Sunday, June 3, 2012

Plagiarism and Copyright Violations: What to Do When it Hapens to You

 Okay, I Google myself. I'll go ahead and admit it. It's not narcissism, it's a really good idea for indie authors and bloggers of all kinds. You want to know what people are responding to, what they're not responding to, what's working and what isn't. But even if you don't want to know all that, you should still Google yourself. How else are you going to know that someone out there is stealing your content? 

Content Theft

Content theft is incredibly common on the Internet, though you may not be aware of it until it actually happens to you. And if you aren't actively checking for it, you may never become aware of it. Some thefty site out there might be copying every single one of your blog posts, verbatim, and reaping the benefits of your hard work. Unless you're doing regular checks, they're going to get away with it.
  • Copyscape. Check your URLs through copyscape. Always run your recent URLs through the site, not just the main URL of your home page. 
  • Online search. Run your name periodically through your favorite search engine(s). If you suspect that your content is being copied but you can't find it, add one or two of the words from the title of your post. For example, I might search for Jade Varden, writing 101 to see who's stealing my posts.
Online Copyright Violations

I'm not just an advocate of protecting oneself against copyright violations -- I'm a victim. This particular post was born several days ago, when I happened to stumble across no less than nine different sites that had copied one of my blog posts, in whole, and posted it without giving me so much as a by-your-leave.

It's illegal for them to do that, you know. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, DMCA for short, says that it's not cool for one site to copy content from another site and re-publish it without the original poster's knowledge or consent -- and obviously I'm paraphrasing here. The point is, you have rights. One of them says that if you don't want someone taking content right from your site and putting it somewhere else, you don't have to take it. 

But you're going to have to really, really work for it if you want to make things right again. 

What to Do About It

First, identify that the content is indeed yours, and that you never gave this other site permission to re-distribute it. Locate the original content on your own site. Make note of the URL where it appears on your site, the full title and the date on which you posted it. When you're sure the theft is genuine, roll up your sleeves.
  • Look for contact info. First, you're required to contact the owner of the theft site and request (politely) that they remove the unauthorized content. Perform a thorough and complete search of the site to find this contact information. If it's there, send your email and sit back and wait. If the owner does not respond to you after a week, or if they do respond and tell you to go screw yourself, take further action.
  • Look for the owner. Don't be fooled by templates. When you go in search of the owner of a website or blog, it's easy to get led astray. Many sites, particularly those that make it a habit of stealing content, use templates from popular blogging sites like Typepad, WordPress and Blogger. They do this in order to make it look like they're running through these sites, but in some cases they actually are not. You're going to have to investigate. 
  • Look up the domain. Go to a domain-finding site to find out to whom the site actually belongs. Lots of people advocate WhoIs, and it's fine if it works for you. It doesn't work for me, and that's why I use BetterWhoIs. Enter the URL of the homepage, and find out the actual domain name of the site. You should also be able to see from where the domain name has been registered. GoDaddy, for example, is a very popular domain name registrar. Make a note of the domain name and the registrar. 
  • Report them. You've got to let someone know that your rights are being infringed upon. If the site in question actually is powered through WordPress or another popular blogging site, visit that site's homepage. Look for the Support menu or Contact menu to find an online form or email address you may use to report copyright violations. Blogger websites are very easy to report; just look for the "report abuse" link right at the top of the website. For purchased domain names, you may report copyright violations to the registrar itself. Visit the registrar's homepage and look for contact and/or report links in order to locate the appropriate form or email.
  • Make it a thing. If all else fails, and you've followed all the steps above and done everything else you can possibly do, report the thieving website to the government. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act says that this content theft site stole your intellectual property, and you don't have to take that sitting down (unless you're typing an email, in which case you kinda do). Use the online form to report it to the right people, and protect your content. Read everything. Making false statements through this form is illegal, and you will be liable for the consequences of violating those laws.
That Sounds Like a Lot of Effort...

The steps above all very tedious, I know. It is, after all, just a little content. Is it really that big of a deal if another site takes some of it?

Yes. Not only is it against the law for other sites to steal your content, but by reporting them you're helping all the other bloggers out there. A site that steals content from one blogger is probably going to do it to another. A site that gets away with all this theft is going to keep on doing it -- to as many people as possible. The only way to stop them is to report them. If content thieves find that they're continually being reported, and every domain name they start up gets shut down, eventually they'll move on to a new scam...and one day, maybe the Internet will be safe for all bloggers everywhere.

It's not a waste of time to report content theft. It's the right thing to do. 

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  1. It's scary how easy it is to lose control of your own words. I do Google myself, but I wouldn't have had the first idea what to do if I found something untoward - thanks for this.

  2. Well I hope you never need to use it, but if it does happen at least you'll know what to do!