Dealing with Copyright Violation

I got up one morning, opened the newspaper and saw a picture from my travel blog staring at me. After confirming that it is indeed my picture, I wrote to the Editor of the newspaper, and this was the beginning of my yearlong struggle to get compensated for the IP infringement. I chose to explore the official or formal routes to get the resolution, though most blogger friends suggested that making a noise online is the best way to get compensated. At the end of the saga, I knew their wisdom made sense, nonetheless, there was lot of learning about IP, various forums that should help you resolve issues in case violators do not respond responsibly and practically what happens when you are an individual fighting an established organization. So here I am sharing what I learnt in the process. This is no way comprehensive, it comes from my own experience and that of fellow bloggers who shared their stories, but this might help you in case you are totally lost on where to go and what to do.

What is IP?

Intellectual Property is an asset that you create from your intellect that can be in the form of written word, painting, photograph, video, music or any expression of your creativity. By default you are the owner of the your creative output and no explicit registration of formality is required to claim it to be yours, but you should be able to prove that it is yours. For the text, if you publish it first, that is a good enough proof, for photographs if you have the originals in your possession that is good enough. Since the term includes the word ‘property’, you can do with your IP all that you can do with your other properties like a car or a house. You can sell it, donate it, rent it, let someone use it for limited period of time, keep it to you or make any alterations to it. For anyone else to use it or do anything with it, they must take your explicit permission.

There are many types of IPs: Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, Service marks and Geographical Indicators. For creative professionals the most relevant one is copyright, so I shall limit this to copyright.

Practically, when you publish a blog post – text or pictures, it is your copyright. Anyone using your work without your permission is infringing upon your IP.

Read Indian Copyright Act 1957.

When your IP is infringed?

First thing you need to do is informing the editor or any other responsible person about it and tell them what do you want in terms of apology, acknowledgement or compensation. Establish the fact that IP belongs to you and it has been used without your permission. If the person receiving your communication is sensible enough, he would apologize and seek an amicable resolution. It does happen at times and you can consider yourself lucky if it happens.

If not, you can try and escalate your complaint to the highest authority in the organization, and hope that they will resolve. If it happens, you are still lucky.

If not, you may need a third part intervention to sort it out and here are some of the forums you can go to for resolution:

Press Council of India: If any media house or publication has infringed your IP, this is ideally the forum you should go to. The website lists the complete process to file a complaint that can be filed via e-mail also. The representatives of PCI are present in every big city, though the complaint has to be filed in their Delhi office. There charter mentions that they have the authority to help resolve such cases, including helping you get the relevant compensation from the offender.

Unfortunately, I did not come across any case of independent professionals that was resolved by PCI.

Economic Offense Wing of the Police: This is a wing within the police department that deals with economic offences, and you can potentially file complaint with them, if after repeated communications, you have not received any response from the other party.

I did not go to EOW, so do not have first hand details on this. I did get to hear from a fellow blogger that this wing helped her settle the issue with a leading publication.

News laundry: They claim to turn mirrors on to themselves and keep a watch on media. They are not a conflict resolution agency, but their profile seems to communicate that you can go to them if you have a grievance. This what they say you can contact them for: If you would like to send us an article or report a case of mis–reporting by a newspaper, magazine
 or channel, email it to [email protected] You can try your luck with them.

The Hoot: This is a media watch organizations with a complete section on Media Ethics. I hear that they have helped quite a few bloggers and freelance writers in getting a resolution from the media houses. You can file a complaint through them and they try to reach out to the media house and bring the two together for an amicable resolution. I recommend you give them a try.

I filed a complaint with them and they were very quick in responding, but unfortunately they also could not help me.

Legal Route: The final resort is to file a case in court of law. You can begin by sending a legal notice through a lawyer that will go to the senior management of the publication. Hopefully this should make the management act, but remember by this time egos would have come in place and lawyers do cost quite a bit. Follow the legal course, but be prepared to fight it out for years if needed.

I would not have taken the legal route, as most lawyer friends suggested that it would take at least 7-8 years to fight it out and in my mental calculations this was not worth the effort and resources required.

Use the power of Social Media: You can write about the incidence and garner support from your readers / fans / followers by tagging the official channels of the publications, if there is one. Most publications are concerned about negative publicity and would want to curtail it. This has worked well for bloggers who are well established and have a strong following.

I did not use this, but I know people who have used this method very effectively

Practically speaking

Evaluate the cost of fighting and be aware of the non-tangible costs involved – frustration, disappointment, long wait times, feeling directionless and helpless.

All the channels mentioned above are run by people and whether they work for you or not depends on the person handling your case. For different people different things have worked, so explore and take a call on what works for you.

Know your rights very clearly, that helps you put across your case to any of these agencies strongly.

Report the case to all the agencies in writing for the purpose of records. This also puts a pressure on them to respond as non-response can work against them eventually.

Use professional and legal language (to the extent you can) in your communication. Try to avoid emotional outbursts. Keep them for your close circle of family and friends.

Seek guidance from people who can help you, who have gone through this before you. Avoid spending energy in online forums by cribbing about it; it can take you to negative spiral. In case you are taking a social media route, seek out support from all the forums that you are a part of.