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What to do when someone steals your written work

Updated on December 30, 2011
image courtesy of http://mimiandeunice.com
image courtesy of http://mimiandeunice.com

Hey – That’s mine!

There’s no feeling quite like it. There it is, your work, your brainchild, your creativity, your sweat and tears, proudly displayed on someone else’s site, often under some other “author’s” name, without credit or link to the original and definitely without your permission. You are infuriated. And rightly so.

Copyright infringement (or plagiarism of any kind) is theft. Those who do it are thieves.

Has it happened to you? It has to me, many times.

The first time was with one of my early hubs called A look at human rights and access to medical care, written and published two and a half years ago. A month later, another hubber sent me an email telling me he’d seen my article on a site called Xhomba – this being in the days before Hubpages had a “copied hubs” feature. Sure enough, when I navigated to that site, there was my article – verbatim – under another writer’s name. The solution was easy enough; one email to the site’s administrator and the stolen copy was removed.

The next time was a little more complicated. I had published an illustrated history of the US national debt in December of 2009, one of my best performing articles receiving upwards of 50 views a day. Hubpages by this time had begun their duplicate content review and one day, lo and behold, The United States National Debt – 233 years in the making was tagged.

I followed the link our Hubprogram so kindly provided, only to find my purloined article posted on a Chinese site, and yes, under another writer’s name – no credit to me, naturally. Every writer on the net knows the Chinese don’t give a hooey about copyright, and how difficult it can be to get stolen copy removed.

At that time, being totally ignorant of the remedies allowed copyright holders on the net, I began what was to become a month long campaign. Because everything on the page, except my article was in Chinese characters, there may have been an email address, or a contact link to the site’s administrator, but I wouldn’t have known, so instead, I started leaving comments. Every day, I posted a comment “This article was stolen from….” or, “The above named writer did not write this article; I did,” and “The use of this article here is in infringement of copyright as it has been copied from…” Eventually, the article was removed. (Yes, I am that incredibly possessive of my work.)

The Fair Use statute:

The doctrine of fair use developed over the years as courts tried to balance the rights of copyright owners with society's interest in allowing copying in certain, limited circumstances. This doctrine has at its core a fundamental belief that not all copying should be banned, particularly in socially important endeavors such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research.

Although the doctrine of fair use was originally created by the judiciary, it is now set forth in the Copyright Act. Under the Act, four factors are to be considered in order to determine whether a specific action is to be considered a "fair use." These factors are as follows:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

For more complete information click here.

The Fair Use Act

I had an intriguing response from the administrator of another site who’d copied the entirety of my article Interviews with Four Convicted Sex Offenders without credit or link.

He answered me with a copy of the Fair Use Act, stating as he received no income, he was entitled to copy my work and use it for educational purposes. (Not true! – he may have used short quotations with credit, but not the entirety.) I did some research into the Act (see insert to the right) and sent him my argument, but as correspondence continued, and I realized what he was trying to do: maintain a website with resources and information for those on the Sex Offender’s Registry – at his own expense and with no income, I ended up giving him permission to use portions of the article, provided he gave me credit and a link to the original.

But for those of you faced with a similar experience, The Fair Use Act does not allow non-profit or educational sites to appropriate your entire article, only to use quotations, with due credit given.

No, I’m not going to write a long and boring recitation of each and every one of my stolen articles and what I did. Since those early thefts, I’ve learned a lot so let’s just jump ahead to the latest misappropriation of my work.

The Rape of the Innocents -- child sex abuse ©

My most popular article is The Rape of the Innocents, a description of my years in child protection written in October of 2009, currently rated as an 85 despite the fact it receives hundreds (several hundreds) of views a week – every week -- for over two years. (I’ll never understand the rating system here. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact advertising is disallowed on this page.)

A few days ago, I received a warning the hub had been copied as you can see by the subtitle, and, thank you very much, a link to the thief’s site was provided. I went into action using the steps I’ve now made my practice in all such occasions, and that I will now share with you here.

What to do when your work has been copied

  • 1) Contact the thief’s website - Send the website a strongly-worded e-mail. (I no longer bother with sending a nice message anymore. Copy scrapers know what they’re doing is wrong.) I usually start with “This article has been stolen from…” giving my URL “and is an infringement of copyright.
  • 2) I wait, and if that receives no response, I send another, identifying myself as the author of the piece and providing URLs for both the original and the illegal copy of the article in question. I demand that they remove the content from their website immediately. I then save a copy of the e-mail for my records. If you cannot find any contact information on the website, you can perform a Whois search to find out who is listed as the owner of the website.

Hubpages has provided a suggested email which addresses the above points. You’ve all seen it, I assume, but I’ll copy it here, anyway.

