Intellectual Property Theft – a growing problem that hurts everyone in this writing business
By Susan M. Toy
Recently, I’ve become aware of the increasing amount of Intellectual Property (IP) theft that’s taking place online. It’s been happening for a long time: artists—visual, photographers, musicians and writers—seem only able to stand by and watch as what they have created is either copied and pasted elsewhere on the net without permission or no attribution at all is given for their work. Yes, there are copyright laws in place to protect us and the illegal use of our IP. But internet users seem unaware of these laws, or blatantly flout them, or truly believe that, whatever is on the Internet is free for their own personal use and by anyone who wants to copy and paste it into their status update or to their blog.
I’m going to speak specifically to the authors out there first, because I am one, and most of my friends are authors.
Be very, very careful what you post in its entirety on the Internet, or even what you share privately with others that has not already been published elsewhere with a copyright date proving your ownership of the rights. Anything you put out there runs the risk of being copied and pasted by someone else who usually does not have your best interests in mind. Save yourself the aggravation of not being able to claim authorship by just not sending it out there at all. I know we all crave—beginning writers especially—an audience for our work, but better still, it’s best to wait until you’ve published, or don’t mind when you discover a piece that eventually goes viral – without your name on it! (This happened recently to a friend. Imagine his shock when he realized that tens of thousands of people had read and enjoyed what he had written more than a decade before, but that those readers didn’t know he was actually the author!)
Here’s something you can do to protect your unpublished work: Date-stamp the first draft for the day you begin writing. Keep that original file in a safe place, off your computer, on a flash drive … or, email the file to yourself. That way you will have a dated record of the very first time you came up with the idea and began writing your piece. Should you ever have the need, you can prove your authorship, without a doubt.
If you do find you are a victim of IP theft, here are some suggestions as to what you can do:
1. Talk to the offender and ask to have it taken down
2. Failing that, send a cease and desist order
3. Failing 1&2, send letters to advertisers on the site OR to the site admin host. (I know that WordPress does not turn a blind eye to copyright issues and they will shut down a blogger’s site if any infringements are discovered.)
These are all things to do for free.
And, everyone … Please do read and become aware of the Copyright Laws in your country. Here is a link to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office and Canada’s copyright rules:
This Canadian Act states that it “prohibits others from copying your work without your permission. Its purpose, like that of other pieces of intellectual property legislation, is to protect copyright owners while promoting creativity and the orderly exchange of ideas.”
Please note that Canada, along with the majority of countries in the world, is part of The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which states that it “requires protection for all creative works in a fixed medium be automatic, and last for at least 50 years after the author’s death for any work except for photographic and cinematographic works. Photographic works are tied to a minimum of 25 years. Cinematographic works are protected for 50 years after first showing, or 50 years after creation if it hasn’t been shown within 50 years after the creation.”
The above pertains to copyrighted materials, but what about the Internet? Are we, as creators, protected against our work being stolen from the internet? The answer to this is Yes … and No, I discovered. It is up to individual creators to assert their ownership, so there is no question as to who may be the originator, should the work be stolen. I discovered this site that offers nine recommendations of ways we may ensure our IP is as protected as it can be: http://www.interparty.org/intellectual-property-rights-on-the-internet.html
Now, for the Bloggers and general Readers out there … Here’s what you need to be aware of when writing your blog content or reading creative works online.
On the Interparty site linked to above, I found this:
Whether or not an inventor, author, songwriter, or designer understands and uses the internet, he/she will undoubtedly come into conflict with the underlying currents of the internet. Someone will post his/her work somewhere. And since this activity is illegal, steps should be taken to protect one’s rights. Regardless of whether everyone is doing it and whether websites and software facilitate the theft of intellectual property, the owners have a right and a duty to safeguard their intangible assets.
Just as in most courts of law around the world, ignorance of the law is no defence. It is not okay to copy and post another’s IP just because you believe it’s okay, or think that everything on the internet is free for the taking. Or because everyone else is doing it, so it must be free. You DO NOT have that right. Period!
If you wish to post something you discover on the internet and share it with your own readers, here are some steps you should take first: Do everything you can to find the originator of the piece (and with Google, this is easily done by googling a large portion of the work); Contact that owner and request permission – and if the owner says no then that’s the end of the story; If the owner gives you permission, be sure that you include their name and the fact that you are posting with their permission.
However, the best thing you can do is post a link to the original URL where the creator posted their work. That way, there’s no doubt about whether you are infringing on their copyright and ownership of the piece, and you will also drive your readers directly to their site, building up their readership. I can’t think of a single author who would be unhappy with that scenario!
What absolutely shocked me when my friend was caught up in his IP theft situation was the ignorance of and the brazen attitude towards copyright law – on the part of both the blogger and the blog readers. They essentially didn’t care that the originator’s IP had, in effect, been stolen by this blogger and that no attempt had been made to discover the author’s identity before the piece was posted. When the blogger’s error was pointed out, a half-hearted attempt was made to cover her own ass, so to speak, by adding a disclaimer to the post. But the originator still was not named and the post was not removed. The very sad part of this story for my friend was that he had to sit by and watch as this post began to go viral, readers were commenting on how good it was, yet he had received no credit for the piece at all. Plus he will never have the opportunity to sell this piece to a publication now, because of its wide-spread availability online – for free. So it becomes a double loss for him, both in receiving neither recognition nor monetary compensation for the work he put into his writing.
I do believe that Intellectual Property theft is a heinous crime and that it’s been allowed to proliferate more and more due to ignorance of the laws pertaining to copyright, and the thought, by many, that anything posted on the Internet is free for the taking. It isn’t – unless we authors, and all creators, say it is. Otherwise, if the original artist does not give permission and doesn’t receive attribution, it’s plagiarism, defined as “ ‘wrongful appropriation’ and ‘stealing and publication’ of another author’s ‘language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions’ and the representation of them as one’s own original work.” And that is punishable by law in most countries.
So Authors, please protect your own IP.
And Bloggers and Readers, please be aware that you may be infringing on someone else’s rights if you download for free or post a piece in full to your blog without consideration of the person who worked very hard to create whatever it is you want to share and read.
Susan M. Toy has been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and a promoter of fellow authors and their books through the site, Reading Recommendations. She is also an author (Island in the Clouds and That Last Summer) and publisher, under her imprints, IslandCatEditions and IslandShorts. For more information, check out her blog, Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing
IMPORTANT NOTE for BLOGGERS
WordPress provides a Re-Blog facility to permit you to share other peoples articles on your own blogs.
You will note that this also includes showing WHERE the article originates from AND it’s author.
Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn / Google+ / YouTube and many other media share facilities do the same – FOR GOOD REASON!
SO if you do NOT SEE such a facility on any blogs / websites / media you visit, for your own safety, DO NOT take it upon yourself to copy and paste any of it’s content onto YOUR OWN blog without FIRST getting WRITTEN PERMISSION from the article originator!
Even then ALWAYS state the article originator and link back to their originating article.
This also applies to any Article on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or elsewhere.
Chris Graham (aka The Story Reading Ape)