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When Freelance Writers Get Ripped Off - Getting Your Money (Or Your Content) Back

Updated on September 30, 2015

If You Have Ever Been Ripped off by a Client, Keep Reading.

One huge drawback in the freelance writing business is the possibility (and it is always there) that you may not be paid for your content. Some writers combat this by demanding up-front payments, but many will be refused for jobs when they attempt that strategic move. There is a good reason for that as well. Clients get ripped off, too.

However, if you are a freelance writer who has been ripped off, you do have recourse, you can get your money, or you can get your content back. It is critical to understand that if you are ripped off, you need to be willing to accept your content back as an option. While you do have the right to be paid, the unfortunate element of this business is that even if a client commissions the work from you, you cannot force them to purchase it.

Once they do accept the content from you though, it becomes a whole different story.

Help! A client is ignoring me or refusing to pay! What can I do?

Stolen Content

When Does Content Become Stolen?

Officially, content becomes stolen when a client accepts the content but does not pay within a reasonable time. While 'reasonable time' is somewhat subjective, many freelance writers have contracts or NDA's of their own that requires clients to pay them in their desired fixed time after the content is shared.

Technically, until a client uses the content, there isn't a thing you can do about it. That is just the way it is. Now, if you have an attorney and you want to have someone charged civilly with failure to honor a business contract, whether written or verbally on the basis of not paying you for services rendered (the time spent on the content) than that is entirely up to you. The costs versus the payback would likely be small, but if it is the principal of it all, well, I can't say I'd disagree with that on a person level either.

Little is more painful and frustrating than freelance writers who have to rely on and budget their lives on the basis of freelance contracts, verbal or written, and then waiting... and waiting for that payment, that never comes through. And even though you can't make those naughty clients write 100 times on the board, "I will not steal content." There IS something that can be done.

When Unpaid Content is Posted to the Web, it's Time to Act!

Track Your Work - Find Your Stolen Content

With Plagirism Checkers

If like me, you have experienced rip offs in the past, you may also have a little folder tucked away somewhere with articles you wrote and were never paid for. If so, keep going!

If you are relatively new to the freelance writing world and are experiencing your first unpaid content contract, quit frowning, let that vein in your head quit pounding, and once your angry eye twitch dies down, keep reading.

Whether new to the business or an old hand, it is critical to understand from the get-go that accepting your content back (In many cases this will mean being removed from the site it is posted on) is a very likely solution. If that was too vague, what I mean is, unless you are ready to pony up that lawyer, chances are, you will not be paid.

However, the best part of being an astute freelance writer is that you probably already know of plenty of other places you could sell your content. In the very least, Squidoo supplies some pretty impressive passive income itself.

So once you are ready, run your content through, preferably, a premium version of Copyscape . If you do not have a premium version of Copyscape, you should still utilize their free option, or you can even use the free version of Dustball .

One you have found proof positive that your content has been posted on the web, we will head to the next step in the process.

Locate Your Clients Host

Smoke Out Your Content Thief

Locate Contact Info for the Client That Stole Content From You

In some cases it will be incredibly easy. You will follow the copy links provided to you on Dustball or Copyscape and there you will find a fully functional website, complete with contact information, social media accounts and perhaps even a phone number. You may need to plan on contacting several websites if the stolen content has already been shared, reblogged or otherwise copied on the web. Copy down all relevant information and prepare for the next step.

In other cases, you will find very scam savvy individuals who know ahead of time to remove or simply not add any contact information. In those cases, it may seem a lost cause, but it isn't even close. You can defeat them at their own game, and easily.

Grab the URL that your content is located on and head to Whois.net . Paste the URL into the search bar and click 'Go.'

Your search will display a few elements that you can use to pin down your freeloader. While a privately hosted display may show the page owner's actual name, address and plenty of contact information up to and including their home or cell phone numbers, I would have to advise against contacting them directly. Once it has become clear they are planning to steal your content, let the experts out there waiting to help you with this issue do their jobs.

Take a look at a very public domain. Mashable.