“I am writing to you to avail myself of my rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This letter is a Notice of Infringement as authorized in §512 of the U.S. Copyright Law.

1. The copyrighted work at issue is the text that appears on: http://lmmartin.hubpages.com/hub/....

2. The URLs where my copyrighted material is located include: (removed due to my innate good manners.)

3. My contact information is as follows: (info removed for obvious reasons)

If this does not get the requested action, there are more remedies you can use:

  • Report to Google AdSense File a spam report with Google. – Usually, the reason that people steal articles is to post on websites filled with advertising in order to make a profit. The most commonly used ad service is Google AdSense, who have a strict anti-plagiarism policy. Google investigates all reports and, if found to be true, revokes accounts from those who plagiarize.
  • DCMA Copyright Infringement Notice - Under the Digital Media Copyright Act (DCMA), all intellectual property online is protected against unauthorized reprinting. To report a violation, a written complaint must be filed either by postal mail or via fax. Or, you can use an online service such as this one: Click Here To File A DMCA Complaint

I have never had to go beyond step 2 (a letter of intent.)

Would I go on to steps 3 and 4? You bet! It isn’t even a question of lost income; it is one of principles. I am a professional writer and I am as possessive and protective of my work on Hubpages (which I consider my private publishing site) as I am over my write-for-pay work. I did not labor over The Rape of the Innocents in order to fill some other blogger’s site, nor to have my work stolen and published as another’s work. I don’t want my reputation diluted by duplication all over the net.

So yes, I would do whatever it takes.

For those who would like to use my work

I’m actually a very nice person, and though I do see your desire to use my work as a compliment, simply taking it is theft, so if you’d like to use my words, contact me and ASK for permission. You can contact me through my profile here on this site, you know.

If this latest blogger had taken the time to contact me with “I really like your article and would like to use it in my blog,” I would have responded. BUT, I would not have allowed duplication of the article. I would have been happy to write something original as an introduction, and provided a link to the article itself. I’d have gladly given an interview with a link. I would have been pleased to help.

“But I thought you’d be pleased I copied your work…”

This particular blogger responded with the idea that seeing as she was working to stamp out child abuse (good luck!) she assumed she had the right to take it. She did remove my article, and wrote this:

“I have been asked to remove this persons article, as I was told I did not have permission to repost it.
Which is quite puzzling to me, as I would have thought that the person, who claims to be against child abuse, would have been pleased about me reposting it. But in no uncertain terms, I have been told otherwise.
We anti child abuse bloggers - particularly those of us who have suffered abuse - tend to take it as a given that if one of us posts something the others will have full permission to repost it, so as to give the article as much publicity as possible.
So I am very surprised about this persons attitude.” – stolen from her blog

As a result, I softened and sent her another comment to try to explain (which I fully expected would be removed as were the first two but was not.)

“You do not have the right to simply take someone's work and copy it on your own blog. I suggest you do not do so in the future.

Had you contacted me, I would have been happy to write an introduction with a link to the article. I would also have been more than pleased to offer you material from my years of experience in child protection.

Further, it would seem to me that plain good manners dictate contact before simply taking a writer's work and publishing it.” – my actual response

I was not asked. My work was stolen. There’s no other way to put it.

This blogger responded by trotting out her history as a victim of child abuse, suggesting “perhaps if you knew the gigantic monster we who have been abused are fighting you might have been a bit more understanding.” That I was cold-hearted for objecting to her theft. That I had no right to protect my work, considering her suffering and that of others.

To this blogger and any others who are tempted to steal a writer’s work:

My dear blogger,

No matter what your intent, copying without permission is theft. The article you so cavalierly copied represents hours of hard work on a subject dear to my heart and is not merely a casual blog. It has been read by thousands of people every month since it was published and I hope it continues to be so. Diluting the work by duplication will reduce the article’s ranking, making it less visible to anyone doing a search on the subject of child abuse. Therefore, your actions would nullify your intent.

I have been writing on this issue – including published books – for many (many) years, and I am not aware of any agreement, tacit or otherwise that would justify one writer copying and using the words of another. Indeed, we respect another’s writing as property of the author and would never consider filling our own pages with their work, though we may quote a portion here and there, with credit given, and perhaps link their work to ours.

Using your past as a victim of child abuse to try to shame me for protecting my work is outrageous. I have worked with many victims of crimes against children in the past and the one thing I’ve tried to instill in them is that the past does not have to become their entire life. (And I know that, firsthand.) I may feel sorry for your pain, but do not see it as an entitlement to ignore right and wrong.

My point is this: do not take someone’s intellectual property without permission. If you do, and you are caught, do not use your history to justify your wrong doing, and do not attack the owner for protecting what is theirs.

