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Old February 22nd, 2007, 06:17 PM   #1
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When Someone Steals Your Work

I won't name the person or the business, but this certain unnamed person and business are profiting from a project I put together on my own accord. To clarify: I worked with a photographer at the end of 2005 who turned out to be a very unpleasant person with a god-complex. Needless to say, I walked away. While shooting video of events he photographed for later DVD transfer, I put together a little promotional video in my spare time--grabbing shots here and there. Thought it would look good as a promotional track on the DVD. I put it together on his computer at his office in my spare time, as well. Then I left the job, deciding having someone scream in my face wasn't exactly the working environment I craved--but forgetting the project on his hard drive. So, I'm flipping through the channels on the television this week, and I see footage I shot splayed across the glass: my former employer is using it as a commercial. Without my permission. And in full knowledge of my authorship of the project. I even have the only copy of the raw video to prove said authorship. I am not credited on the commercial, nor was I told it was to be used as such. Now, what to do?
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 04:12 AM   #2
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The first thing you should do is consult a lawyer and see what he/she has to say about it. There is not much you can do on your own, you need someone who knows the law in that area.

I do know that my dad who is an architect does drawings for his clients and even though they pay him to do it he himself owns the copyright to his work.

I'm not sure if it's the same in the video world but i can't imagine why it wouldn't be. Also bear in mind that I am in Scotland and the laws may differ where you are.

And you need to resist going to his door and knockin' his teeth out (thats the highland way!), as good as it sounds it solves nothing.

Andy
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 07:25 AM   #3
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I'm not a lawyer, and I'm only re-telling what I've been told, (and it seems logical to me) so I'm sure there'll be some dissagreement with what I have to say. But, here goes.

I got that you were employed by this company and you were shooting the videos for this company. My understanding is that unless there was a contract in place specifically stating that you had copyrights to the video, it all belongs to the company. If this is all true, you'd be breaking copyright laws if you used the footage for your own purposes. It's why I don't keep copies of the shoots I'm hired for. I can't use the footage, so I don't keep it.

I'll be curious to see other's comments on this. Any chance a copyright attorney reads this forum? :-)

Mark
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Old February 23rd, 2007, 07:34 AM   #4
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If you were an employee on his staff paid a wage or salary shooting in the course of your job duties or if you were working with a written agreement that states you were shooting a "work for hire" he probably owns the copyright and there's not much you can do (if that's the case and you didn't get paid your agreed-upon wages you could sue for back wages but that's another issue). OTOH, if you were a contractor shooting for a fee, very likely you do own the copyright and can sue for damages. But of course, first thing to do is contact a lawyer and find out for sure where you stand.

Mark, you need to look into your situation a little further. The fact you are paid for a piece of work doesn't automatically make you an employee. Most freelance contractors in media - photography, film and video, music - are not employees of their clients under the law and they, not the client, own the copyright unless there's a written "work-for-hire" agreement in place to the contrary or unless you assign the rights in writing to your client.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 12:09 AM   #5
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I'm mot a lawyer either. Was it your gear? Did you work for this person as a job or as a freelancer? What was the original agreement? Did you have a signed agreement with this person? I would say that if they did pay you to come out and film, and did in fact pay you, you may not be able to do anything. If you never got paid, then you may be entitled to a portion of the profits. Realize that a media Lawyer is going to be pretty expensive. You'll have to weigh the options. If it's worth your time, pontentially thousands of dollars in money, and your reputation, then go for it. I will just say that if I got wind of someone out there hired to shoot video for people and then suing them for it, I would definately look elsewhere just because I would be afraid of the same thing. It's good that you have the raw footage as some proof, but depending on your circumstances, you may pay all this money to a lawyer and it turn out that the judge says "did you have something in writing? If not, then case dismissed". When there's no agreement made in writing, "assumed ownership" could probably go either way.

Lawyer up and see what they say. Definately keep us informed as to what happens. I would just invest a set amount of money into this that you're willing to lose (lawyer fees) and see where it goes.

We looked into suing someone for copyright infringement of our business name. After $1000, a couple of legal letters and weeks of worrying about it, turns out there wasn't much we could do. We changed our business name, but it has really worked out for the better in the end. I'm just glad we didn't sink $10,000 into it not to get anything in return. Some things you just have to go "eh, oh well," and treat it as a lesson learned (always get something in writing - ALWAYS!). Then again, you may be entitled to some compensation.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 06:02 AM   #6
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I am not a lawyer nor do I play one of TV...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kit Hannah
...
We looked into suing someone for copyright infringement of our business name. After $1000, a couple of legal letters and weeks of worrying about it, turns out there wasn't much we could do. We changed our business name, but it has really worked out for the better in the end. I'm just glad we didn't sink $10,000 into it not to get anything in return.....
Your lawyer should have told you right off the bat that you can't copyright a business name anyway and so suing for copyright infringment would be a lost cause from the get-go. Business names, slogans, etc are trademarks and are governed by a whole different set of laws and rules.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 01:34 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve House
Your lawyer should have told you right off the bat that you can't copyright a business name anyway and so suing for copyright infringment would be a lost cause from the get-go. Business names, slogans, etc are trademarks and are governed by a whole different set of laws and rules.
In the US, if you hold a ficticious name statement, you own the rights to that name in your county, and no one can use that name if it is being used for the same type of company.

