When Copyright Infringement Goes Over the Top

Carol Tice

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

18 Comments

  1. insurance defense law

    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

      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

    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

    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

      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.

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