You’ve done all this work. You’ve spent hours trying to make the words perfect and the paragraphs flow. You’ve done research to make sure what you’re saying is accurate. And you create an EPIC post that makes the internet go wild. You do all types of cabbage patches and fist pumps to celebrate. Then someone comes and copies and pastes your post into their own site. In 3 minutes, they’ve taken your hard work and are now capitalizing off it. SUMMABITCH!
This happens everyday on these interwebs. Every single day, someone who is short on creativity and ideas takes someone else’s work without paying homage to the creator of it. And every day, there’s a pissed off blogger or writer who can’t believe this is happening to them.
What spurred me to finally write it this is the fact that someone took 2 of my blog posts and made a video out of them without giving me any credit. The video ended up on another website and got 90,000+ views, without any mention of me. The thief got all the glory without doing any of the work (he did get his wig snatched on Twitter, so that was comforting). And he felt he was actually doing ME a favor. Then Chescaleigh got her “Shit White Girls Say… to Black Girls” video stolen by Perez Hilton for his site. SMH.
Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. It is aggravating and reeks of your own inability to be original.
Over the years, I’ve been learning more about intellectual property (IP) and how to make sure I don’t get taken advantage of. According to Copyright.gov, copyright infringement “occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner.”
It’s been important for me not only as a blogger, but as someone who manages a nonprofit with a brand that is often infringed on. OFTEN. I’ve gone to many IP panels, talked to many lawyers who specialize in it and I’ve read on this topic so many times. So I’ll share some of this info I’ve learned with you.
Disclaimer: *taps mic* IS THIS THING ON? Please keep in mind that this is in no way supposed to serve as “legal” advice. Retain a lawyer for that. This is just MY knowledge. *drops mic*
Know Your Rights As A Content Producer
The first way you need you protect your content is by knowing your rights. The moment you press “publish” on a post, you own it. You don’t need to have your work federally registered to prove that you own the rights to it. Yes, having the official “copyright” from the government makes getting damages easier, but it isn’t necessary. So your blog post is yours.
People can use SOME of the content if they link to you in an obvious way. I say “SOME” because someone cannot repost the ENTIRE content of your blog without your permission (even if they link to it). Duplicate content on the web is not really great because it splits up your Google juice and SEO (search engine optimization). If 2 websites have the EXACT same content, Google and the other search engines won’t be sure which one to direct people to so it becomes a bigger problem outside of the whole copying thing.
And I also use “obvious” linking because if you obscurely link to someone’s work that you’ve taken, you’re positioning yourself to be seen as the original source, thereby taking the credit. In copyright infringement, that confusion amongst consumers and readers can be used against you and you could be penalized.
Do know that linking to other bloggers’ works is a good thing. It’s great because the blogger you link might get notified that you’ve linked to them and they’ll probably be pleased. However, don’t take the bulk of someone else’s work and use it for your own pageviews. A paragraph quote that links back to the original source? YES. 6 Paragraphs of someone else’s blog post copied to your site? No.
But how do you keep track of how your content is spreading online?
Monitor Your Work
To make sure that your content isn’t being used by any and everybody without your knowledge, you want to monitor it to know what buzz you’re getting. Or to just know what is being said about you in general on the web..
* Google Alerts – Sign up for Google Alerts, using words related to you, and get them delivered to your email inbox or RSS feed reader. I have many alerts set up, including for the phrases “Awesomely Luvvie,” “Lovette Ajayi,” “The Red Pump Project,” etc. Any words or phrases that are closely tied to you as a person or to you as a blogger/writer/brand should be added. That way, you’ll be able to keep track of your digital footprint better. Ignorance isn’t bliss on these eStreets.
Google Alerts isn’t just to find the people who might be taking your work. It can also let you know what other writers or bloggers are giving you props.
* Fairshare – This is a website that scans the web and compares it to your content. It then sends you weekly reports on what websites are using your work, and if they’re making money or dereon dollars off it. It also lets you know what percent of your work is being used. This is FREE.99 too and so worth it!
* Google and Twitter Search – Ever so often, go on Google and Twitter and search for yourself and mentions of your work. This isn’t about narcissism, but about necessity. They’re both real-time so they’ll tell you what’s happening now. Nowadays, your online reputation IS your resumé and you want to know what it looks like. Know what the internet is saying about you, so search every month.
State Your Permissions
Put people on notice about how you’d like your work to be used. Do you just want people to read it and share the link or do you want to give them permission to tweak it and re-use? Let your readers know the license you’re giving to your work, and there’s a couple of ways to do this.