I will give you an example. Lets say you had A-1 Video and someone decides to make an A-1 Janitorial company. Not much you can do about that because it's not a like or similar business. But if you have A-1 video and someone else trys to come out with the same name, same type of use, they cannot do that. You could not go out and use the name "microsoft video services" because it is trademarked. Whether they call it copyright or trademark infringement - all the same.

It had nothing to do with trying to give refrence to saying it's the same thing. My point was that it can cost a lot of money to pursue a lawsuit like this and may not be worth the effort.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 03:02 PM   #8
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"Whether they call it copyright or trademark infringement - all the same."

No, it's decidedly not, and different laws apply to infringement and protection rights. You cannot copyright a name. You MIGHT be able to trademark it, but that's not always the case.

Registering a fictitious name does not(necessarily) protect it from infringement or establish trademark protection for it.

Work for hire is the issue here, whether or not his agreement stipulated that. A discussion with an IP Attorney, one trained in copyright and intellectual property is the best choice.

But law suits should never be undertaken lightly, they can suck up more time, money and emotional energy than the suit is worth. I know, I'm married to an IP attorney and I see it happen.
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Old February 24th, 2007, 04:32 PM   #9
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You guys are missing my whole point.

Lawsuits can be very expensive. Is it worth it?

That was my point. If you want to debate the use of names, etc, then start a new thread about it.
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Old March 7th, 2007, 09:56 AM   #10
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His office, his computer, your spare time= you voluntary gave him your work
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Old March 7th, 2007, 10:16 AM   #11
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ok, I sound a little harsh there. I apologize.
Just use this as a lesson and move on.
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Old March 7th, 2007, 10:53 AM   #12
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"Is it worth it?" There is absolutely no way to answer that question... only you can.

Lawsuits are expensive, not only in money, but perhaps more importantly in time and emotional energy. Is it worth it to have this issue in your life for the next year or two? Only you can answer that.
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Old March 7th, 2007, 11:23 AM   #13
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Kit - here in the UK it's pretty cut and dried. You stated in the post that he was your employer. Assuming you were employed to shoot video, then the material belongs to him. A previous employer of mine claimed all our work, and even our ideas - so even our brilliant ideas conceived in the carrying out of our contracted duties were his, not ours. The real solution is to be freelance and work on specifc contracts where everything is spelt out in advance. Once you become an employee, then you essentially give your skills and knowledge to the employer for a specified remuneration. Fun huh?
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Old March 7th, 2007, 01:18 PM   #14
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There are a few things a person could do in a similar situation w/o a lawyer:

Send them a letter indicating that you believe the work is yours. This letter should also insist that the footage be pulled immediately from any TV station or any other medium, etc.

2. Tape any time you see the work on TV, or at least write down the times.

3. Figure out, in your own mind, what you think the damages have been up to now - ie - what is worth and what would you settle for? What are the damages if they keep using the footage after your letter? Has it been shown nationally? Sold to other 3rd party sources such as stock houses? Used on the internet?

4. Does this compnay have a patern of doing this to others? Try to find out...

The letter puts them on notice that you believe you own the work, making it harder for them to deny a lack of knowlege (send certified). Their reaction to the letter would tell you what their stand is, and when you'd need to go from there....

Which is probably to a lawyer. If you're not seeking money per say right now, you should probably send the letter. If you're really mad and want to sue, both for money and to stop the video from being used, then a hiring a lawyer up front probably makes more sense. If you're unsure, look up some local lawyers - most will talk to you for free the first time. They'd be better able to tell you if there is any money damages, or if an injunction is available based on the laws of your state.

Either way, I'd think that you'd want to put them on notice sooner than later. You could probably hire a lawyer, for a small fee - say $200 - to draw up the "nasty" letter and then wait for their reaction.

I am a lawyer, and any advice I've given you should be considered general in nature, as I do not know all the facts, or the specific laws of your jurisdiction. But call around - you might be surprised how cheaply you could hire a lawyer, esp for a limited purpose (ie - letter requesting them to stop using your material). Good luck -
john
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Old March 14th, 2007, 10:08 AM   #15
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OK. I'm not a lawyer either, but as far as I know a big issue will be if you ever registered your work. Copyright cases must be tried in federal court, which means you are almost certainly looking at 25K in legal fees to pursue this. If the work is registered you can sue for statutory damages of up to $150K for copyright infringement. Without registration you will have to prove how much actual damages you suffered. In many cases this is not enough to cover the lawyer's fees.

Always register your work! Here is the web page to get the form:
http://www.copyright.gov/register/performing.html

The actual text of the law is here:
http://www.copyright.gov/title17/

Best wishes,
Peter
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