Well, you can guess what this topic is about. I'll answer questions as well as divulge at least one true case. In covering this, I'm going to keep it simple.
First off, having a copyright doesn't protect you. It only gives you a foundation for taking legal action. It doesn't do much though for those who don't understand copyright, regardless of which side of the copyright you're on. There are basically two sides. There are those who should know about copyright and there are those who don't.
Who should? Obviously, authors, publishers, editors, and the like should have more than a passing notion about what a copyright does. Unfortunately, many of them don't. Likewise, almost everyone else should have some idea about it because they should have been taught in school that it's wrong to copy someone's work without permission or proper attribution because doing so is plagiarization. That's why many teachers instruct students about how to use footnotes and such in term papers, but that doesn't just apply to those. It also applies to web pages and anything else someone might write or play musically. However, we're going to limit this to writing.
So, who's more likely to steal your work? A publisher? An agent? An editing service? Also, what's more likely to be stolen? Fiction? Non-fiction? Poetry? Lyrics? Reference sources?
The answers might surprise you because it's more likely to be a fan, a church, or a small business. Because of that, it presents a problem. Do you go after the fan? After all, if the word gets out that you went after a fan, that could hurt your sales. So, what do you do? We'll get back to this.
And what's likely to be stolen? Well, very popular fiction writings generally aren't stolen in the way most people first think of. More likely, fans will write derivative stories using the worlds and characters from those stories. Copyright laws protect the works of authors so that they can write sequels and series. If a fan writes a story using the author's characters, then that fan is entering into competition using characters he doesn't own. Furthermore, it can dilute the essence of the original by putting those characters into unrealistic settings that the author never intended such as slash fiction. However, most writers accept this as part of the baggage that goes along with gaining popularity. In fact, some authors discovered taking action against fan fiction could actually hurt their sales except for instances where the fan fiction writer tried to make a profit. Then the fans tend to side with the writer because they want their favorite characters to remain true to the world the author created for them. So legal action is generally avoided except in the more extreme cases while the work remains covered by copyright.
"You mentioned churches."
Yes, churches are big violators, especially when it comes to inspirational writings, poetry, and lyrics. Many churches, and I use this term to cover all religions, are headed by an individual who believes wrongly that churches have the right to fair use of inspirational writings. Of course, they're wrong. Copyright law protects against all violators. However, do you sue the church in question? That's a tough one. If it's a small church, you risk causing other churches to band together to protect the smaller church. If it's a large church, you run the risk of offending many of their members thus hurting your sales. In instances like this, it's a judgment call on your part, pun intended. The conflict between you and a church might increase sales or might actually hurt sales. It all depends upon how the church is using your material. If they're giving you credit for what they copied without permission and they're not condemning it, then you might see your sales go up by leaving them alone. If they're trying to ban your work, then you might still want to leave them alone because conflict can produce an interest in your work by those who want to see for themselves if the excerpt was taken out of context. Some folks even use such condemnation to help them decide what to read. It's a case of "they don't want me to read this, so it must be something they don't want me to know about and I'm going to purchase a copy anyway." Also, you can use the publicity to influence sales by claiming truthfully that your book was banned by such and such church. But if the church is not only copying your work, but distributing it widely, then legal action might be necessary if they're not amenable to negotiation and paying a reasonable fee for what they're distributing. This could be the case when song lyrics, poems, and short inspirational stories are involved since many times these are so brief that the works are nearly always copied completely. And yes, this is the area where one of my works was used widely without permission. However, it wasn't just churches. It was also used by some small businesses, one newspaper which folks would presume would know not to violate copyright, and nearly a hundred individuals who weren't aware that copying something they found on the Internet was a violation.
Then there's non-fiction and reference sources. Well, these tend to see violations from students and some teachers who think it's all right to produce a few extra copies because the book store is out. The teachers are really wrong. Unless the amount of copied material is huge, the copyright owners tend to let many such instances slide by for term papers and book reports, though they will point out that they want proper attribution if it wasn't already given. This is because many, if not most, such instances occur in school situations where there actually is an element of fair use permitted. It's only when the amount copied is outrageously huge that fair use doesn't apply. Just remember, the teacher is likely to lower a grade if proper attribution isn't given or too much is copied. However, school isn't the only area where non-fiction and reference sources are misused. I know of one other case where the text of an editing service web site was actually copied and reused by other editing services rather than writing their own content to describe what they do. They ought to know better but some just forget that such content is still protected. There are only a few classes of writing that aren't protected by copyright so the best thing to remember is to check on those with the US Copyright Office at URL http://lcweb.loc.gov/copyright/
because even work posted on the Internet is protected by copyright. Work displayed on the Internet is not in the public domain.
Of course, some authors fall into violation of copyright when they forget that other writers have rights and that the author doesn't have the right to quote lyrics or poetry without permission to make his story more realistic. In many cases, the copyright owner will readily give permission. But they're also entitled to charge a fee for that permission if they want.
So, I've stated what do you do? Do you go after them? In some cases, yes. In others, no. You make that call. If you decide to go after the violators, then you need to do it correctly. Fortunately, Charles E. Petit, Esq. http://www.authorslawyer.com/
, has produced some letter templates authors can use to notify violators to cease their violations. Those are listed on the P&E site at URL file: http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/pecopy.htm
along with a brief explanation of use. Then if your letters fail to produce results, it's time to consult with a lawyer, but not just any lawyer. You need to speak with one who has Intellectual Property expertise. Don't ask a lawyer who's an expert in real estate property. It's not the same. There is a difference in the two kinds of property.
Generally, you'll find small businesses are eager to comply because they generally know that going to court over a copyright violation could be expensive for them. After all, it's something you can clearly prove because they used your work in their ads most likely. Just don't let them bluff you by demanding to see the copyright. Just stick to your demand and one more thing. If you haven't registered your copyright on the written work they used, get it registered before you send them the demand. Then let your lawyer do the demanding. Just don't make a demand based on something that's write-for-hire. In those cases, whoever paid you to write something owns the copyright and not you. And they can use it as much as they want.
If you have questions, please post them in this topic and send me a PM. I'll return here and post the answer.