Copyright infringement on the Web has to be commonplace.
I say “has to” for a simple reason.
Individuals now have unprecedented publishing power. Combine that power with hundreds of millions of websites in the world and no systemic oversight on intellectual property theft, and you’ve got a recipe for copyright infringement.
To put it simply, nothing prevents a blogger or competitor from lifting your content and posting it on his or her site.
What the Law Says About Copyright Infringement
The law says that copyright infringement is illegal. That’ll be $250, please.
All kidding aside, I’m not a lawyer, and nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.
However, a simple Google search can tell you a lot about things such as intellectual property theft, copyright infringement, and fair use.
Below are a few key points for you bloggers to remember.
When Does Copyright Infringement Occur?
- The minute you publish an original blog post, you own the copyright. It’s yours. You—and you alone—have just created intellectual property.
- If your post is a “work for hire,”—that is, you’re a guest author for an industry colleague’s blog or you write an article for your employer’s blog—you don’t own it. The person or company that publishes the blog does. This may not seem right—after all, you wrote the piece. But remember that you were paid to do so. You were a hired gun, so you received a flat fee (and maybe a byline). But you don’t retain copyright.
- Like a picture you see on Google Images and want to use it in your post? You’d better first find out if it’s in the public domain or under a Creative Commons license. Otherwise you’re stealing intellectual property. (Images have copyright, too.)
What About Fair Use?
You can quote from other people’s blogs without asking permission if certain criteria apply. This constitutes fair use.
For example, if you’re writing a book review, you’re probably in the clear, as you’ll have to reference a certain passage in the book.
On the other hand, if you’re lifting marketing copy directly from a competitor’s website, that’s not fair use and constitutes intellectual property theft.
If you want to quote from someone else’s blog post, it’s customary to cite the source. For example, you might write the following, linking to the blog in question:
Here, you’ve taken the bit in quotes directly from a (fictitious) blog and have linked to that blogger’s site. (It’s the courteous thing to do, you know. It also can help that blogger’s SEO.)
With certain exceptions, you cannot grab full paragraphs or sections and use them on your site without the permission of the copyright owner. That is called copyright infringement and you can be sued for it.
You cannot publish someone else’s blog post on your site without permission. Again, this is copyright infringement. Don’t do it!
Intellectual Property Theft at Work: The Case of Alphatrad
I monitor our website’s traffic on a daily basis. This means looking not just at number of visitors but also where they come from, how they got to our site, and what pages they look at.
But I also examine backlinks.
Backlinks to a website are simply links from other websites that point to that site, and they are often good proof of the value of that site’s content. (I’ve seen backlinks described as “digital votes.”)
Of course, if you use a tool such as Google Search Console or subscribe to Ahrefs like I do, then finding these backlinks is easy.
This morning I opened up the dashboard of my SEO tool and saw that another website had linked to a page on our site.
I like getting backlinks as much as the next guy, but I was a little suspicious to see that a translation agency was the referring site.
After all, RedLine is a translation agency, so why would another business in the same industry as us link to our site when, ostensibly, we’re competing for the same customers?
It didn’t make sense, so I visited the page to see in what context the referring page was linking to us.
To my great surprise and endless frustration, Alphatrad had lifted a blog post—the entire blog post, verbatim—from our site and posted it on its own site.
RedLine’s Original Post
Below is a shot of an article that we first published in 2016 on a new type of language barrier. It occurs when speakers of rare languages simply have no access to online content in their language.
And it’s not because they can’t afford a high-speed connection, either. It’s because little to no online content even exists for them to read.
In the spring of 2017, we updated the post.
A Competitor Commits Copyright Infringement
Did anyone from Alphatrad approach me to ask for permission before publishing?
I sent them an email right before publishing this article. We’ll see if they comply with my request to take down the offending page.
But I’m not holding my breath.
A cursory look at Alphatrad’s site reveals that our post is not the only one that they’ve lifted. Their entire blog is made up content that they take—in full, verbatim!—from the Guardian, the Economist, and various translation blogs.
How to Protect Your Content Against Copyright Infringement
You don’t need to take any specific action once you’ve published a blog post. Remember, if it’s original content and you own the site where it’s published, then you hold copyright.
However, there are a few steps that you can take to prevent people from plagiarizing your work.
Before Someone Plagiarizes Your Content
The first step to take when “protecting” your content is to add a line in the footer of your website stating that you hold the copyright on all content that appears there. Here’s ours:
The second is to go further and publish a statement on copyright infringement right on your site.
You don’t need to threaten complete strangers with legal action, but you can politely stress that you monitor backlinks and will notify any site owner who has lifted your content.
After Someone Plagiarizes Your Content
If you’ve discovered that someone out there in cyberspace has used some or all of one of your blog posts, then I suggest the following:
- Monitor who links back to your site. Visit each page that links to you and see whether the blogger has done you a favor (essentially promoting your content, giving your SEO a boost, etc.) or is guilty of copyright infringement.
- Write an email to the offending publisher or site owner and ask for the content to be removed. State that the publisher did not ask permission to publish your writing and that it’s copyright infringement. A decent, attentive person will quickly take down the page. (In one case, we received an apology from the site owner because an intern—who thought that everything on the Internet is free for anyone’s use—had reposted our content without her knowledge.)
- If you don’t get an answer in a week or so, write another email stating that you are considering hiring an attorney to examine possible courses of action. This ought to get the attention of the site owner.
- If you still don’t get a reply, then your attorney should advise you on the next best step. Perhaps a simple letter from your lawyer will do the trick.
If you produce your own articles, then check out our process for writing great web content. Then use our editing checklist to prepare your content for publication.
Not comfortable editing your own content? Find out how we can help polish your blog posts.
Last, you might want to consider having your blog translated for even wider reach.