to be an owner of a particular piece of data. If you've written a book, screenplay, or created a piece of art, it's hard to confirm 100% that your work isn't finding itself in someone's hands for free.
"So what?" the sharing economy says. If that was your intent, either for free publicity or because money isn't a concern for you, sharing is fine. What if someone else was making money on your work, and representing it incorrectly?
This is where things get tricky. When someone else profits from your work, it's more than an issue of personal benefit or ego. With that money, they could be investing in things that you may not want to be associated with. It's not just about your work's content, but the possibility of a publisher who may have opposing political views, spending habits towards controversial or downright illegal activities that you don't approve of, or gathering the funding to steal from other creators who actually need the money.
You at least need the power to control how any resources gained from your work are spent. You could spend the resources on causes that matter to you, or simply create an agreement with the group who has the means to see the resources grow as long as they follow your rules. That can be done as long as you can prove that you are the owner of the content.
Proving Ownership in the Digital Age
Digital forensics is a powerful field, but it's still growing and a bit limited in numbers. There are ways to dig through the metadata (data about data, such as when it was created, what system it was created on, and other file information), but there's no way to confirm that you'd win a court case based on metadata.
Do you have any easier ways to confirm your ownership? Was it originally a written work? Do you have multiple copies and/or revisions of the work? Can you point to the original place that you uploaded the information and get a statement from the site/service owner about when the information was stored? If any of that can be proven with a date before anyone else laying claim to your work, you have a much stronger case.
If you've ever emailed your work, you need to find that email and get an intellectual property lawyer on your side. Especially with big email services such as Google's Gmail or Microsoft's Outlook, you can request the information with a lawyer's assistance. It's also important to go through a lawyer to avoid losing information or having it sabotaged, so don't go waving around your proof yet.
Contact an intellectual property lawyer to make sure your creative content stays under your control.