The act of piracy no doubt sounds like an offense committed on the high seas by pirates in search of gold and treasures.
Actual piracy, however, does involve a crime, but there are no pirates or swashbucklers involved. It’s simply the act of illegally downloading and or distributing copyrighted works. That means anyone who creates content online or sells digital products can be a victim of piracy.
Even large companies who have top-notch security experts on staff rank piracy as one of their top corporate threats. Microsoft, for example, estimates that piracy costs their software company a whopping $491 billion dollars each year. That’s not to discount the severe damage that can be done to small companies or micro businesses who may have their flagship products stolen or counterfeited on the web. The results to such companies can be financially devastating and nearly impossible to bounce back from.
While no one is immune to piracy, there are a number of steps that we always recommend copyright holders take to protect their creative works, especially if they sell products of any kind online. They are as follows:
- Consider Subscription Services, Require a Login for Content, or “Drip” Content to Members
Many of our clients who are coaches, for example, offer digital video trainings that are delivered to buyers once they purchase the product. In this case, we might suggest that the coach “drip” their content, meaning only offer one video at a time, perhaps weekly, or only after a member completes certain steps. This helps to cut back on the possibility that someone will buy the product, copy all the materials, get a refund, and then illegally sell the training elsewhere. We also recommend using membership sites that require a login or a regular subscription to help cut down on theft or improper sharing.
- Use Licenses or Product Keys
When you sign up for a product like Microsoft Office®, you are required to enter an exceptionally long product key before you can access your digital download. This is done for a reason as product keys are notoriously hard to crack and can deter others from hacking or stealing. If you also sell digital products or software online, you may consider using a similar strategy to protect your copyrighted materials.
- Hide your Digital Products and Downloads from Search Engines
It’s actually quite simple to use search engines to find out where a person or company houses their digital products or downloads on their website. That’s because search engine “spiders” will crawl and index each page of your website, including those you want to keep private about where you store your products. This ultimately makes your content easier for hackers and thieves to target. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to hide your digital products and downloads from search engine spiders. One way to do this is to store your content in a .ZIP file that cannot be crawled. You can also ask your webmaster to prevent search engine spiders from crawling specific pages of your website by creating a “Robots.txt” file that can be placed in the root directory of your website.
- Put an “Expiration” on Your Download Links
Many platforms will allow you to set parameters on your download links, such as causing them to expire after 3 downloads or after a period of 30 days. Having controls such as these can help to limit mass sharing and downloading of your copyrighted materials if they are indeed stolen.
- Register Your Work with the Copyright Office
An original work receives copyright protection the moment it’s created in a fixed medium. There are no legal steps or court procedures that you need to follow to obtain this protection. It’s yours automatically. But, in order to legally hold someone else accountable for stealing your copyrighted materials and sue them in court, you must have a registered copyright with the US Copyright Office. To ensure that you have this tool available to go after infringers in the future, make sure to talk to an attorney about federally registering your content. The registration provides you with not only the ability to commence a suit but also the right to your attorney’s fees and statutory damages, this usually provides leverage should another infringe on your work.
Finally, if you have been the victim of piracy or counterfeiting online, it’s important to notify the federal government who investigates such matters. Specifically, the FBI has a hand in the running of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (NIPRCC), which is the hub of the government’s response to IP theft and enforcement of international trade laws. To submit information about a violation of intellectual property rights, piracy, or counterfeiting, simply visit https://www.iprcenter.gov/referral/view to file a report.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.