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Copyright, Blogging and Content Theft

Posted By Darren Rowse 7th of February 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

copyright.jpgToday Gary from DevOracles (follow him at @methode) shares some tips on copyright, blogging and content theft. Tomorrow Gary will return with a second post where he shares how he goes about getting copyrighted material used without permission by others removed.

First of all, who am I? I’m just another blogger, call me John Doe if you like, I’m nothing more than You or any other average blogger. I own a blog, I try to write on daily basis and always try to help others with reviews and IT&C related advice.

My experience with copyright started a few months ago, when I searched on Google to see what other bloggers are saying about a specific notebook. As most of the Google users, I clicked the top result and one of my articles showed up. But not on my blog. It was the exact copy of my article, the links, the images, the typos were all original, except the domain name.

Headed back to Google and started to search for full sentences from my posts and in no time I got more annoyed than I ever was: the search results showed me that dozens of my posts are copied as they are, without any modification, without a backlink to the original post and often these outranked my original posts.

I decided that I will not forgive this and will start a personal war against these websites. This is when I started to learn what is copyright, how can I copyright my content, to decide which license will best suit my needs, to write a proper Terms of Service and Fair Use Policy (TOS & FUP), register my work at a copyright office and lastly when all these were done, to force the infringes to remove my content from their websites.

First, what is copyright? Copyright is a form of protection –usually a document, — offered for the authors of intellectual work for example a blogger, which proves that the author is the real owner of the work and grants exclusive rights of selling and reproduction for the him or her. During the copyrighting process with the US Copyright Office, the author has to provide usually a “hard copy” of the work which is going to be copyrighted. This copy of the work can be for example a CD-ROM, a DVD or even a flash drive, which contains the work. If mailing these is complicated due to the big distance or other things, the copyright office offers FTP storage as well which simplifies the storing of the work. This copy will be deposited in a safe place and will be the evidence that the author is the real owner of the work and has all the necessary rights of reproduction or selling the work, and it can be used as evidence when copyright infringement occurs even in court.

That said, let’s see the Creative Commons Licenses. There’s a quite extraordinary fuss about Creative Commons, yet, I believe few of those who use the licenses issued by this non-profit organization effectively understand and realize what’s the license is about. It’s used on mammoth websites like Wikipedia, Flickr and even on the new US president’s blog (is that a blog?), Change.gov.

Types of the licenses vary depending on the needs of the author of the work, and they can be

  • Attribution – when the work can be used by others only if, for example the third party links back to the original work
  • Share-alike – if the work is reproduced by a 3rd party, it has to use the same license. For example a work copyrighted with this license, shall not be reproduced by a 3rd with Attribution license
  • No derivative – the work shall not be modified in any way, but may be reproduced in integrity
  • Non-commercial – the work shall not be used by a 3rd party for commercial purposes. For example, the 3rd party may not put your work on a CD-ROM and sell it on Wall Street

So far so good, I guess this was known by everyone. But did you know that even if you put all of these licenses on your website, the content will not be automatically copyrighted?

The Creative Common licenses are not meant to copyright the author’s content, but to grant or deny permissions regarding the use of his or her content by third parties. And that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Take these license as a few paragraphs of a properly written Terms of Service like CNN’s, it functions on top of an existent copyright but alone is just a nicely formed letter which covers what can and what can not be done with a specific intellectual work.

So, to be on point, if you use Creative Commons license on your website, that doesn’t mean that you’re safe and you can sue anyone who steals your work. You still have to copyright your work in a way which confers bulletproof protection, because if you have only a Creative Common license on your blog, you will much likely fail in front of a court.

Note that I said “much likely”. I said that because there was known case when a work which used Creative Common license and stolen by a 3rd party was defended in front of a court with success. But you should not rely on one single case.

But then how to copyright easily the content? And if possible, how to copyright your content for free? No need for Googleing and browsing 34 affiliate marketer’s website, I will answer. While content theft is sadly a concern for most of the bloggers and seemingly no country does anything to stop this, if you live in one of the countries which signed the Berne Copyright Convention you shouldn’t fear a second.

The explanation is fairly simple: in short, this treaty says that as soon as you publish an article on your blog, that’s automatically copyrighted, and yes, you are the copyright holder. You don’t have to provide anything fancy license or codes on your blog though those help if you arrive in court with a content thief.

As I said, it’s not needed but you should bring in everyone’s attention that the content they read IScopyrighted in the year when they read it and that YOU are the copyright holder. This compressed in one line should look like this:

© Gary Illyes – 2009

Of course even though I wrote that in this post, that doesn’t mean that, even though the article is written by me, the copyright is mine! It’s Darren’s because I transferred all my rights. (And now publicly stated this, too)

If you don’t want to use a Creative Common license on top of this copyright, you can spice the above line with the “All Rights Reserved” text. This way you expressed clearly that You have all the rights.