In this case, you would be contacting Godaddy to lodge your complaint. (No digs on Mashable, I am 100% confident that they do pay for all of their content, this is for example only)

Regardless of all of the information that you find on the Whois reply, you will still need to contact the host listed. How to do so is the next step.

Make Contact with the Site that Hosts Your Stolen Content

Remain Calm and Contact the Host

File Your TIcket in Full Detail

The largest and most reputable site will have a page or option to file a DCMA complaint.

What is the DCMA?

From Wikipedia

"The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet[citation needed]. Passed on October 12, 1998, by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended Title 17 of the United States Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of the providers of on-line services for copyright infringement by their users."

The DCMA will traditionally be a walk through of the questions you need to answer along with helpful information on where to collect it if you haven't done so as of yet. These are pretty self-explanatory and you should be prepared to provide the original content. (This is one of the many excellent reasons why one should never enter content directly into a blog or webpage. Always create it on a document source first.) Without a hardcopy of the original document you may have a difficult time. However, the original copy will show your creation date, which the customer service agents will weigh against the date/time the content was posted onto their member's site.

Nearly every host site should have the option to submit a ticket for a DCMA, however, for various reasons, the smaller sites may not have this system set up yet. In those cases, there should be a drop down tab that will come close to what your issue is, most commonly; File a Complaint or Report a Problem on the contact form on their site.

Be Patient. Someone Will Get Back to You

Replying to Inquiries

Most likely, the host's customer service representative will reply with some questions of their own. Don't let this bother you and it certainly won't help to take an incensed attitude with them. Instead, do your best to answer any questions they have and be prepared to again, patiently wait. If you do not hear back from them within 7 days, then it may be time to send a reminder, but in general, most reputable host will be quick to help you.

In my experiences, the host treat DCMA complaints in the more 'we believe your claim until we see evidence to the contrary' type of standpoint. They tend to actually work on the freelance writers side and will sometimes remove the content immediately and ask that their member provide them with proof of pay for the copywriting.

In any case, if you walk through the process with patience, positive communications and detailed information, you will likely enjoy the feeling you get once you see those hosts remove your content and return its digital rights fully to you.

When All Else Fails

Be Socially Responsible

But Do Not Set Yourself up for Civil Claims of Misrepresentation, Liable or Defamation

When all else fails the choice is entirely up to you. However, in the day and age of such advanced knowledge, tools and abilities online, I would have a hard time letting someone just walk away unscathed. If there are still folks out there that believe having a bad online reputation as a rip off artist will not harm their sales, than I feel it might be up to each freelancer to be socially and professional responsible to let others know not to deal with them in whichever way they choose.

However, there are some methods I have personally used that have had positive effects on my own experiences with non-payers. Here are some Do's and Don'ts that will allow you to be effective, without being unprofessional or illegal.

  • Don't post angry overly detailed messages to a bad client's Facebook or Twitter page.
  • Do post messages reminding them that you two still have to complete your contract over that content you wrote for them.

  • Don't email them a scathing letter including all of those colorful words you've been saving up for them.
  • Do write a professional email asking them to either remove your content from the URL's you located it at, or ask them to pay for it immediately. Allow them to pay in *any* way they say they can, even if by snail mailed check.

  • Don't be aggressive. Give at least two days for any replies to your contact.
  • Do be assertive. Let the person know that you consider it theft and will pursue it as you would any other theft of services or property. To the fullest extent.

  • Don't let them call your bluff. Unless you have a written contract that specifically states that you will provide the content for free, you cannot be held to any other NDA's or contractual agreements if the client doesn't pay. Non-payment is an effective nullification of any legitimate writer contract.
  • Do read into any previously signed contracts before you take any actions outside of attempting to get the host to remove the content from the web and return the creative commons/copyright back to you.

Give me a shout - Or leave a message in the Comments section below.

If you are having trouble with a stolen content issue. Take a few moments to shoot me an email and explain the nature of your problem. I may be able to help. Make sure to use "Stolen Content Help" in the subject line so you don't go to spam or get overlooked!

Have a stolen content issue, tip or suggestion? - Please leave them here!

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