What to do When Someone Steals Your Work

It's so easy to steal content on the Web these days that it feels like "everyone" is doing it sometimes.  Whether it's through publishing your blog content from an RSS feed without consent (a debatable issue in and of itself) to blatantly ripping content from a site, what can you do to protect your rights when someone steals your work?  Here are a few tips to set things right:

  1. Check your content regularly... especially your most popular content (you'll want to make sure there's no question who the author is).  You can use tools like Copyscape, or simply search for unique phrases from your content in your favorite search engine.
  2. Send an email... a friendly email will often be enough to have your content removed from the infringing site, especially if it was an honest mistake of some kind. If a contact address isn't available on the infringing site, try doing a whois lookup (I usually start those searches with BetterWhois.com personally). If there's a private registration, try searching Google for "@theirdomain.com" to see if any email addresses pop up in your search. It will be pretty rare that you won't find anything at all. In these emails, I generally give them a set time frame (usually 48 hours), letting them know I'll be checking back at that time and taking further action if necessary.
  3. Send a Cease and Desist Notice... this will say much of the same thing that your email said, but it will be more formal, and would be your step before taking legal action. Inform them of their violation of your copyright, and when you expect it to be removed. Don't threaten to get a lawyer if you have no intention of doing it if needs be. You don't want to become known for being "soft" at playing hard ball.
  4. Bring in the lawyers... if the infringing party still refuses to remove your content from their site, and they have no legal right to display it, it may be time to bring in a lawyer. Depending on where you live, you may need to have a formal copyright registration with the government before you're able to sue. In that case, be sure to register your copyright the moment a law suit seems like a real possibility, assuming you haven't registered one previously, and you're within the time frame allowed for registration.

Tips to Protect Your Work

  1. While it's not always feasible to register everything you write, especially regarding things like daily blog posts, be sure to register your most important works (the ones that have the most value to you, that you want or need to be able to monetize exclusively).
  2. If you publish an RSS feed for your content, and you choose to include the full posts for the benefit of your readers who read in a feed reader, but you don't want those full feeds to be used on other sites that intend to profit from them, include a terms of use on your site for your RSS feed. Remember that just because you choose a certain publishing method, you're not automatically forced to give up any rights to your work and your ability to monetize it exclusively.
  3. Don't submit writing to clients without at least a partial payment up front when possible. Make it clear that rights are only transferred to the client upon full payment in your contract or traceable correspondence.
  4. Be active in protecting your copyrights in your work!  If infringers see that you're not taking the time to check and pursue them, they'll keep coming back for more content.
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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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