Matt Carroll asked in comments, ”what happens if an article you write appears somewhere on the web without your permission?”
Matt, that’s a great question – I don’t think there’s a freelance writer who publishes on the web that hasn’t had articles, posts, etc. show up on another website, or even several, without permission.
I’ve had it happen to me more than once and so has every other writer I know who has a blog or posts articles on the ‘net.
Part of the problem is, that in spite of everything, many people still believe that because an image or an article is online it automatically means anyone can use it.
Obviously, that’s not true. Anything you write, at least here in the United States, is copyrighted even if you don’t fill out the forms. Many other countries have similar rules. Then there are folks who just scrape up content wherever they can hoping we won’t notice and they can make some money on it somehow.
How do I find out my writing has been stolen?
Some writers spend a lot of time trying to make sure their work isn’t copied. A service like Copyscape can help you locate theft, although the free version doesn’t search everything.
Tech Entice has an article called 5 Best Free Copyscape Alternatives to catch content thieves. I haven’t tried any of these because I think my time is better spent on other activities.
Occasionally I find out because the thief isn’t smart enough to remove the links that will ping me as a comment. Once in a great while someone will email me telling me they suspect I didn’t intend for my writing to show up at X. I don’t choose to spend a whole lot of time worrying about this or searching for violations. I have other things I want to do that are more important to me.
What should I do when I find my writing has been stolen
The first thing to do is contact the webmaster on the site where your stolen work has shown up. Keep a copy of the email you send – I actually set up a special folder in my mail client so if I need to refer back any of it I can.
If you can’t find an email address try: info@(site). Most legitimate websites have what’s known as a catchall address – any email addressed to @(site) will end up in that catchall mailbox.
The email should be short, polite and firm. Something like this:
On (date) I discovered that my article, (article title and your url) which I wrote for my blog (blog title and url) is also appearing you your site at (link to the stolen article.) Since I own the copyright and haven’t given you, or anyone else for that matter, the right to reuse it I’m asking you to take it down at once and email me when that’s done. I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. Sincerely, (your name) (your email address in case they print yours out and pass it to someone else) (your phone number).
I ask that the reader confirm the removal so I can double check and assuming it’s gone (clear your cache) can forget about it. Usually I don’t get notified. Often when I check back the offending article is gone.
I include my phone number because I want to be available to the webmaster or whomever in case they want to discuss the issue with me. I had one guy call and apologize. That was nice.
What if the stolen article isn’t removed?
If the article you wrote isn’t removed in a week or 10 days, repeat the email, noting that this is your second request.
You can try to locate a person to talk with. A whois search at Internic may result in finding a tech or other contact you can actually call. More and more sites, however, are opting for privacy, making it harder to find a real person.
At this point you can try contacting the host listed on the whois information. Many hosting companies will help once they are sure it’s really your content. Some may even take the offending website down. But there are lots of hosts who will take no action at all. It’s worth a try, but don’t spin your wheels.
Google may help by removing the stolen content provided you’re able to jump through considerable hoops. The hoops are a good thing – it shouldn’t be easy to remove content, frustrating when it’s yours that’s been stolen – I know.
Finally, although it’s not required by law, a clear copyright notice on your site or on your article goes a long way toward discouraging theft and can help you prove ownership if your content should be stolen.
Your turn: How do you protect your content? What have you done if you’ve discovered it stolen?
Write well and often,
If you found this helpful, share it with your network… and thanks.