How do you protect your copyrighted work? Are there ways to keep your posts from showing up on random sites? I believe the term is called "blog scraping" and I'd love to know how to stop it.
Mommy K from The Great Walls of Baltimore
First you must know that anything you produce is automatically copyrighted. You don't need an attorney, you don't need a formal piece of paper or the fancy little C-circle on your page to make it yours and be protected under copyright law.
Then what does a copyright symbol do?
The reason people put the copyright symbol on their work is merely to give publicity to the fact that they do, in fact, recognize their intellectual property rights and are willing to protect their copyrighted content. Think of it as a "Beware of Dog" sign. If you have a home then it's automatically yours and no one can enter it or take your things without permission--but it doesn't hurt to have a big ol' rottweiler on the scene to make sure people remember that you're aware of the situation.
So no need to do anything special to obtain a copyright on your work. If you wrote it, it's yours, free and clear.
What's the difference between a copyright and Creative Commons License?
Your work is automatically copyrighted with you holding all rights in reservation and you need do nothing else to establish this fact. Creative Commons is, by contrast, an organization trying to promote creativity and ideas through the legal sharing of intellectual property.
A Creative Commons License is what this organization has come up with to let visitors know that the owner is okay with someone using his or her work under certain conditions and that instead of retaining all of their rights to the work they're making their work available for certain limited usage. Maybe they'll let you use it but only if you give attribution (such as the photo I've used here via Flikr) maybe they'll only let you use it if the place you're using it is also governed by a CC license, there are a variety of possibilities and it's up to the owner to decide what they'll allow.
I guess this is okay though I have a hard time seeing that it in any way benefits me personally. At this point in my career I'd much rather retain all of my rights rather than handing out blank checks--if someone wants to use my material I'd rather have them drop me a note to ask rather than putting up a notice that says "You can use my stuff under these conditions."
A Creative Commons License certainly won't discourage serious plagiarists and it only runs the risk of confusing people into thinking that you're okay with them taking your work if they're not making money from it or under certain other mysterious terms. It works very well for sites such as Flikr where people can share and promote their photos under one roof but I don't see many benefits to bloggers such as you and I--unless you really are okay with others reproducing your work but if you're still with me this far into the post I'm guessing that that's not you.
Should I care if anyone steals my content?
Maybe . . . I'll tell you right now it's a huge hassle to police and defend your rights, so is it worth it? I'd say that if you're only blogging for fun as a journal or newsletter then who cares if someone takes your shopping list and puts it on their site? It's still wrong but it's probably not worth your time to worry about.
But if you're blogging as a business or with long-term growth goals in mind then you need to protect your work and do your best to control how it's reproduced as there's potential for it to slip from your grasp and cause problems down the road. It's a prudent thing to keep an eye on your written product just as much as any warehouse storing your physical inventory.
Some sources say that if there are sites with duplicate content then the Google bots frown and will give you demerits but then there's been recent information that disagrees and says that Google doesn't punish duplicate content nearly as much as was previously thought. You can believe whom you wish but with or without the threat of SEO reprisals it's still wise to protect your words and keep track of where they go--especially if you hope to make money off of them at some point.
What should I know about plagiarism on the internet?
If you haven't had your work stolen yet be patient, it'll happen--it's just a matter of time. I've written over 1000 posts and have had dozens of cases where I've had my work used elsewhere without my permission or taken and passed off as someone else's. There are so many people on the internet that odds are the finger of fate will some day point your way--hey, maybe if someone thinks your work is worth stealing you should be flattered?
Okay maybe not. But the point is, don't be offended, don't be surprised, don't look for revenge, stay calm and follow some simple steps to correct the problem and you should be able to guard your property successfully.
How can I know when someone has stolen my work?
There are several ways to monitor your content. First, Technorati records links to your blog so if you type in your URL it should pull up all the instances of other blogs linking to you.
The only downside to this is that Technorati only records links--if a site uses your blog name but doesn't actually link to you or messes up your URL Technorati won't pick it up because it's not an actual link. Instead, a more thorough way to monitor your blog is to set a Google Alert. Log into your Google account (if you don't have one, set one up for free) then tell Google what search terms you'd like to monitor. Meredith from Like Merchant Ships put me onto this tip a year or so ago and it's been wonderful because I've set search terms for my URL, my blog name and Michelle Mitton so that any time these items appear anywhere on the web--as an actual link or just as words--I get an email telling me where to find the reference.
Of course, using these monitoring devices only works if someone has taken your content and mentions your blog name or URL and most thieves aren't so thoughtful as to leave their calling card this way--though you'd be surprised. Part of the reason they're stealing someone else's content is because they aren't smart enough to come up with their own stuff so you're not exactly dealing with the brain stars of the genetic pool here . . .
You can go to Copyscape, type in your URL and it will do a search for duplicate content that matches your site. I haven't found it to be foolproof though it's reasonably reliable. The Copyscape site tries to encourage you to place one of their banners on your site saying "Do not Copy, protected by Copyscape" but that's just nonsense. Anyone who's going to steal your stuff won't be stopped by a silly sign, all you've done is give free advertising to Copyscape. They provide a nice service but I don't feel obligated to advertise for them.
