When Copyright Infringement Goes Over the Top

Copyright Your Articles to Avoid PlagiarismLongtime MALW readers know that in general, I have a pretty laid-back attitude about my articles getting ripped off online. Since I have well more than 1,000 articles bouncing around out there, I see it as sort of inevitable that at some point, one or the other of them will end up being reproduced without permission. I aim to breathe and let go. I’m making a good living. In the great scheme, I feel, it’s not worth getting worked up about.

Or at least that’s how I felt until last week.

I do run a Google alert on my name, but I’ve found it only turns up a some of the mentions of me that happen in a day. And I’ve pretty much vowed not to worry about it too much. My energy is better spent writing more articles.

It hasn’t been a huge problem. It does happen occasionally, and I contact the blogger or Web site in question and gently let them know: Hey, this isn’t OK. Thrilled that you like my article, but you’re infringing the copyright. To be legit, you need to introduce it, then use perhaps a paragraph (considered “fair use” under copyright law), then link to the rest of the story back where it was first published.

I find most infringers are simply ignorant of the laws. They just wanted to share this great content! When asked, they are happy to take the article back down or turn it into a link to its publication site.

Then last week I found a mention in my Google alert on a site I didn’t know, clicked the link and…discovered one of the articles I wrote for Yahoo!Hotjobs was being ripped off by a free-article site. (Editor’s note: HotJobs has since been acquired and shut down, so the site is gone.) Below the article was an HTML-coded version ready to one-click free download the story to other sites, too! With a little quick search, I found it had spread to half a dozen different sites, several of them similar article databases which offered to share it with others free. I found yet other sites that had clearly copied the story from that site.

This pissed me off.

This was not a young, naive blogger who didn’t know the rules. This was a serious ripoff, and it was set to go viral.

I was surprised at how mad this made me. After all, this wasn’t even my copyright! It was Yahoo!’s.

But my name was still on some of the versions that had been mixmastered into junk and then posted on these sites. Some were titled “7 Great Job for Working With Your Hands,” while others had become “7 Great Jobs for Working with Your Hand” (which sounded vaguely porno to me). Some had chopped off the introductory paragraph. Some had no byline, some had someone else’s. I wasn’t sure which made me madder — the sites where I wasn’t credited, or the crappy sites where my name now appeared — places I wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead writing for.

A lot of top bloggers take the attitude that obsessing on who’s plagiarizing from you is unproductive and generates negative energy. Some openly invite people to just rip them off, because they’ve made a decision not to care. And I thought, “Right on.”

Until this. I wanted these ripoff versions of my article taken down so bad!

I began contacting all the sites and asking them to take the post down. Some did. Some sent insulting messages back. Those that didn’t comply, I sent on to my editor. One by one, most of the sites have since taken the article down…though researching to write this, I found one more! This story may ping around the Internet in various permutations forever now. Even Yahoo!, with all the staff at its disposal, may not want to devote the energy required to stamp it out. They’d have to contact the Internet Service Provider of each site and make their case for getting the site shut down, which could be a lot of work in this situation.

So what did I learn? I found what happened deeply disturbing — it showed me the potential the Internet has to rip off writers and mess with their reputations.  It made me hope any business thinking about using article directories for cheap or free content to help drive traffic to their sites will look a little closer at those sites and make sure what they’re downloading is really available for their free reproduction. Do a quick Google search on some key phrases in that story, and see where it might have originated…you may be surprised.

And now, once again, it’s time to breathe and let go. This article may be ripped off 500 times, and there isn’t going to be a lot I can do about it — except go out and write more great articles. So that’s my plan.

Have you been plagiarized, or had your copyright infringed online? If so, how did you handle it? Leave a comment and add your perspective.

If you enjoyed this post, tell a writer friend…and then subscribe so you don’t miss any tips on how to earn more from your writing.

Photo via Flickr user Horia Varlan

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18 comments on “When Copyright Infringement Goes Over the Top
  1. Hey, just wanted to say that as a business attorney I found your blog to be great and informative. Take a look at mine and give me feedback if you would, since I’m fairly new at this.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Michael —

      As it happens, I do work with several small businesses on their blogs, including some attorney sites…feel free to contact me via the email link on the upper-right there if you’re interested in learning more about how I could help!

  2. Carol Tice says:

    Just have to add a final piece of hilarity to this story — one of the article sites that ripped off my piece, put it under a false name and has not taken it down posted my comment that the article has been plagiarized right under the story!

    So hopefully folks thinking about using it will read and not reproduce…but I just think it's so funny that they would allow that comment…yet apparently not read the comment and see what I'm saying about their site.

  3. Alice says:

    Carol,

    That is disturbing to say the least. And what was all the vitriol thrown your way on the link to WAHM? It comes down to basic preschool ground rules of "what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours." Who wants their name associated with inferior content? That's not being elitist. It's just plain fair.

    Alice

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, thanks for the support, Alice! But I'm completely used to it at this point.

      It's a question of different audiences. Many people on the mills aren't really trying to pursue a full-time, great-paying freelance writing career. They're just trying to earn a little money with the small amount of free time they have. Which is great.

