Can an individual own text on the internet?

I, as many others, are having a big problem. There is an individual who operates an online business with no license, inactive in the state they live in, and have no copyrights on any material. They use this to back them up in removing content from webpages in the name of “copyright violation”. The users do not make profit, they are only bringing to light the scamming of the said person. The individual notifies the company that hosts the webpages of the users, tells them it’s a violation, and it gets taken down. Even text posts that don’t even refer to them. What can we do about this?

Asked on August 15, 2012 under Business Law, South Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

If someone has copyright, he or she can control the use of the copyrighted text. To have copyright, one does not have to have registered it; while registration adds some additional protections, it is not a pre-requisite to copyright ownership. Rather, copyright is established by the act of creation; the first person to create original text (or an original graphic, image, song, etc.) owns the copyright. Therefore, if this person has created any of the content prior to others creating it, he would be the copyright owner. (He could also be the copyright owner if the actual owner sold him the rights.)

If he has the rights, he can legally demand that content be taken down. If he does not, he can't legally prevent you from using, posting, reproducing, distributing, etc. it. If he is intimidating websites into removing your lawful content when he has no legal right to do so, it is possible you may have a lawsuit against him, possibly for tortious (or wrongful) interference with your economic advantage, or possibly for violation of your copyright if you are the copyright owner (created the original content), if he is wrongfully asserting his own ownership. If you believe this may the case, you should consult with an intellectual property (IP) attorney about your options.


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