If you suspect that your copyrighted work is being infringed upon, before attempting to enforce your copyright, you must ensure that your work is actually being infringed. First, ensure that the suspected infringement actually occurred during the duration of the copyright. If the suspected infringement occurred even one day after the 70th anniversary of the author’s death, then no infringement actually has taken place since the work is in the public domain. Next, ensure that the alleged infringement actually infringes on one or more of the exclusive rights granted by copyright ownership. If you determine that one or more of those exclusive rights have been violated, you may have the right to enforce your copyright. However, several exceptions do exist. In certain circumstances, mentioned below under “Defenses” and “Fair Use,” another person may use the work, reproduce, or distribute the work without infringement actually occurring because it so permitted by the Copyright Law. Briefly, such examples include fair use, use by libraries, and certain educational uses by teachers.
If you believe an infringement has actually occurred and no exceptions exist, you may file a civil suit (assuming the copyright has been registered). You may also file a complaint and seek criminal action through the FBI’s Intellectual Property Fraud Unit.
Public Domain Works:
Once the copyright’s duration expires, it automatically enters into the Public Domain. This means that any ownership of the originally copyrighted work is reverted and granted to the public as a whole. If a work is in the public domain, it is not necessary to seek permission from the original copyright holder in order to reproduce, distribute, or any other rights originally exclusive to the copyright holder.
It is however possible for an author to grant free use of his/her copyrighted work as if it were in the public domain. Despite the fact that copyright is automatically conferred at the time of fixation in a tangible form, an author would have to signal to interested persons that copyright ownership is not asserted and waive any interest in the copyright. Alternatively, an author can retain certain ownership, but grant a non-exclusive, royalty free use of the work.
Including formerly copyrighted works, the following are part of the public domain: 1) ideas and facts, 2) works governed by an earlier copyright statute which failed to meet the requirements of copyright protection of that statute, 3) works by the United States Government and possibly works by non-government authors funded by federal funding, 4) scientific principles, theorems, mathematical formulas, laws of nature, 5) Laws, regulations, judicial opinions, government documents, and legislative reports, and 6) words, names, numbers, symbols, and signs.