So, how do you know whether the country you are resident in signed the Berne Copyright Convention or not? I don’t know better location of this information, but this document, Circular 38a – International Copyright Relations of the United States which displays all the countries the United States signed this treaty with. If your country is in the list, you have automatic protection, provided by your own government who signed this treaty to protect Your rights.

Noteworthy, that this copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death, but if you don’t care about your great-grandson’s financial status, much likely this license is the best for you.

Now let’s see the Copyright issued by the US Copyright Office. And more importantly why do I mention this office and not the Zimbabwe Copyright Office, for the matter of the example.

Firstly, there are hundreds of thousands, or even millions of blogs on Blogger and WordPress.org. Most (if not all) of these organizations’ servers are situated in the United States thus when you publish a post, the place where it’s published is the United States. This applies to any blog which is served by servers located in the United States, not only the servers which are under the above mentioned organizations’ control.

Secondly, the United States joined two important copyright treaties which offers bilateral copyright protection for the author of the copyrighted work in most of the foreign countries. I say most, because there are countries which at the moment of this post didn’t join any of these treaties. To list some of the countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, North Korea, etc. but there are only a few (see Circular 38a – International Copyright Relations of the United States for a complete list).

A huge difference between the Berne Convention and the US Copyright is, that during the registration process with the US Copyright Office, the author has to provide a copy of his work for the office which will be stored as evidence. This will come handy when the author has to prove its rights in a court, for example.

This governmental copyright protection was tested many times in US and international courts and since a governmental office watched the back of the author, the vast majority of these cases were won by the copyright owner.

Noteworthy, that this service offered by the US government is not free. There’s a price for the protection, but is fair and acceptable. At the moment of this post this fee is a stunning, one-time $35 (USD).

As a final paragraph, which shouldn’t be considered advice. I chose the service offered by the United States Copyright Office because I trust them more and I consider a very smart move that I have to provide the copy of my work. It’s up to you what will you going to use but be aware of the fact that when you or an attorney which acts on your behalf contacts the service provider of the copyright infringes, this may ask for evidence.

But this is something for the next part of this article (stay tuned for tomorrow) when I will talk in a less formal manner about the procedure of effectively fighting copyright infringes.

Note: Nothing in this article should be considered a legal advice. Problogger.net and its affiliates should not be held responsible for any loss caused by misuse of the information presented in this article. If you need copyright related legal advice, please consult a specialized attorney.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. @Frank Carr: I refuse to forgive plagiarism when I actually know how easy is to fight it back.

    @Taylor: nothing to apologize for I fear. You have greater insight on the subject than me, probably you feel that I oversimplified the whole copyright law, and that’s quite true. There are sections in the law I didn’t covered at all, not even mentioned because it would really confuse everyone as it confused me. I covered the basics and I think i did it in the right way.
    Also, this is addressed to everybody, this is an introductory post for the next part, because some things had to be clarified before covering the DMCA take-down noticing processes

    Now another interesting thing, some examples of plagiarism taken to extreme: http://tinyurl.com/ac372z , http://tinyurl.com/cjspbl and http://tinyurl.com/b4cba4 . I found them using Google Alerts set on my name. How odd is that they copy an article which is about content theft.

  2. Thank you John for telling me these useful thing about copyright.

  3. Thanks Gary for such a great article.
    Registering your work with USCO is looking interesting as I have read a little on their site that anyone can register. This will help us lot who live outside USA and yet want to protect their work all over.
    I want to know as in beginning can we start protecting our work with Creative Commons or we should start state away from USCO.

  4. I wouldn’t recommend protection with the USCO but in certain cases because if you live in a country which signed the Berne convention your content is automatically protected by law and all the rights belongs to the author, that being you.
    Regarding the CC licenses, please do note that those are only licenses which grants rights to third parties to use your work. That works only on top of an existent copyright, it doesn’t replace or automatically “sets” one.

  5. Me too notice sometimes people are copying my content also.Even they are not useful not avowal they copying sometimes they may dont know wt is the content also

  6. Hi again, this discussion prompted me to ask and check, here are so far what I was told and what I found after searching for my old notes about this topic.

    JC John Sese Cuneta:
    1) You can not mix Copyright/All Rights Reserved with Creative Commons.
    2) By using Creative Commons, your content is automatically copyrighted to you first, then you release some rights.

    @JC John Sese Cuneta:
    1) it’s against the common sense
    2) Creative Commons does not replace a copyright, it just extends it and only works on TOP of an existent copyright

    It turns out that, for #1, we really can not mix (C) / All Rights Reserved with any Creative Commons license because the two are not compatible. (C) / All Rights Reserved is our claim that “ALL” Rights are reserved by the author. As such, any one who wishes to use the author’s work must first ask for a written permission. While a Creative Commons license, for example, CC By (which is very popular in Flickr), you gave away some of your rights, and thus it is not “ALL” Rights reserved any longer.

    For #2 above. As was quoted from my first reply, the “License” section in each Creative Commons License (which is the very first we will see when reading the Legal Code itself [not the Human version]), states that (quoted verbatim) “THE WORK IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT AND/OR OTHER APPLICABLE LAW. ANY USE OF THE WORK OTHER THAN AS AUTHORIZED UNDER THIS LICENSE OR COPYRIGHT LAW IS PROHIBITED”.

