Most of us are creators when on the Internet. We think and we post our thoughts to websites, forums, blogs and social networking sites. We work on articles, tutorials, how-to’s and more! As soon as you post your thoughts or research to the Internet, it becomes your property. You automatically get copyright to the material – be it a blog, an e-book or your web-page. Very few countries require you to register your work for copyright and any work of you – digital or on paper – cannot be used by anyone else without your written permission. But like in real life, there are people on the Internet who will simply pick up your work and publish it as their own. This is known as Plagiarism.
Plagiarism and Online Content Theft
An argument arises that when the person – who picked up your work to use it elsewhere – is giving a back link to your work, it is not copyright infringement. But it is not the case.
If any person uses any of your work – no matter how small it is – for any of his/her personal benefits irrespective of whether or not he gives you the attribution, it is copyright infringement unless that person has a written permission from you.
Understanding Copyrights, Patents And Trademarks
The Intellectual Properties Act covers three specific areas:
- Content in any form: text, artwork, sound and video including animations
- Ideas and Inventions: Includes inventions that are still on paper
- Symbols: Business trademarks
For symbols, you have to get them registered as trademarks so that others cannot use them for their profit. Trademarks generally apply to products and services that are more of a tangible nature. Ideas and inventions need to be patented and they are the property of the person who gets them registered. While for inventions (patents) and symbols (trademarks), you need some sort of paperwork, you do not need any kind of paperwork for claiming rights to anything that YOU created. Once your work is published – irrespective of whether on paper or digital media – you own the sole rights to:
- Use the work,
- Allow reuse,
- Allow derivatives and
- Allow others to make profits out of your work.
If you are the copyright holder, it means that ONLY YOU are allowed to make copies of the work and should you wish – others and only the ones to whom you give written permission can use the work.
Internet Vs Public Domain
It has been stated, that the works available in Public Domain can be reproduced without the explicit consent of the creator (copyright holder). Since one can easily access anything posted to Internet, she or he may confuse it with Public Domain. This is not the case. Internet is not a synonym of Public Domain. Internet is a place where exchange of information happens. People upload their exclusive works to the Internet. Since the copyright act says that creators hold the copyright to their work published in digital form, others do not have the right to use it without the creator’s permission.
Most of the countries have common practices when it comes to copyrights. Under this common practice, a work belongs to public domain under three cases:
- The copyright holder gives up his/her copyright by stating that others can use it freely
- More than 50 years have passed since the death of copyright holder
- If the creator is government agency (not applicable to non-public processes)
This means that you can copy as much Shakespeare as you want and no one can sue you for it. There are many Public Domains resources available on the Internet. Examples of Public Domains are: CreativeCommons.org and Wikipedia.org. Even in cases of Public Domains, you need to see if the creator wants you to attribute the work to him/her. For example, you can copy-paste text from Wikipedia but you will have to mention the Wiki author’s name and maybe a backlink to the original article on Wikipedia. Just check out the bottom of the pages to see if the work is available for copy and if yes, the conditions on which the work is available for copying.
How To Protect Your Online Content
Though not mandatory, you can use some steps to prevent people from copying your work in any form. You must have already seen the copyright symbol: a circle with C in it and/or a circle with P in it. Both convey that the work is protected by copyright act and others should ask the copyright holder for written permission before using the work as it is or as a derivative. Such symbols are regular on book-covers, CD/DVD covers and even on some websites.
On the Internet, you can send out strong signals to deter copying by using a banner from either copyscape.com or dmca.com. While this may not work for sure, it may atleast deter some, and show that you take plagiarism seriously. Both companies are into detection of plagiarism on the Internet and provide free banners of different sizes that suggest that copying the contents of that webpage may lead to copyright infringement. If you put the banner and/or the copyright symbol with copyright holders’ name and email address in the footer, it should appear on all the pages of your website. Remember that the symbol with P in a circle should be used only for audio as it denotes phonogram.
The above, however, do not guarantee that people will not steal your content on the Internet. Many people do it thinking that they can get away with it. They had the advantage in the early days of the World Wide Web. Since the Internet is now an important place for intellectual data, especially copyrighted material, there are organizations that deal with plagiarism and piracy.