* Creative Commons (CC) – Creative Commons is an organization that generates different types of licenses for your work. You choose how you want your work to be interacted with, and they give you a badge to use on your website displaying that license. So you can give express permission for your work to be used commercially, if that’s your intention, or you can make it be known that you don’t want your work altered in any way. The CC license is respected online, and can be seen on websites like Flickr or iStock. Get one for your blog. This is what mine looks like:
Awesomely Luvvie by Luvvie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
* CopyScape – Allows you to put up a badge on your website that says you do not welcome plagiarism and you don’t want your content copied. They also have a service similar to Fairshare’s, called Copysentry, that will find copies of your content online. That’s $4.95 a month.
* Create a “Disclaimers” or “Permissions” page – Have a page on your site dedicated to telling people how to use your work. Here’s my Disclaimers page. I also found a great one on Michael Hyatt’s website. It’s simple and very clear.
After doing all this, go a step further with protecting your work from plagiarism.
Register Your Work
Although your work IS yours when you press “publish” it does help to register it federally for extra protection. That added layer can make fines easier to get and the process easier in general.
* Copyright.gov – You can register 3 months worth of your blog posts at time here for $45 a pop. And it could be very well worth it. This can be done online too, so it’s not too inconvenient (although the process is a little confusing once you start the process on the website. Just read the instructions well.
Now even if you’ve done ALL of the above, your work might very well still be copied. Let’s say someone does steal your content. Now what?
Defend Your Work
* Request that your work be removed OR that they give you credit for it. – Tell the offender that they took your content without your permission (which they know) and that you certainly don’t appreciate it or consider it good publicity (which they may not realize). Tell them to respond to you by a certain date and time. Deadlines are good, and show that you have a clear demand.
But what if you can’t find who is behind the stolen content? Do a WHOIS search, using the URL, and it should give you the information of the owner of that domain IF they haven’t paid for private registration. If the person is uncooperative or you still can’t dig their info up, email their site host and let them know that your intellectual property was stolen. The webhost might pull down the site themselves. And ask them to respond by a certain date and time. They probably will not but it gives him a deadline of sorts. THEN move to next step.
“The DMCA makes it illegal to produce, and share copyrighted works. It also makes it illegal to offer technology, devices, or services designed to get around any copyright protection you have included in your copyrighted works. Penalties are steeper when the copyright infringement is online.”
So if your work has been plagiarized, you can send a DMCA notice to the offending party, asking them to take it down. There’s a DMCA Generator that collects certain info and spews out a notice for you to use. Websites like DMCA.com can help you file a claim too. When you send a notice like that to website or the host of a website, they have to take you seriously, or they run the risk of being liable if you happen to sue. Also, DMCA notices are what companies typically send YouTube when someone uploads a video they own to their channel.
When the host receives the DMCA Takedown notice, they must review and take action within 14 days. That’s what’s great about the DMCA. It requires social media sites to review complaints of intellectual property infringement.
If none of this works and you want this rectified, you can go to the next and most serious (and costly) step.
* Get a lawyer. This step is the last one because it can be a big financial and time commitment to do so. A lawyer can send the offending party an official Cease & Desist letter, putting them on notice that they’re infringing on your work and that you demand they rectify this.
But in deciding to retain an attorney, be aware of the mounting expenses that may occur. You should weigh the cost of suing and pursuing legal action against how much damage you think is really being done. It’s definitely not an easy decision for most to make, but it can be worth it to protect your work. For creatives who are financially eligible, you might be able to find a lawyer to do probono work or at a greatly reduced fee for you. Look for an organization in your area like Lawyers for the Creative Arts.
Your intellectual properties (ideas, writing, art) are priceless. Sometimes you have to fight against people who steal them.
It’s understood that nothing is truly new under the sun, but ideas are important, and others are short of them. Ideas we have are priceless, and when they’re good, people will try to copy them and make it their own. And there’s a difference between being inspired by someone’s work, and just blatantly copying. It’s not ok for people to capitalize and earn money or fame off the work of others, but it happens everyday. But just because it happens all the time doesn’t mean it should or that we shouldn’t try to rectify it.
If you DO decide to imitate, by all means, #PayAmish to the person whose work you copied to make yourself be great. And if you’re copied, fight for what’s yours. Plagiarism sucks!
It’s so necessary for fellow writers and creatives to know how to protect their work that appears online. A lot of use blogging as an outlet AND a livelihood, so to us, it is more than “just words.” I hope this helps in letting us all know what our rights are.
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