**Remember, nothing on this page is legal advice to you.It is general information and may not apply to your circumstances. It also may not be up-to-date. Use it to learn the issues involved, not to make important decisions.**
Legal Policy - Having Your Say
In the various POD forums and discussion groups I see a lot of complaining about intellectual property law. The question in my mind is always - does this person want to actually solve the problem or do they just want to complain? It seems that there is a great reluctance to get personally involved to the slightest degree. Well, that reluctance is exactly how the state of the law has occurred. In particular POD participants seem reluctant to (a) speak out directly to their legislators (b) join groups or societies who will present their interests (c) support organizations that fight overbearing claims and (d) make at least some effort to learn what the law really is from a credible source. If a person fails to speak they really have no right to complain when the person who did speak gets want they wanted. This article is for those who want to at least have their say. Did you get a design pulled? Read the article on compliance first.
Make your voice louder, join a group. It is important to recognize that the interests of those participating on PODs are not necessarily aligned. The person who creates original art may have very different views on what is appropriate intellectual property policy than the person who relies on clip art or stock photography as the basis for their designs. A person who creates those foundation images will have their own interests, and the company that markets those images will have its own interests. So one challenge may be finding that group or society with matching interests and concerns. There are hundreds, if not thousands. of potential groups.
The following list of organizations is just a sampling but might be useful is getting pointed in the right direction.
Also see the list on Wikipedia of Copyright Collectives
One of the most important problems is not that trademark law or copyright law is unreasonable, as such, but that there are few good remedies for baseless claims of violation. The risks to the complainant of making an invalid claim are small. Most people don't understand the law well enough to make an effective response. You can modify that by getting educated and getting involved.
Even when the designer makes an educated response legal costs and considerations often make going further financially impractical. The Digital Milenium Copyright Act (DMCA) does provide useful remedies for false "take down" demands, its provisions are well covered by the websites Plagiarism Today and Lumen on Copyright (formerly the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse). The DMCA, however, covers only copyright (not trademark or rights of publicity/privacy) and only demands made according to its provisions. A POD will usually accept and act upon other kinds of demands. For take down demands outside the DMCA some new legal remedies for abuse are needed - and thus the need to get active.
There are useful existing web sites that focus on abuse of power in legal issues. Pick what feels right and support it. If the funds to exist don't come from you, then who?
Keep up to date on current legislation. Pick a group or blog that covers a topic area consistent with your own production that also posts legislative updates. Something like Keep up to date on legislation e.g. Counterfeit Chic. It may take some searching to find the one that is right for you. If it doesn't exist, then consider grabbing the reins and creating the one that covers YOUR concerns.
Learn who your legistlators are, and how to communicate with them. Much intellectual property law in the USA is at the federal level so find out who your federal legislators are. Learn to write effective communications. Your communication will be most effective if you have done some foundation work.
Try asking a specific question that will encourage useful response. For example you might ask whether there is new legislation being considered, or if the legislator has an email list that is tailored to your specific area of interest so you can get early updates.
Learn what the law actually provides. Read as much as you can about the purpose and function of the current law. Even if you disagree with it, knowing what is supposed to happen and why will make your discussion clearer. This will add credibility, a sense that your opinion is educated and should be at least taken seriously. Don't rely on information from forums etc where you have no idea about the credibility of the writer (including this page). POD forums are filled with utter nonsense that people create based upon what a POD did. Well that has nothing to do with what the law provides. PODs make business decisions, not legal decisions. Making statements such as "it is a common expression" as if that explains why something shouldn't be will convince the reader that you have no credibility because you no idea at all about the purpose, function or operation of the laws involved. It might be difficult or boring but your best chance to make a difference is to educate yourself.
Try to focus on factual information, control your emotional expression. I believe that when individuals speak that some emotion is important, but can also get the writer dismissed when unsupported by facts. An effective complaint offers a fair solution. Communications that just complain, but offer nothing toward resolving the issue, are often dismissed. Suggest alternatives and express how it might be accomplished and fair to all involved. Try to pin point the point of failure, and how that might be corrected. Read a book on getting rights permissions. You might not be actually seeking permission, but knowing how to do it will educate you on the rights issues. Similarly read a book on obtaining a trademark, and registering a copyright so you learn the fundamentals.
Don't be anonymous. It is your credibility on the line. If you are afraid to stand behind your opinions then why should anyone take them seriously?