Finally, the last way I monitor my content is to check my Feedburner account. If you use Feedburner to manage your RSS feed under the Feed Stats Dashboard it has a link called "See and Manage All Uncommon Uses" which means that you can get a list of all the places that have your feed running through their site. Most will be benign situations--someone has your blog on their sidebar with your latest post listed underneath--but occasionally you'll find a site that has taken your RSS feed and threaded it through their blog so that your posts are published on their blog automatically.
Yes, it's vile and perpetrators should be soundly flogged.
Can I take any preventative measures?
If you'd like to try and avoid all this hassle by discouraging theft of your material in the first place there are a couple things you can do. First, place your copyright symbol in a prominent place on your website to let any would-be thieves know that you take your ownership seriously.
Second, you can put this symbol in the footer of your RSS feeds (for an example of what I'm talking about see my RSS feed where it has the words "© 2005-2008 Scribbit, LLC all rights reserved" linking back to me) which not only will show up when people view your feeds but it will stay with your post so that if anyone tries to automatically run your feed through their site you'll see that link through your Google Alerts account. This tip was given to me by Melanie at Blogging Basics 101 and is explained more fully here at Plagiarism Today "Protecting Blogspot Feeds"--an excellent post on the topic.
Thirdly, you can install special code into your blog template that prevents people from right-clicking on your page. No right click, no copying and pasting--or at least it makes it a bit more difficult, though it doesn't prevent it completely. Think of it as a speed bump that slows down a would-be plagiarist enough to irritate them and hopefully send them looking elsewhere for potential victims. Jeana at Days to Come put me wise to this and the code can be found for free at Dynamic Drive.
What do I do when it happens to me?
Ah, this is where it gets tricky, very tricky. First, don't get mad, don't go on a rampage, but stay calm and professional not only because it will give you the advantage of a clear mind and moral high ground but because this is business--and when one is in business this is just one of the things one has to deal with. To quote an applicable situation: "It's not personal. It's business."
When you find that someone has taken your property without permission be polite and ask them to stop. Don't treat them as the enemy, just let them know in a comment or, preferably, an email that you've noticed they've used your content without your permission and would they please take it down immediately.
I've found this to resolve 80% of the cases of plagiarism I've seen at Scribbit--I'm not sure if most people out there just don't realize they're doing something wrong or if they don't think they'll get caught but for whatever reason a polite but firm request usually does the trick.
But what happens if they ignore you? One thing I do is to see if they have ads on their site. If they're running Google Adsense you can complain to Google at this page here to report a violation of their Adsense policies and if Google deems that the site is indeed infringing upon your copyright then they'll revoke the account. I did this with both of the two previously mentioned sites and got their advertising accounts shut down and though that didn't stop the theft of my material at least I was able to stop them from making money off of my material which provided some solace.
If this still doesn't do the trick then it's time to up the ante. If they refuse to take down the plagiarized content or to stop the theft then it's time to give them a Cease and Desist order. This is a formal legal request to stop the copyright infringement and it needs to be sent with as much legality as possible. Earlier this year I had two sites that were stealing my content through my RSS feeds and had reproduced about 200 of my posts on their own sites, complete with ads designed to capitalize on my words, pictures and ideas.
I asked them twice to stop but they ignored me so I sent them a Cease and Desist. It was an interesting experience--the first site was owned by a man named David Brown living in New York City who, when he received my letter, immediately responded by saying he'd had no idea the theft was occurring, it wasn't even his site, yada yada yada. I didn't care what his excuse was all I cared about was whether he would make it right which he did by taking down the whole site.
The second blog was a little trickier. I was able to track down the owner but they were hiding behind a privacy protection site whom I had to hound for a month before getting them to turn over the name and email of the site owner. Turns out it was a woman, Amanda Jackson, also living in the U.S. who was posing as a Iranian man. I tell you this to debunk the myth that most plagiarists are from outside the U.S.--as if criminals only come from overseas or something--because my experience has been different. It's not always a "foreigner" and it's not always a man, you just can't assume anything.
Well this second incident of plagiarism was particularly worrisome to me because not only was Ms. Jackson stealing my content but she was posting it next to pictures of near-naked women and the last thing I wanted was some pervert from her site finding their way to mine to see pictures of my children or our home. But my letter did the trick, though she held out for a little over a week she took down the site. One month later and she's still out of business (though don't think I'm not watching you Jackson--try it again and I'll get even nastier).
Finally, if they don't respond to a Cease and Desist order by law you can ultimately complain to Google and Yahoo and request that the offending sites be banned from the search engines. This is quite serious and should only be done as a last resort but under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) the search engines are required to protect your copyrighted material. If they receive notice that a site indexed by their engine is breaking the law they must investigate and take appropriate action. Luckily I haven't had to resort to this step--though I will if I have to.
For a more detailed explanation of the steps I've outlined--how to write a Cease and Desist Order, how to contact Google's legal department, how to find out who owns a site that's stealing your content and how to contact them please see this excellent and highly informative post on Lorelle on Wordpress titled "What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content." I've used her post as a step-by-step guide to track down my own personal Bad Guys here at Scribbit and have found her instructions helpful, accurate and effective.
So go ahead and protect what is yours, you've worked for it and deserve to enjoy the benefits of that ownership--if you don't protect your work who will?
Congratulations to Jackie of Albuquerque, New Mexico for winning the giveaway from Plaja Pets Giveaway this weekend, I'll be sending her package of these cute and fluffy toys right away. Thanks Small World Toys!
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Photo courtesy of Steven Taschuk via Flikr
Technorati tags: blogging, copyright, plagiarism