Copyright, DMCA and Other Ugliness

I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. Spend enough time and effort on something that you publish online and sooner or later someone, somewhere is going to help themselves to your hard work.

Granted, many bloggers do not understand that taking something they found online and posting it on their own site or blog is theft. But, as the saying goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Linking back to the original author’s site or including a single reference within the article does not constitute fair use.

In my research today on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, I found a blogger who wrote an indignant post about a DMCA notice sent to them by the New York Times. A huge number of the 120+ replies seemed to think that since the blogger was giving credit, posting links and sending traffic to the original pieces that should have somehow eliminated the Times’ copyrights or that the Times was simply being a big, bad, money grubbing meany for protecting their own property.

I wasn’t actually looking to see if someone used my work without permission. My to-do list is so long right now and sending DMCA notices is not part of my idea of Christmas tidings.

Someone emailed me about an article appearing on one of my websites. They were asking where my information had come from and for some further clarification. The article in question is called Foods Not Safe For Pets. In the process of revisiting the original source material, I realized that I had made a typographical error in the name of something by inadvertently leaving out a letter.

What I also discovered was that my original article had been copied, sometimes word-for-word and other times in pieces on a variety of other blogs, websites and forums. I have never received a single request for reprint permission and while I am glad the information is being seen by more pet owners, it’s so not cool that a number of folks failed to at least identify where the information came from. Giving credit would not have constituted permission but it would have at least provided an accurate attribution and recognition for the hours of research that went into the piece.

There is a bit of irony in all of this that everyone who infringed upon my copyrights by using my article without permission left a very tell-tale signature in the piece due to the error I discovered over the weekend. That one typo suddenly became a smoking gun leading to a number of folks who I now find myself sending DMCA notices to.

Personally, I hate the idea of sending some legalese-type notice to folks who may have honestly not realized what they were doing was unlawful. Trouble is, it’s hard to tell folks who knew they were stealing from those who simply didn’t understand copyright law.

It’s unfortunate that rather than being able to send a less confrontational and more personal request about removing my work, I had to send this official and threatening letter. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a happy camper that so many folks felt it was OK to essentially steal from me and I’m glad you couldn’t hear the not-so-nice words I shouted when I discovered the theft. But, I do realize that not everyone understands that “borrowing” someone else’s written words is indeed copyright infringement and something that I could ultimately sue them over. At the same time, sending a softer letter might have a negative impact on my rights as the true owner.

A number of folks have apparently used my article as source material for their own. There’s nothing wrong with taking known facts and creating a new work – after all, that’s what I did in creating my article. Where it becomes problematic is when the new work utilizes words, phrases and passages lifted directly from the original. Using my original phrasing classifies the “new piece” as a derivative work and not an original composition. The typo has been incorporated in several new works as well as some copyright infringing derivative works.

One of the people went so far as to even use one of the images that is part of my website’s overall design and which appears on several pages. The most disappointing case is where one site owner actually gives credit to another company for compiling the piece; which of course is not true. I was angry and disappointed to see that false attribution but a part of me wondered if the site owner who posted my content knew the material was stolen. Researching the contact info for that site owner led me to discover that not only does she do online writing but that she teaches others. One can only hope that she believes in the “do as I say, not as I do” concept.

So far I have received one reply and the site owner has removed my work. Needless to say she was not a happy camper either and was somewhat nasty in her reply. In my response back to her I suggested that she consider how she would feel if she discovered someone had copied from her lovely site without permission. I’ve heard back from her and now we hopefully have an understanding and no hard feelings.

Anyway, I posted this to vent a little bit. It sucks when you’re ripped off. But, I’m also hoping that some blogger or other site owner might see this and learn that it is not OK to post someone else’s work without permission even if they provide a link to the original source.

If you have posted someone else’s work without written permission, please remove it now. It’s painful to find out that someone, or in my case a number of someones, has stolen your work. It’s absolutely no fun to send nasty emails to strangers. And it’s not a nice prospect to consider the need to hire an attorney to protect your property.

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