      I write here for people who want to build really good-paying, sustainable writing careers. Which is why I advise them to seek out better-paying markets that have a better reputation for quality.

      As I wrote back on WAHM, I don't care if people call me names for trying to help them earn more from writing. If one person gets one better-paying client because of one thing I wrote once, I'll consider it all worthwhile. My mission is to help lift up writers' self-esteem and help them see they deserve good pay, and give them tips on how to find it. That's the whole agenda.

  4. Kendahl says:

    Thank you for writing about this experience. I value your perspective because I know you've dealt with this issue more often than I have. It's so frustrating to think that your work is out there, possibly mangled, on a site you've never heard of. I can see how you would have to let go before it it drove you mad. I always ask to have my content removed or linked, though I don't keep as close an eye on it as I used to. The one that made me really mad was this guy who had taken content not only from me, but loads of other people to promote the website for his theater. I told him that he should take down all of the content, because he didn't have permission, but he only replaced my article with a link. It upset me that he knew he was doing wrong and he didn't care.

    But anyway, yes, let it go, breathe. . .

  5. Susan says:

    Wow – that is awful! I write for Yahoo! HotJobs, too, so I wonder if any of my pieces have been ripped off. If it’s any consolation, I suspect that if your name was attached to one of those articles, it wouldn’t rank very high in Google (since it’s semi-spammy).

    • Carol Tice says:

      My pieces for them often end up on the front page…so they're widely seen, which I always thought was great…but clearly I've now learned there's a potential dark side, too, as they're also seen by spammy article sites.

  6. Carol Tice says:

    @Anne — I think in the end your attitude is probably best! Because looking over all the mangling of your work on ripoff sites just isn't good for the blood pressure. And as you say, better to be off writing more.

  7. Anne Wayman says:

    Hi Carol, when it comes to people plagiarizing my work I keep both eyes tightly shut. Mostly I ignore this because it's just so easy for me to write another article – a blessing I'm grateful for. The other reason is because it can be such a time sink trying to find the article and get them down. Back when I was with About.com and later with b5media.com they would send letters and since both outfits were pretty well known, the articles usually came down.

    But when I think about the whole copyright issue long term – not just my articles, but books, movies, music, etc. I don't have any answers. It's not really true that information wants to be free – information doesn't care, but those of us who generate information for others sure do, and we want and deserve to be paid.

    I doubt my attitude is contributing to a solution, but maybe when you and I remember to breathe in and out it does.

    A

  8. Carol Tice says:

    Hi Linda!

    Thanks for making my day. Nice to know there's someone who doesn't think I'm an elitist snob for trying to help writers earn more and get off the content-mill gerbil wheel, like they did this week over at WAHM.com.

  9. Linda Prior says:

    Carol, thanks for the informative post. Geez, I had not idea such things happened but from now on, I'll keep an eye out. I realize, of course, that there will be little I can do about it, but good to know this happens.

    On another note, thanks for your blog. Your postings are always relevant and helpful.

    Best,

    Linda

  10. Jules Smith says:

    Hello Carol,

    I recently had a similar experience. An article I wrote a couple of years ago showed up on a site, butchered almost beyond recognition, but with my byline intact. If it hadn't been for the byline I wouldn't have cared … too much. But my name on a mangled piece of junk just makes me look like an ESL dropout.

    The owner of the blog removed the article at my request and told me where he'd got it, some scam content mill that encourages users to "spin" articles by stuffing them with synonyms. I sent a note asking them to remove it. After a series of frustrating exchanges in which they insisted they can't find it on their site unless I send them the original (like I'm going to do that!) I finally gave up.

    Live and learn.

    • Carol Tice says:

      @Jules —

      Oh, I sent them all the original so they could see for themselves. Guess I didn't see the harm in that — they've already ripped it off, after all!

      It's not that there's nothing we can do about these infringers. If we want, we can take the time to contact their ISP, present our case, and try to get them tossed off the Internet. And that works, too — wonderful Angela Hoy of Writer's Weekly describes how you do it and provides a link to the form you fill out here.

      Which works great for a single offender. But in my case where it was replicating off disreputable article-marketing sites, it could take up your whole life! I'm certainly free to pursue it, but I felt that's not the best use of my time.

  11. Carol Tice says:

    John — What a great point! There should be a way for writers to do that, too…but cut and paste is just too easy.

  12. John White says:

    I see your frustration. I suspect that photographers see this all the time as well. Too bad we can't digitally watermark our articles as they can.

  13. Perry Rose says:

    "'7 Great Jobs for Working with Your Hand” (which sounded vaguely porno to me)." lol

    You're not only cute, you're funny.

    For me, personally, I wouldn't bother with them, because they have only a couple of hundred or so hits a day. If that many. Like, km37.com.

    Just about all of these sites will be hitting the dirt in due time anyway, so….

    And, I would venture to guess that their bounce rate is higher than my neighbor's ugly-looking TV antena.

    Some of these sites may look professional, and they get a lot of traffic and repeat traffic, but, um, nope.

  14. Juegos says:

    I like this blog entry, as well as this whole blog

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