Content Theft: Someone Stole My Work!
In April 2012, for the first time, I did a search for my copyrighted content online. For years I’d not done it, fearing the worst – finding my content stolen. Sure enough, I found something. It turns out that a couple of my articles had been stolen by content thieves.
The most prominent reaction to this was anger – how dare somebody take an article that I took hours of every day, perhaps for weeks or months to work on, and in a couple of seconds post it on their blog or website, claiming it as their own. I was fuming mad, and rightly so.
So I went to the HubPages forums and complained about it in a thread. There wasn’t much sympathy. I was given a few bits of advice on what to do and sent on my merry way. This was a battle I had to fight alone, it seemed. On HubPages, you own the rights to the content you publish. That means if anybody copies your work and publishes it, you have to settle it. HubPages takes no responsibility, and neither do the other users. Some have been so kind as to publish hubs about their own ordeals and have given advice to other hubbers on what to do; what course of action to take. And of course there’s the learning centre and the FAQ which each have an entry on what to do when you find your content elsewhere – but they don’t cover all eventualities or go that in-depth, to be honest. Nevertheless, I used all of these and other resources to help me.
I fired off multiple emails to HubPages staff and endured a correspondence which went on for weeks, asking their advice. I poured over multiple hubs and articles online where people gave advice on what to do in a situation like this. It took me a while to stop reeling from the shock and anger and actually get in to action. I started taking names and URLs where my work had cropped up and kept it all in a text file on my PC.
I tried to email the owners of the websites in question, but conveniently they had no email addresses or contact information, and even if there was a way to contact them, you couldn’t get through, seeing as the server the email address provided was linked to was either faulty, or the email address was completely non-existent. A lot of these websites are spam blogs that harvest content from RSS feeds. So I would imagine that any email addresses associated with them aren't "real".
I tried to get information from domain lookups to see who the thief had registered their domain name with. Then I emailed that company (GoDaddy in this case) only to learn that you don’t go after the domain name registrar – you go after the webhosting company. So I got that information and sent them an email. They (IX Webhosting) had the cheek to make me sign up as a customer before they’d even help me with the issue. I made damn sure not to provide them with any info other than my name and email address (which wasn’t one of my primary ones anyway), so as to avoid being ripped off by them, too. How ironic.
They then told me what I’d read before – that I had to fill out a DMCA form and send it to them; that I had to provide my full real name, my email address in addition to the details of my content which had been stolen. Some other websites even require your street address! And this information then gets archived by a third party. Call me paranoid, but I’ve spent most of my time online trying to remain at least somewhat anonymous. I don’t really think I want to have my personal details online for all to see. I only give them out when necessary, and only to be viewed and archived privately by that company, for security reasons. The webhosting company, in addition to the information talked about above, also wants a signature – which has to be a digital signature, but can’t be typed out. And you can’t provide one in an email attachment either because everybody has been warned not to open attachments, thanks to hackers. So that means you may well have to resort to faxing or mailing a notice – and doing that intentionally is going to cost me.
I tried emailing chillingeffects.org, the resource I was lead to believe would supposedly archive this filed DMCA complaint, for more information on what details would be included in this archive, and didn’t even get a response.
"The most prominent reaction to this was anger – how dare somebody take an article that I took hours of every day, perhaps for weeks or months to work on."
It seems nobody gives a damn. Nobody is really willing to help. They don’t want to take responsibility or get involved. Webhosting companies aren’t worried about one little individual writer filing a DMCA complaint, because they know that most probably wouldn’t have the know-how or legal backing. They’re mainly worried about big companies with fleets of lawyers. Filling in a DMCA complaint is a daunting task – If you get it wrong, there can be hell to pay, with quite severe legal repercussions, especially if the other party files a counter-claim. It’s a serious thing. You need to know how to fill one out properly, and who to send it to – you must get it exactly right if you want to stand a chance of anything being done, and not something being done to you!
But it’s likely the little guys who stand the most to lose. I know of at least several writers who work on HubPages and elsewhere online, earning money from ad supported pages, or being paid to actually write. This is their job – and they might have more than one. Maybe several. These spam blogs and content mills are stealing money out of our pockets; food out of our mouths. They're run by amoral parasites who are no better than thieves. They are thieves. What they’re doing is illegal, but somehow it’s not as serious because it’s online. People argue that if you don’t want something copied, then you shouldn’t put it online. Fair point, but then how would some of us live? How would we earn our money, and pay our bills if we don’t generate content and publish it?
Putting it in print might not be the way to go for some. Writing online has its benefits. I can make an article as long as I want, write whatever I want (within reason) and the article isn’t (most of the time) subject to being mercilessly edited so that whatever point I was trying to make is lost; the punch pulled; the sting taken out. Writing online is preferred by some.
Generally, even though print is slowly dying, its standards are still somewhat higher. A person is still regarded as a serious writer or journalist if they can get their work published in a newspaper, magazine, or a book – that old traditionalist, technophobic attitude still hasn’t quite yet died out. Writers online are perhaps taken less seriously. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen columns in the newspaper where these snobs lambaste the quality of writing online, usually targeting blogs, and Twitter. It’s not all bad, and there’s more to the internet than social networking hangouts for goodness' sake. There’s a lot of good stuff to be had online. I, for one, prefer reading articles online for the most part. It’s more convenient, it’s easily stored with a bookmark, doesn’t take up space like stacks of newspaper clippings do, and the amount of content that can be on one page is quite astounding – just look at HubPages and how many capsules you can have in one article and you’ll understand. And quite honestly the standard of print has gone down in recent years, in my opinion. The local newspaper where I hail from for instance, is riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, factual fluff ups, and more.
But because of this revered reputation that print somehow still possesses, online writing isn’t taken seriously a lot of the time, especially not by the scrapers, obviously. It’s nothing for someone to come along, ignore any copyright notices and copy and paste your entire article and put it on some blog or worse, a content mill of sorts. But the main reason is because it's easy. Yes, plagiarism happens out there in the real world and not just this virtual one. I've yet to see any stats, but I would say from experience that it likely happens a lot more online.
It’s like Boris Johnson says of the internet: "I don’t pretend to grasp the economics of the web, which seems to me to be a colossal destroyer of value, reducing the price of text, music, images and voice telephony to virtually nil."
Websites like HubPages might like to think they can turn their back on us, the writers, when this sort of thing happens, but the reality is unless the site offers some sort of protection against this sort of thing – and I have offered suggestions, as have others – they risk losing their writers who are tired of having their content pilfered. The writers that made the company and website possible in the first place.
That’s the trade-off. On HubPages you own the content, you take the responsibility of making sure this sort of thing is curbed. Other sites might own the content you submit, and so they would likely follow up with any content theft, because it belongs to them.
Maybe it’s time to switch. I'm sure many hubbers already have.
Have you ever had your published content online stolen?
© 2012 Anti-Valentine