The internet has provided countless individuals and businesses with a platform to speak to the general public. Anyone can create their own blog, either by registering a domain of their own, or by simply creating a user name on one of the large blog sites and posting their thoughts. If you do it well, you may be lucky enough to attract an audience of people with an interest in what you have to say. Possibly the best feeling you can get as a writer is to inspire discussions or have other outlets credit you for what you’ve posted. The most frustrating feeling, however, comes when you realize that someone is reposting your work without your permission, often times passing it off as their own.
How does one keep their work secure in a forum as open as the World Wide Web? The entertainment industry has been struggling with this for years, spending millions of dollars in what can only be called successful attempts to halt infringement by the few individuals who’ve been sued by them. The internet is a big place, and stopping people from reproducing your work without your permission can seem like an impossible prospect.
The law is on your side. Anything you create is automatically copyrighted the moment you publish it. The US Copyright Office has a variety of resources available to teach you about your rights. They suggest that you always register your work with their office, as it can make legal recourse much simpler when necessary. Registration is not necessary, though. It is often a good idea to denote your site as copyrighted, just to make it clear that you do not appreciate having your work reproduced. Many bloggers will create an FAQ page and include instructions on how they would like their work to be shown and credited, if they allow it at all. Most bloggers welcome the added attention they’ll receive, so long as they receive credit for it. Sometimes preventing unwelcome recreations of your writing is as simple as asking people not to do it.
Slightly more work, you can set up Google alerts, a beta program from everyone’s favorite search provider. It’s designed to alert you via email when a subject of your choice is mentioned. When posting new material you can program an alert to be sent if a particular sentence from your blog appears somewhere else. This is nowhere near 100% foolproof, but it’s simpler and more efficient than nearly any other option.
What to do when you find out that someone has been using your work for their own purposes or trying to pass it off as their own is up to you. The simplest solution is usually to just contact them, inform them that you’re flattered that they like your writing so much, and request that they take it down. Most people will comply. If they don’t, you may need to resort to contacting the offender’s web host. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), web hosting companies can protect themselves from infringement lawsuits by quickly and reasonably removing the offending copy or images. Send them a letter of notice that their client is reproducing copyrighted material without permission and request that it be removed from their servers. There are plenty of places to find sample letters online. Usually this is a last ditch effort, but it may become necessary.
Remember that it’s almost never a good idea to resort to commenting on a poseur’s blog. That just invites the same being done to yours, which can spiral out of control and hurt you as much as them. Remember one of the prime rules of the Internet: Don’t feed the trolls.
(Image by kpwerker, licensed under Creative Commons)