Posted by Mr. Q at 6:00 AM Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Dear Rich: I am the author of several management books about workforce diversity. In two of these, I used an original model to define what I meant by "dimensions of diversity." Over the past 20 years, my model has become very popular in training programs held at universities, in companies and by public organizations. I recently discovered that an unknown competitor is featuring my model (a derivative, slightly altered version) on her business website and is misrepresenting my original work in her criticisms of it. I would like to deny her the right to reproduce the model - as she seems to me to be attempting to benefit at my expense. She did not ask for permission and I would like to forcefully deny her that now. Do I have any rights here? You can assert your rights but we can't guarantee you'll succeed. Your competitor could argue that your model -- which appears to be a circle within a circle, each circle containing 10 diversity factors -- may be closer to an idea, and copyright doesn't protect ideas, only their expression.
E=MC2 does not equal copyright. We know it took some creative effort to visualize and compile your model but copyright does not protect works because of the labor invested -- referred to as "sweat of the brow" -- or because they contain ground-breaking ideas, methods, or systems. What's required is sufficient textual or visual expression to justify protection. That's not to say, you can't protect your model. Many companies claim copyright in workplace posters and related graphics. But in those cases, the owner be acquiring what is known as a "thin copyright" -- one that would only stop exact or close duplications. In other words, the more modifications that are made to your model, the less likely it may infringe.
So, what should you do? We'd suggest seeking copyright registration for your model. Having a registration doesn't guarantee you'll succeed against infringers but it creates a presumption you have a valid copyright and often, that's all that's needed to stop interlopers. Enclose a copy of the registration and demand the removal of the material. If it's at a website, you may also be able to take advantage of the DMCA takedown rules (scroll down for a how-to). Your competitor may have a few defenses available -- for example, you mention that the competitor is criticizing your model; criticism is a common basis for fair use.