Can I stop a website from using a photo of my dog?

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Question:

A photograph of my dog, taken by me and published on my website, was used on another website without my permission. The user is trying to promote her dog breed as superior to my own. The photo is not officially copyrighted. The woman refuses to take the photo down and her Internet service provider (ISP) refuses to "take sides" until I get a court order. Do I have any legal recourse?

Answer:

If you created the photo, you have a copyright automatically -- it doesn't matter whether or not you filed a copyright application. The infringer can't put the photo on her website without your permission, and the ISP should respond to your concerns.

But this might be a good time to register your photo with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration will enhance the value of your copyright and will be required if you decide to file a lawsuit. For registration forms and instructions, go to the Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov). The fee is currently $45. Unfortunately, it may take nine months or more for the registration to go through (unless you want to pay several hundred dollars more for an expedited registration).

As to your legal recourse: You could sue the infringer, the uncooperative ISP, or both. The basis of either suit would be copyright infringement. Although the ISP wasn't the one who first stole your work, a law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes them similarly responsible -- particularly if they knew about the infringement and didn't do anything about it. No matter who (if anyone) you decide to sue, you will probably want the help of a lawyer who's an expert on copyright law.

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