While I know that you would never violate anyone’s copyright and publish other people’s content without proper citation or permission, there are hundreds of thousands who think that if it is on the web, it’s free to use and abuse.
Accusations of copyright violations are big deals. Some top journalists, writers, photographers, musicians, software developers, and others are famous not for their original art but for being caught plagiarizing, so much so, there is a Wikipedia article featuring a list of plagiarism incidents. Sometimes these people are infamous for how they responded to the accusation rather than the fact that they ripped off someone’s original content and ideas.
I’d like to share the lessons learned from two recent encounters with copyright violators recently, making this blog exercise a lesson in how to respond properly and politely when you are accused of a copyright violation.
I’ve written “What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content,” so consider this the how-to-respond-to-that-post complementary article.
Act Now and Apologize
The first person copied my entire blog post including graphics with no citation or reference to the fact that this was not his own material. As usual, a trackback in my Comments Panel caught my attention to the deed. I left a comment with my copyright violation copy-and-paste request for proper citation within my copyright policy or removal of the article. They responded within a few minutes without a clear apology, just a plea that they didn’t want to get into trouble. The content had been deleted, and not to report them for their bad behavior.
A flurry of emails went back and forth as I thanked them for their prompt action and assured them that I hadn’t reported them yet. From the wording of the emails, it was clear that this person didn’t know what they were doing, even though they told me they’d been doing this for 10 years.
Lesson: Act immediately if you receive a copyright violation notice or request, and apologize. It’s the right and polite thing to do.
Over the years, I’ve actually had some great encounters with those who respond professionally to a copyright violation request. Unfortunately, they are few and far in between, which is why it is so important to do this right, from every angle, including not plagiarizing in the first place.
- Set the post status to DRAFT immediately while you research it.
- Go to their site and check their copyright policy. Check for a Policies or Legal Page on their site. Also look for a copyright notice, often in a link to their copyright policy.
- Read through the copyright policy carefully. Most are vague, which means you should adhere to the least amount of content as represented by Copyright Fair Use laws. A general standard is about 10% or 400 words though this isn’t a rule, just a guide. If they are specific, obey what they have stated as the most they will allow.
- Note that copyright covers everything including text, images, design, and any graphics. Check their copyright for the type of content you are using.
- Verify that you have properly copied and cited the content within their copyright policy specifications and edit the post appropriately.
- Re-publish the post (change status to Published).
- If they left an email address, contact them through email to say basically the following:
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ve [deleted|edited|corrected] the post in line with your copyright policy and International Copyright Laws regarding Fair Use. I’m sorry for overstepping your copyright policy with my enthusiasm. I will be more careful in the future. Thank you.
- Go to the Comments Panel and delete the comment if they contacted you through the site comments. Do not respond to it directly or publicly.
- Consider it a lesson learned and move on. If they reply, do not reply back unless they specifically ask an appropriate and professional question. You’ve wasted enough of their time and life.
The quicker and concise your reply, the more professional you appear, and the greater the chance you may protect a potential relationship if one were to develop now that you’ve caught the eye of a serious blogger and web publisher.
Never Go Public or Argue Back
I took a glance at their site’s other content and found little that looked original. Most of it was done this same way with nothing original, I usually go straight to reporting the site in accordance with the DMCA laws starting with Google, finishing up with their web host if nothing happens within a week. It’s a painful part of my blogging life, so I usually reserve a few hours on a single day in a month to send in reports. In the past few years the number of reports I have to file has dropped significantly. Maybe people are becoming more responsible when it comes to other people’s content.
Unluckily for me, this person was unprofessional and took to arguing with me in the comments, telling me that he could do anything he wanted with any content. Who was I to tell him what to do with his site.
The comments were open to the readers’ view, all public. I responded kindly, the long-time educator at work, to patiently help him understand copyright law. This wasn’t personal, just the law. This was highly personal to him, clearly a bully, and thick as cement.
In school, we learn that copying the work of others can get us penalized in school, even kicked out. Why it is a surprise to find out that copying on the web can get you in trouble? It should be lesson one in learning how to blog.
He wasted a tremendous amount of energy arguing with me – just imagine what would have happened if he funneled all that energy into original content!
I gave up and immediately reported him to all the authorities. We’ll see if they take action or not. He can argue with them.
Lesson: This lesson is a two parter. First, never take a copyright issue public with the copyright holder and never argue back. Act.
Second, don’t waste your time on idiots. Seriously.
I learned a long time ago, but not soon enough, that you cannot change people unless they want to change. You cannot convince them if they aren’t listening or wish to be convinced. Pick your battles wisely and don’t waste your time on idiots.
Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today wrote about the ways plagiarists react when caught, using the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief to demonstrate their responses. They deny, get angry, bargain, make excuses, then accept that they’ve done wrong. He explains that acceptance is the best response you can get:
Of all the responses, this is the one most worthy of consideration as a plagiarist who is genuinely contrite and not deflecting are the least likely to re-offend. That being said, you need to gauge how sincere the contriteness is, but it usually is not a difficult matter.
Why not move immediately to acceptance when you respond to copyright accusations when the accuser is right.
What if they aren’t right?
What if you didn’t steal their content?
If the accuser is wrong and you have copied and used their content in accordance with their copyright policy (not yours) and within Copyright Fair Use standards, you have some choices.
You may defend yourself via email privately, stating your case clearly and citing their policy and Copyright law. They may back down. Keep emotions out of the communications. Emotions tend to get heated when the content we worked so hard on feels violated. This is about the law and the copyright holder holds all the cards.
You may edit the content. Instead of citing their content directly, rewrite it with a link reference, letting their words become your own without infringing upon their copyright as linking is not a copyright violation.
You may choose to remove the content. After all, it is their content and they may have reasons beyond Fair Use rules. For instance, I will not permit my content to be used on sites promoting cigarettes, alcohol, weapons, and other subjects. Such usage violates my principles not my copyright. If some asks me to remove some of their content from one of my sites, if I cited it using Fair Use rules within their copyright policies, and their reasons are logical and their response professional, I’ll remove the content.
All of this boils down to your blog exercise of the day.
Your blog exercise today is multi-fold.
- Check your copyright policy to ensure it clearly states what your copyright policy is for usage of your content. Without it, how would anyone know what your policy is for using your content.
- Check your own site to ensure that you haven’t violated anyone’s copyright, even unintentionally.
- In your text editor or wherever you store your blog notes, write out a copyright violation notice inline with the suggestions found in my article on reporting copyright violations. If you are nervous about reporting the copyright violation in the site’s comments, check out this article on how to comment respectfully or use the site’s contact form and include a link to the violated post.
- Add another template to prepare yourself just in case someone does hit you with a copyright violation. You may use the example above or create your own. Store it in your files just in case so you are prepared and not winging it.
We have a blog exercise coming up on copyright policies. Until then, here are some resources to use to inform yourself, and possibly your readers, on copyright and copyright violations.
- What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content
- Copyright: How to Quote and Cite Sources
- Blog Exercises: Quoting and Blockquotes
- Do You Need Permission to Link to Someone’s Content?
Above all, remember it is all about respect. Respect yourself. Respect other people. Respect your content. Respect the content of others. When communicating with another blogger or web publisher, make respect your top priority, no matter how defensive, angry, or accusatory they are in their communications. Stay respectful and professional. Don’t take any of it personally. It’s just business and you have to learn how to play well in this business.
Please remember, it takes a lot of hard work to write original content. Respect it.
If you share this with your readers, remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments. We love learning about how you are using these blog exercises.