(DISCLAIMER: I have familiarized myself with issues of copyright law through misery, mistakes, and loads of misinformation, but I’m a writer, not an expert in intellectual property. Since I’m not an attorney of any sort, this isn’t legal advice, and shouldn’t be treated as such.)
Scraping. Repost, republish, reprint. Theft. Tomato, to-mah-to.
No matter what you call it, there’s is little more infuriating to a writer than to discover that your work has been published without your consent. Maybe you noticed a strange ping back waiting for your approval in your website comments. Maybe you noticed an upswing in traffic to a piece that has been sitting in your archives, unnoticed, for months. Maybe you Googled your own quote (we’ve all done it), and there it is, three links down, where some fool has copied and pasted your entire essay into his personal blog.'There’s is little more infuriating to a writer than to discover that your work has been published without… Click To Tweet
Scraping, or the republishing of all or part of an author’s work without consent, has been a recurring problem in the blogosphere that has left lots of us at our wits’ ends. But it doesn’t just stop there. What about when your work was clearly the inspiration for someone else’s story, and they fail to offer you credit as the original author or post a link back to your publication? What can you do about it?
First thing’s first: you have to understand the underlying basics of copyright law. Copyright is defined as “a form of protection…for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished…original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.” (Source: Copyright.gov)
Copyright is automatic and free of charge. It immediately protects your original, tangible works. You are not required to pay a fee to own the copyright; you are only required to register your copyrighted material if you plan to pursue legal action for infringement.
TL;DR — Copyright law protects your original creative works…automatically and for free.
After that, recognize that attribution and permission are not the same thing. Your copyright gives you absolute control over the reproduction of your work: where, when, and how your work is disseminated. No permission = copyright infringement. (It’s worth noting that there is a sub-section of intellectual property law that applies to the use of excerpts and quotes called the Fair Use Doctrine, and this article won’t touch that topic with a 10-foot pole.)
Finally, even though it is highly recommended to help deter potential scrapers and content thieves, you do not need a copyright notice on your website to maintain legal right to your work. (Having said that, if you don’t have one yet, you should add one as soon as you’ve finished reading this article. Google “how to write a copyright notice”. It’ll take you 5 minutes, start to finish.)
So here you are with this original, tangible story (read: copyrighted work) and along comes some idiot who thinks that crediting you as the author and providing a link to the original publication is all that it takes to make scraping your work “okay”. He probably looked for—and didn’t find—a copyright notice on your blog, so he figured it was all up for grabs. What do you do?
Here are the steps to having your copyright infringed work removed from a website:Here are the steps to having your copyright infringed work removed from a website Click To Tweet
1. Contact the author or editor directly. (This is optional, though you may find it preferable to hopping straight to step 2.)
2. File a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice, which is sometimes called a DMCA abuse complaint. The DMCA is part of US Copyright Law, and you are not required to pay a fee or register a copyright to make use of it. (There are websites that will charge a fee to file these notices on your behalf, and I have no idea if they are legitimate. It’s simple enough to do on your own, though, so be wary.)
- Perform a Whois search at http://whois.domaintools.com to determine the infringing website’s internet service provider, or ISP. ISPs can be liable up to $150,000 per infringement for copyrighted material published on their hosted websites.
- Visit the home website of the ISP—not the website that posted the infringement—and search “DMCA”. That’s usually the quickest way to find their form.
- Some hosting services have a simpler way to report infringement. WordPress, for example, has a dropdown menu in the top left corner of their sites that allows other WordPress users to report content that “infringes upon my copyrighted material” and take them directly to the DCMA form.
- Complete the form. You will need, or be required to complete:
- the exact link to the infringed material (not that website’s home page)
- the exact link to your copyrighted material
- a recognizable description of the copyrighted material
- your name and contact information, including email, phone number, and mailing address
- a legally binding statement that you have a good faith belief that the posted material infringes upon your copyright and intellectual property
- your electronic signature
You should receive an automated confirmation email. The ISP will automatically suspend, but not delete, the link with the infringed material. It will allow the owner of the website 48 hours to respond. If the owner of the site doesn’t respond or chooses not to contest, the link will be removed permanently. However, if the owner chooses to contest your claim and you wish to pursue it further, move on to step 3.
3. Contact an attorney. You will want to discuss whether you have the legal standing to proceed, which will include registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office. I have never done this, and hope never to need to!
If you read this carefully, you might have noticed something glaringly absent from the list of things that a copyright protects: ideas. Copyright will protect your expression of an idea, but not the idea itself. The reasoning behind that is that a hundred people can come up with the same idea, but each will convey it differently.
So that great story that you had that a large unnamed website (*ahem*) used as inspiration for their post (which was not nearly as good as yours)? Unless they used your words, or expressed the same thoughts in a virtually identical way, there’s not much you can do about them being influenced by your story.
Because you can’t own an idea. Bummer.
I hope this has clarified for you some of the (lesser) points of copyright law, at least as far as I understand them. If you have a question, or if you disagree with something I’ve said, be sure to consult someone with actual legal expertise.
And if you found this because you were considering publishing someone else’s copyrighted work without their consent, I hope you’ll reconsider. Now they know how to fight back.