Yours sincerely,

Lynda M Martin

December 30, 2011

Comments

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    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

      Apparently Hubpages only tracks duplicate material for high traffic and long standing hubbers as I have not received duplicate warnings but still found duplicates of my work through others telling me. Hubpages finds it to expensive to look after everything on this site. I find the whole process of this issue depressing. It makes me want to go back to bed and sleep.

    • LindaSmith1 profile image

      LindaSmith1 5 years ago from USA

      Good information

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi Flora. I don't know about that. I've had duplicate warnings on hubs that got little traffic (and yes I have those) or hubs so recently published they have no traffic. I guess nothing is foolproof. Did you know you can set up a Google Alert for your name, your penname, your titles that will tell you when anything has been copied? I do so because often Google is faster than Hubpages. Aw, don't get depressed, but do take a nap if it helps. Thanks. Lynda

      Hi LindaSmith. Thank you.

    • LindaSmith1 profile image

      LindaSmith1 5 years ago from USA

      Looks like I need to set up my google alert again.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      It's a good idea.

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Harvey 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      This is a subject I have thought about now and again but have never been affected by. I would be mortified if this did happen, so knowing what to do in that situation is very helpful. I'm sorry to hear you have been a victim, but thank you for a helpful hub.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Emma. Never a victim, which is why I make it a point not to let copy theft pass. Glad you found the hub helpful. Lynda

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      I felt awful when this happened to me. This is very helpful in giving clear remedy options to the author. Thanks.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Yes, Express10, it does feel like a violation -- and it is. You're very welcome and thank you. Lynda

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks, Lynda, for reminding us of our rights as writers under the DMCA and sharing the best practices of dealing with those who would steal our work.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 5 years ago from Isle of Man

      I found this a very interesting and useful read. I respect the way you stand firm when it comes to protecting your creations and the way you go about. Nobody has the right to steal from another but in may cases the thief doesn't see anything wrong with what he/she has done. I have seen writers complain about their work being used without their permission but those same writers would have no problem using artwork without giving any credit to the artist. It basically comes down to an individual's perspective and what that individual sees as important. I don't see how a writer can think how what they write is any more important or took any more time and effort than the work produced by an artist or photographer. It could also be just down to plain selfishness and people just can't be bothered going to the trouble of giving credit. Any way I thoroughly enjoyed the article and appreciate the advice.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi drbj You're welcome. And thanks.

      Hi spirit whisperer -- I have also seen artwork used without credit here on Hubpages. I don't know why, when there is so much available in the public domain. Once or twice I've even seen a photo used with the holders hologram across the front -- showing it was not paid for. I personally use BigStock and pay around $1 or $2 for each image, subscribe to Flickr and to Corbis. There are also many stock photos free for use, generally of celebrities and politicians. Stealing an image is just not necessary and is every bit wrong as stealing someone's writing. But at least those theives don't put their own name on the artwork. Stealing someones writing and posting it as your own -- no way that person didn't know what they are doing is wrong. Or posting an entire article without contacting the writer -- ditto. I don't mind if someone uses a paragraph or two, but all of it? I understand it is in your nature to think the best of people, but... Thanks so much for commenting here. Lynda

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Lynda, I had it to happen to me. My whole article was copied with someone else's name. I alerted the person and posted it on facebook. I also put a short version of the copyright law. They do know better, but want to sound as if they are knowledgeable on the subject, and they are not.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi Nan, Or they are simply too lazy to do their own work. All of us may be influenced by what we read and may utilize the IDEAS found elsewhere, but not to use our own writing? None of us are knowledgeable on every subject we write about -- that's what research is for. So I would say it is due to laziness, not ignorance. Thanks for the comment. Lynda

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      I'm glad to find this concise information and will be bookmarking it for future reference. I've found my articles copied by searching the title on Google but I did not know an alert could be set up. Thanks for sharing this valuable advice. Peg

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Yes, Peg, Google alert is a good service, usually one two or three days later. And easy to set up. You're welcome and thank you for stopping by. Lynda

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      This hub hit close to home for me as I have had my creative work (copyrights notwithstanding) stolen on two occasions. This article is extremely informative and has wonderful, useful information everyone should know. Thank you! And best wishes for a Happy New Year.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thank you Genna. Horrible sensation, isn't it, when someone steals your work? Glad to have been of help. Happy New Year to you, too. Lynda

    • Charles James profile image

      Charles James 5 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

      A further possibility is to contact the web site's Internet Service Provider and complain direct to them, confirming that they will be joined as Defendants in a proposed legal action if the piece is still up 48 hours from now. They may just close down the site to protect themselves.

