What if someone does infringe on your copyright?
Although copyright infringement does not happen regularly, it does happen and there may be times you will need to know what to do. The fact that someone steals your material does not necessarily mean you will take action of any sort. Generally it depends on how much money is at stake. With the high cost of litigation, most writers will not even consider it unless a great deal of money is involved—such as a manuscript that is stolen and made into a movie.
I remember several years ago when word got around that a man from California was copying articles from Christian publications and trying to resell them to other magazines under his own byline. Unfortunately (for him), this is a relatively small market where many publishers buy reprints and before long editors and writers began to recognize the articles and stories he was offering. Eventually someone tracked down the man and knew where he lived, but because the amount of money he was making off the stolen material was minimal, no one ever took him to court. He eventually just faded away, but this is typical of most copyright infringements. The only ones that make the news are the ones where large sums of money are in contention.
Even if you go to court over an infringement, it is often hard to prove. If you registered the copyright at the time of publication it will be easier, of course. However, you can register a copyright after the infringement. The problem comes if the one who has stolen it has also registered it. The task, then, is for each of you to come of with sufficient evidence to prove that you actually were the creator. It helps if you have copies of first drafts, submissions to editors, and the like. The one who has stolen a literary property will have no such historical data to prove creation or ownership. Before attempting a suit, be sure that you have sufficient background/evidence to make your case.
Even being in the right never guarantees that you will win such a suit. Mark Twain would be the first to attest to that. In his day the big problem was with book piracy, and he often went to court to defend his rights. His response, after losing one such case, puts copyright infringement into perspective: “A Massachusetts judge has just decided in open court that a Boston publisher may sell not only his own property in a free and unfettered way, but also may as freely sell property which does not belong to him, but to me—property which he has not bought and which I had not sold. Under this ruling, I am now advertising that the judge’s homestead is for sale and if I make as good a sum out of it as I expect, I shall go out and sell the rest of his property.”