Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Readers' Panel: How to Protect Your Blog and Your Copyright

How to Protect Your Blog and Your CopyrightDear Michelle:

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!

Sponsored by Oaki at Outdoor Adventure Kid Company--Gear for kids who live outside.

Photo courtesy of Steven Taschuk via Flikr

Technorati tags: blogging, copyright, plagiarism


Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

Remind me not to get on your black list...

Anonymous said...

This is great info! Thanks so much.

Patty Williams said...

Lots of good info there!

I say GOOD for you, Michelle! Keep what is rightfully yours, YOURS !

Flea said...

Wow. Fantastic post. You're very thorough. I get Google alerts for my url, but nothing else. I'll keep a sharper eye on my content from here one out. Thank you!

One Mom said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the darker side of blogging - good advice to have though I hope never to need some of it!

Maddy said...

Thank you a very clear explanation with practical assistance, although if you think I'm going to tinker with my template! To terrifying to contemplate.

p.s. I meant to pop back yesterday about the 'incident.' I think you'll find that the 'law' is discretionary. It's there as a safety measure so that the 'authorities' can act when necessary for real cases of neglect /abuse.

The law is on the books so that they have the authority to intervene when necessary, otherwise they'd have no course of action. But your resident legal eagle can probably explain it better!

p.p.s. 'p.s.' means 'post shower' where I do all my best thinking.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! I have wondered what I would do if I found my work posted elsewhere... thanks for the guide. ~:-)

Anonymous said...

Do I really want to keep going further down this road? At least there are some fairly straightforward ways to deal with it if or when it happens. Thanks.

Jeana said...

I posted the Copyscape logo because I thought it might be a heads up to the people who don't realize that blog posts are copyrighted; the ones who figure since the content is "free" it's okay for them to copy it and e-mail it, etc.

Incidentally, I don't think it works for that either. I don't know, I have had people e-mail and ask permission, but I also had a well-known published author copy my post, word for word, and publish it on his blog, giving me links and credit. This may sound naive, but I really don't think it occurred to him that my blog post is just as copyrighted as his books are.

And I didn't pursue it. I got tons of traffic from it.

Montserrat said...

I've wondered what to do about this. I know of a few sites that have plain out right copied some of my posts without my permission. Looks like I might be busy for the next little while. :D

Thanks for the great info!

TheOneTrueSue said...

I recently had a big plagiarism kerfluffle on my blog. I stumbled upon a blog that had one of my posts up, with a paragraph or two tacked on. She was accepting awards and compliments for her writing, and it made me mad. SO. MAD. It will tell you a lot about my narcissism that I was angry not about the stealing, but about the compliments. Because c'mon - they should've been complimenting me! :>).

I got really angry, posted a link to her blog, and invited my readers to compare and contrast. About an hour later I calmed down and repented, and took the link down. We've all made mistakes, yada yada. I asked her to take it down. She took her blog private, so I'm not sure if she actually took it down or not.

On that same day, I ran a few posts on my blog through Copyscape and was overwhelmed by what I found. My stuff - all over the internet.

I emailed the people who were clearly trying to take credit for my writing, claiming they'd written the offending posts, and asked them to take the posts down, and they all did and were mostly very repentant and embarrassed.

A few people were posting my stuff because it came to them anonymously in an email forward, so I didn't bother contacting them - they'd done nothing wrong.

After a while I threw up my hands and gave up. It just isn't worth being angry about. The whole thing felt icky, and I was over it already. I put up another post about it, joking around and letting people know that if they stole from my blog, the mighty elves of plagiarism would come after them.

I feel o.k. about how I eventually handled it, but part of me wonders if I just made myself a target by my low-key, joking around response to the stealing.

I don't know.

Sorry for writing a book in your comments. Wow, I guess I needed to vent.

Um. Excellent post.

TheOneTrueSue said...

ACK. I'm sorry for such a long comment. Yeesh.

Kayris said...

Wow, great post and thanks for answering my question!
I check Technorati regularly and also have monitoring software installed, but like you said, that only alerts you if someone has linked to you. And if someone wants to link to me, that's okay. I mean, Hey! It's blog traffic! However, it would be nice to get a heads up. An entire post of mine turned up on iVillage recently, with a link to my blog, and a post I did for the Winter Bazaar last year on no-carve pumpkins has also sent a lot of traffic my way via a search engine called Mahalo.

I'll have to look into some of the things you mentioned to foil other thieves. Plagiarists are creeps!

Alison Kerr said...

Thanks for that. Now I know where to come when I 'make it'. Or maybe I can even take some defensive measures!

Janel said...

Excellent information. Thanks!

Kate said...

I don't comment often (maybe not at all?) but I do like visiting your site and I put you in my sidebar so I could find you easily and so the few friends and family who do visit my blog might visit yours too. Would you like me to remove you? I would love to keep you there but I never did ask if it was okay. I guess I didn't think of it as stealing (and still don't) and must be part of the unsmart gene pool. Sorry! Please let me know if its still okay to have you in my sidebar. Thanks!

Scribbit said...