    • MazioCreate profile image

      MazioCreate 5 years ago from Brisbane Queensland Australia

      Thanks for a very interesting account of your experience of plagiarism. The contact info you provided will be very beneficial if the same thing happens to other writers.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Yes and thank you Charles. If I were to get no satisfaction from the person who posted my work, I would certainly follow your advice. Another writer I know said that he sends an invoice for his writing services when another site uses his work. Apparently that works well, too. Thanks for the comment.

      Hi MazioCreate. Thank you and glad to be of service.

    • daisynicolas profile image

      daisynicolas 5 years ago from Alaska

      Glad I read your hub and the responses. Google Alert it is.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Glad you're glad Daisynicolas. Lynda

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 5 years ago

      Thank you for a very informative article. Being fairly new to hubpages there is really a lot to learn.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Knowing what to do when you've been plagiarized is a big help, mljdgulley, as I'm sure your excellent work will soon be stolen. Glad to be of help. Lynda

    • capricornrising profile image

      capricornrising 5 years ago from Wilmington, NC

      Excellent. I give particular kudos to your comment about inappropriate image use right here on HubPages, which in many cases is unintended, but nonetheless wrong. Some of my favorite authors...

      I might write a hub!

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Some of my favorite authors ... nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more. Please do write a hub. Write several. I always enjoy reading your work. By the way, the hub I'm working on now was suggested by you... (Got ya curious now, don't I)

    • capricornrising profile image

      capricornrising 5 years ago from Wilmington, NC

      WOW!!! I am *indeed* curious!

      Well, I just wrote my first non-story hub and will publish it tomorrow morning when most of the country is up. Maybe the image one will be next!

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Oh good, look forward to it. Now, why don't you think what subject you told me to write a hub about... hmmm. It will come to you.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      Great hub. This happened to me recently when a site copied a bunch of hubbers' work. Fortunately it was resolved fairly quickly and the site was taken down. But it was such a shock to find my work copied on another site like that. I will bookmark this in case it happens again.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Good your situation was resolved so easily. I've had a hard time with some sites. Glad to be assistance. Lynda

    • Tammy Lochmann profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 5 years ago

      Love your retorts and admire perseverance! I shouldn't expect anything less of course.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Tammy, Hi! Are you suggesting I'm stubborn and hardheaded?

    • Tammy Lochmann profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 5 years ago

      LOL If you want to put it that way. I have come to expect a rousing rebuttal when you post one of your rants, it's what makes you fun to read. :)

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Oh. Okay then. (But I AM stubborn and hard headed, which are two of the traits I like about myself.) At least you think I'm fun. Lynda

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

      I am so sorry for what had happened to you. Thank you, Lynda, for your good advice about Google alert. I will do straight away. Happy New Year.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      You should do so Hello, hello as I'm sure than your excellent work it likely to be copied. Happy New Year to you as well -- may it be blessed, prosperous and bring you all you need. Lynda

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 5 years ago from Georgia

      Hello Lynda, This is such good information and so well written, I am bookmarking to refer to in case it ever happens to me. Cyndi

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Good, Cyndi10. What's the old adage: If I'd known then what I know now.... Thanks Lynda

    • Anamika S profile image

      Anamika S 4 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

      Awesome Hub on plagiarism. Some people do it out of ignorance but some are seasoned thieves. Whatever the case may be, they have to be dealt with.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thank you, Anamika.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 4 years ago

      Thanks for the information. I haven't checked if any of my work has been copied, but you certainly gave me some good tips. Thanks for putting this info together.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      So very welcome, toknowinfo

    • jponiato profile image

      jponiato 4 years ago from Mid-Michigan

      I just discovered that my most successful hub was copied to another site. Thanks for the information on what to do about it.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 4 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      You're welcome. Kind of a backhanded compliment though, isn't it?

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 3 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      I bookmarked this page. Thanks for the info.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Hi Lynda, I have to time to spare, but I'll be back to read this so stay right there.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 3 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      You're welcome Diana.

      I hadn't planned on moving, Shyron, so take your time.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 2 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I just published my first article on HubPages, and it was flagged for duplicate content. I've been writing online articles for a couple of years now, and this has never been an issue before. I removed this article from another platform where it was receiving hardly any traffic, which should have made it fine for HubPages. Now I come to see that my work was stolen and used without appropriate credit or links. It wouldn't have been such an aggravation, but the fact that it's impacting my initial writing for HubPages is pretty scandalous! Thanks for your information -- your article has given me some excellent practical advice about how to proceed.

    • lmmartin profile image
      Author

      lmmartin 2 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Yeah, the internet's a dirty place full of dirty players and for sweet little girls like us, it's tough. (That was my Humphrey Bogart imitation. Like it?)

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 11 days ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Well worth coming back to. Keep them honest, even those who never intend to be honest.

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