This sections talk about what to do if your content is stolen.
Steps To Take If Your Online Content Is Stolen
- Contact the author, helpdesk or website PR. Most probably, they may not know that the piece of writing or art or audio/video on their site is copyright infringement. Most websites have a Contact Us section that will provide you with telephone number and/or e-mail address. Also post a few comments on his blog, in the concerned posts. Be specific. Point to the disputed content, with links pointing to both the contents. Wait for a couple of days to see if they contact you or take down your content as you may have requested. If not, proceed to step two.
- Run a WhoIs search to lookup the address, email or phone of the website administrators who are hosting your copied content. Contact the administrators with details of copyright infringement and set them a deadline for taking down the content. All must be given a fair chance. Maybe this has happened inadvertantly or by mistake. Wait till the deadline expires and if the admins did not act on your request to take down the copied content, proceed to step three.
- Use the power of the social media to spread the word. If he does not allow comments to appear on his sites, then you can bring the conversation out in the open. The site-owner may try to wriggle out by saying that he was not aware or that it was one of his authors doing it. If it’s just 1 or 2 cases, you may give him the benefit of doubt. But if he appears to be a repeat offender or a habitual one, and if he refuses to take down the content, you may have to proceed to the next step. But be sure of your facts and your standing before you take the next legal steps.
- At this point, you can file a complaint under DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) with search engines like Google. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a law put in place by the United States of America, in order to crack down on the piracy of online media, software and other intellectual property. Learn more on this at Google Help.
Report Copyright Infringement With Google
Being one of the largest search providers, Google allows you to file complaints in case you know someone is involved in copyright infringement. You can also file a complaint even if you are not the owner of original content. It also provides for you to make a case if someone sends you a takedown notice and you believe that the content in question is your property.
For content related to text and artwork, you check out the Cease and Desist Questionnaire of Google that will walk you through some steps to collect information related to original and copied content.
Checking the Web Search option will ensure that the stolen content is removed from Google’s search results. Alternatively, checking the AdSense option will mean that the content thief is making money from your stolen content, and this can even result in his AdSense account being disabled. This works fast, as Google is quite serious about these things. You can also write to firstname.lastname@example.org stating that he is making money from content stolen from you.
For content related to YouTube, you need to check out the YouTube Content Owners Page that offers you options to use a single takedown, multiple takedowns and to make money out of the copyrighted videos.
Report Copyright Infringement to Bing, Yahoo, AOL, DMOZ
In case you are interested in getting the pirated content removed from other search engines’ database also, you may use the following links:
- Report Copyright Infringement With AOL/DMOZ
- Report Copyright Infringement With Yahoo
- Report Copyright Infringement With Bing.
All the above, including Google may send a copy of your takedown request to ChillingEffects.org. ChillingEffects is an information portal of cease-and-desist or DMCA takedown notices, submitted by individual who send or receive them. ChillingEffects.org serves as a database for checking out different Cease and Desist claims that have been processed by Google and other Internet companies. It also stores data about takedowns claimed by individuals. At ChillingEffects.org, you will find good information on how to deal with people involved in copyright infringement.
You may want to enter your takedown request with ChillingEffects.org so that it is visible to everyone who is willing to study copyright issues. Your takedown requests can help law students and paralegals in dealing with cases related to copyright. Your contribution to this organization may help in framing copyright laws for the future.
This explains what to do if your content is stolen.
We also recommend you to keep on checking the Internet for websites that may be hosting your content without your permission, using your favorite search engine or even Google Alerts. To check for pirated content, you may use strings from your articles as keywords in different search engines.
There are also some standalone plagiarism detecting software available too. If you know about more tools to report copyright infringement, please share with us.
If you as a blogger have suffered from plagiarism and seen your content being stolen, please do share with us what steps you took to takedown the stolen web content.
Co-authored with Arun Kumar
Some of you might want to check out my post on Useful blogging tips for new bloggers too.
Post dated 21st July 2012 updated and ported from TGC