Oh no Coconut Kate! (and any others who are afraid to leave a comment) you've quite misunderstood me--sorry this wasn't clear in the post as it should be--there's a big difference between linking to someone such as you've done which is wonderful and complimentary and taking someone's content and reproducing it on your site without permission. Everyone likes to be linked to--there isn't anyone who will be upset about that--it's when someone takes what you've written and passes it off as their own. I'm sorry, I thought I made that clear. Oops.

Jennifer said...

Since I am so new to the blogging world this was very helpful to me. Many thanks.

I hate to think I am doing something I am not supposed to be doing and not knowing it :)

I wish there was a list of rules or info about getting information and including it on your blog.

Is it bad manners to have a link to your blog on my blog without asking you?

Can I have a link to your blog on my blog? :)

stefanie said...

I read your blog regularly, but I can't remember if I've ever commented. I am going to comment today!

Here is a related problem I have, and I wonder if you have run into it before...

A particular image of mine keeps getting hit as a referral from google images in Germany and France. When I try to track it, I have no idea why the image is getting hit so much. I did some research, but I can't figure out a way to remove it. I removed the image from my blog, but the path is still in google images, and by hitting the path, the picture can be downloaded and viewed. Since I don't know what the search terms are and it's a picture of my daughter, I want the image removed from Google images. As I said, I did some research, but I really didn't understand if there was a solution or not. Any help out there?

I can't find my blog said...

Thank you so much for putting so much time into this post. It happened to me recently and I used your first suggestion (with help from Loralee, actually,)- to nicely ask that it be taken down. It worked great. The person was really nice and apologetic. (I asked her to only quote me, then link to me instead of 'posting' my whole article. She did-within about 20 min. of me asking!) I'm glad you talked about some of these other things (CCL, for instance). You really cleared up some questions that I've been having!

MommyTime said...

This is a fantastic post -- helpful, calm, tons of useful links, clear directions. I'm stumbling it. I hope. I just got a stumble account, so you will be my very first stumble, assuming I can figure out how to make it work. I'm also tweeting it as this is precisely the sort of thing that should be shared as much as possible.

I can't figure out where/how to add that footer to my feedburner account, though. I remember it asking me at some point in the setup whether I wanted a footer on every post, but at the time, I didn't know why I would. Now, of course, it's obvious, but I can't find the spot to do it or the directions through the "help" on feedburner. Any chance you have a quick answer to this question?

(And cross your fingers for this stumble novice...) :)

carrhop said...

Fantastic resource--thanks so much for putting together such a well-written and info rich post. While it's a shame to have to be on the lookout for this kind of theft, your information is so helpful to inform and equip.
Many thanks!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the awesome info!

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered what those Uncommon Uses links were about in Feedburner. I need to check that because I see keyword-driven sites scrape my content all the time! I usually find out because someone has clicked on an image and it comes back to me.

Also, I absolutely need to put that copyright notice in my feed. Actually, with TypePad, I think I'd just have to put it at the end of my posts, but whatever.

For Blog Nosh Magazine, where we republish bloggers' posts in full (with permission, which is really important), we've done a lot of research about the duplicate content issue.

It does appear that because of so many social bookmarking sites to which we all willingly share some of our work, it is not such a big issue. However, this is why you always want to make sure you link back to your own blog often. It helps Google detect which is the original post to which it should point traffic.

On that note, we also try to discourage bloggers from sending us their Google-traffic-heavy posts to begin with. Something to think about when we all share our work.

Crazy complicated, right? Love this post, though. You are quickly becoming my blog idol. ;)

Megan : Velveteen Mind said...

Seriously, that was one long comment. Sorry, woman. This is why I don't usually comment! I think it's a conversation and I keep blabbing!

Laura said...

This is just excellent stuff Michelle, thanks for putting it all together in an easy to read and easy to understand format for us. Awesome!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article about copyright. I really need to protect my music this was useful information. Check out my music


Annette Lyon said...

Great post--lost of wonderful information.

One point that dovetails with headless mom's comment is that there is a place for "fair use," where people can use a small portion of something--giving credit--and that's not plagiarism. That's how reviewers can quote books (or blogs or whatever) and not be in copyright violation.

Thanks for such a great post. I knew much of the legal hoopla behind it (being a writer myself), but not about the footers and a few other things. (Now if I can just figure out the footer thing . . .)

imbeingheldhostage said...

This was a terrifically informative post-- thank you, you answered several questions for me in one post :-)

Alexi Frest said...

Thank you very, very much for this post!
I'm glad to find it! It answered many of my questions.

Although you are lucky to believe that a blog is automatically yours. Unfortunately people know painfully less about copyrights and authors's rights, and they think it is natural to use someone else's intellectual properties. They can stole even from books, not only blogs. This is an outrage, and we must do something about it.

Kathy G said...

Thanks for all the information.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this! This just happened to me, so I'm so glad someone on Twitter pointed me to your research here. Much appreciated, Michelle.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Awesome post ... tons of great information. Thanks for the tip on using Feedburner as a way to monitor.

I'm wondering ... if we the article title as a search term in Google Alerts ... would that bring all occurrences of the article being used ... whether they gave us credit or not?

I've also done a Google search using the title in quotation marks ... but would need to be done manually from time to time *sigh*

Thanks again! *SmiLes* Suzanne