Sunday, January 10, 2016

How To Deal With A Copyright Issue Online

Online Copyright Blog

If you write and publish articles online, it is not a matter of if your content will be stolen, it is just a matter of when. Eventually someone will violate your sacred text and use it as their own.

The first thing I tell anyone who is writing and publishing online, is to put a part of a couple different pieces of their writing into a Google search engine and cross your fingers. If you only see your own personal writings, then you're all good; for now. I recommend checking every so often to ensure your material isn't being stolen. So, let's say you do a search and you see someone is using your copyrighted writing? What can you do? What should you do?

Let me start off by saying that everything you write and publish online is automatically copyrighted. Whether you put a copyright stamp on every post or not, it is protected. I put a line of text at the bottom of my blog just to let people know that I do not allow others to use my material without my permission.

As far as "fair use" goes, I believe someone can use up to 40% of someone else's written material if they link back to the original content and write some of their own content around it. As far as I'm concerned, it is just proper etiquette to give credit where credit is due.

Now let me tell you about what happened to me, and then I will give you some solutions.

I was actually just doing a random search one day and saw a title and thought, hmm, that looks familiar... I then clicked on the link only to see one of my articles had been stolen in its entirety with no link or attribution to me! Grrrr... Then I looked at the side bar and through their tags and saw that every single one of their posts had been stolen word for word, from me! Over 350 posts total, making up their entire blog. It left me pissed off and scratching my head.. How many more sites could be using my stuff?, I thought. I then decided to google a piece of  one of my most popular articles, and guess what? It showed up in search engines. This time coming from a different site. Now I'm like, what the hell. 

I consider myself a pretty nice guy... until I'm crossed. Then I become a pit-bull. I told my buddy about this situation and he said:"strike fast, and strike hard." And that is exactly what I was about to do.

The first thing you want to do if you find someone is using your material without your permission is to try and send them an email. Let me tell you though: It can be quite a challenge to locate an email address at times. If and when you do make contact, you should state your concerns and ask them politely to take down your copyrighted work.

If that fails or you want to hit them head on, you can send a "Cease and Desist" letter. A Cease and Desist letter means business. And it means business now. A couple good templates can be found here: Stock Letters. If you are able to reach someone, sending one of those letters will usually do the trick.

For the one site I found that had stolen my most popular article (and were using it word for word on 2 different pages), I was able to find an email address, so I sent them a take down notice. I waited a few days and heard nothing, so I decided to contact Google to see what they could do for me. This is the site I used to contact them: Removing Content From Google.

After I filled out the form and sent it to them, they replied and told me that the user wasn't being hosted on a Google platform so they couldn't take down the posts, but if I filed a search engine form they could remove the posts from Google search engines. So I thought, well that is better than nothing. You can access that page here: Report alleged copyright infringement: Web Search. After I did that, I felt a little better, but the pit-bull wasn't done yet.

After some more online searching I stumbled upon this site: It allows you to put in a web address, and it will give you some information about who is hosting the site and sometimes some contact information such as an email address. So I entered the offender's web site address, and low and behold there was an email address for them that I hadn't seen before. I  then sent them a Cease and Desist letter, and BAM! All my posts were taken down. Ah, the sweet taste of victory. But things weren't done yet. I may have won a battle, but I was far from winning the war.

Now onto the big dog. The one who had stolen over 350 of my posts, word for word, with no attribution. This site had so many ads that would pop up, it made my head spin. At this point I  knew that they had been making money off of my copyrighted material. (Insert stern face)

Release the hounds!

Now I knew this next site wouldn't be so easy (not that that first one was), but I was in this for the long haul. I had spent years working on my blog, and I wasn't about to give it away to some two-bit thief. The thing I had going for me with the site was that they were using a Goggle platform (blogger). So I went to Google's site and noticed that on the form you can't list the whole site, you can only list individual posts. I started off by listing several and sent it to Google. They send you back an auto-reply telling you that they received your complaint and that you might not hear back from them if they take action and go through with your request. I figured this is going to take a long time to do this for all 350+ posts. After filing a couple times (with some success), they sent me back an email saying that I didn't provide them enough content and to emphasize the areas that infringed on my copyright. I was like, well, the whole thing!  I would write in the form they provided, that they had stolen EVERY ONE of their posts from me, but Google didn't seem to be hearing my cries. At this point I could tell I was dealing with a computer and not an actual human.

One problem you might run into is if the offender adds a few words to a post, then you have to highlight what was stolen on top of showing the corroborating links. It's all basically a big pain in the ass. There were times I would get done filling out the form and then hit send and there would be an error and it wouldn't even send. So I suggest if you are going this route and you have a lot of pages to report, just do a few of them per form.

Several days of playing cat and mouse with Google had come and gone and I thought, there has to be a better way to deal with this. I want the whole site taken down, not just a few pages a day!  I decided to put the offending website in this site  to see if I could get any sort of contact information. What I found was a contact email for the web host, so I sent them a DMCA Notice to Host letter. After a couple of days the web host responded to me saying that they couldn't help me, but here are a few links which might be of help. One of them that I hadn't tried yet was this one. Report of circumvention product or service. I filled out the form and explained to Google that the offending site was completely made up of my posts and that they were making money off of them via ads.

This time Goggle took action. I attempted to click on the offenders website and, BOOM!, it was taken down. A real human had looked into my request! What a relief. One small victory for bloggers, one giant victory for me!

Now, I'm not sure if the site that has stolen your articles has to be making money off of them for the above form to be of use to you, but that was the case for me.

In conclusion, I hope that you don't have to go through any of this, but if you do, I hope this helps you in your quest. What we write online is our intellectual property, and no one has the right to use any of it without our permission. If you have any questions, or have had any similar experiences, feel free to comment below.

Johnny Bigfoot

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