    This is actually the same in concept (and process) with the GNU and Open-Source Licenses. Original Works are first Copyrighted to you by the License you are using, then you share “some” rights, this is especially true with GNU/GPL and GNU/FDL (I use GNU/FDL in some of my works), other than CC Licenses.

    Anyone using a CC License can not enforce plagiarism, as all CC v3.0 Licenses states that anyone is “free to share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work”.

    However, it is very important to note that Attribution is required, the only condition that is true in all CC v3.0 Licenses:

    Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

    For CC users, we can enforce Attribution if not given. All other conditions depends on which CC License you are using. But definitely not plagiarism, unless it now covers “non-Attribution”.

    The most restrictive CC v3.0 License is CC By-NC-ND 3.0.

    Now again, I am not an expert about this matter, not even of the law (and I live in the Philippines). This is only the result of my own personal research and consultations in the past and well, recently (after reading this post, I have to consult again to be sure).


    Follow-Up on the Off-Topic TM sign:
    (I’m including this since we’re on the topic of ‘protection’. And I’ve witnessed brand-theft [if there is such a term or phrase] before.
    Just remember that Trademark and Copyright are two different things. Not because you have worked on your Copyright / Copyleft Licenses, does it mean that your brand is protected as well, especially if you have a Logo.)

    According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

    Any time you claim rights in a mark, you may use the “TM” (trademark) or “SM” (service mark) designation to alert the public to your claim, regardless of whether you have filed an application with the USPTO. However, you may use the federal registration symbol “®” only after the USPTO actually registers a mark, and not while an application is pending. Also, you may use the registration symbol with the mark only on or in connection with the goods and/or services listed in the federal trademark registration.

    (Bold, their emphasis, not mine.)
    Source: http://www.uspto.gov/go/tac/doc/basic/register.htm

    From the WIPO website (http://www.wipo.int/madrid/en/faq/trademarks.html)

    The TM symbol denotes that a given sign is used by the holder as a trademark (whether this sign is the subject of a trademark application or not).

    I asked about the use of TM and (R) 6 years ago from our local IP Office here in the Philippines, and TM can be used even if the trademark is “unregistered” (and as also stated above from USPTO and WIPO). The one that is restricted is the (R) symbol which means “Registered” Trademark.

    So, to anyone who wishes protect their own brands and logos, add the TM symbol. But again, remember that there is more power if you registered it and not just stake a claim. Just weigh things first, see if it is worth the effort and the money. Most bloggers doesn’t need to worry about trademarks :p


    Ok, now to read the all the comments since my last visit. :p

  7. Really educative article on copywright. All bloggers/ publishers are expected to understand and follow copyright regulations.

    The simplest to understand explanation has already been brought out in the paragraph above which reads:

    “…as soon as you publish an article on your blog, that’s automatically copyrighted…”

    The moot question is how do we stop the content-theft epidemic? Instead of taking recourse to legal action, which takes time and money, there need to be some simple system in place whereby the content thief and his/her site/blog bearing stolen content can be blacked listed and simultaneously banned by hosting company immediately pending resolution of the matter.

  8. Gary, it simply isn’t that easy to ‘fight back’. Most hosting companies will ignore your takedown request unless you have gone to the considerable time and expense to file all of the correct legal documents.

    For example, Google won’t do a thing against Blogger scrappers without considerable paper documentation being mailed to them and they’ll take weeks to process it. Most others won’t do a thing either. It gets even worse if the person or hosting company in question is located in a country with lax copyright laws. Even worse, you might find yourself in a fight with a blackhatter who’ll make trouble for you online.

    Bottom line, it’s not worth it in most cases to fight it. I still recommend just using good SEO, good content and good social media usage to stomp the lazy scrapper into the ground.

  9. @Frank Carr: My experience is that “fighting back” is quite easy and cheap. I successfully removed my content from 3rd party blogs without an issue except in one case when I filed a DMCA copyright infringement notice to Google and AdSense thus I ruined the splog’s source of revenue. Google was responsive, asked only one simple and correct DMCA notice, and that was all.

    I agree with you though regarding the good content. If somebody would ask me when to file a take-down notice I’d say only in extreme cases or when you have nothing better to do. I found it quite amusing to play the big-guy and send DMCA notices :)

    Regarding the blackhatter thing, what do you men?

  10. Gary, I’ll be interested to see what you have to say in your upcoming post. My experience has been that attempts to fight content theft and/or scrapers doesn’t bring much results.

    My site and many others sites are being strolen/scraped on a daily basis (or per post basis), with RSS feed aggregator websites displaying full text posts and images without permission to do so. One site in particular, Elanso.com, is based in China and DMCA notices and reports to Google have been ignored. I emailed the responsible party shown on the Elanso Contact Us page, but have received no response whatsoever, and Google hasn’t responded to my fax either. I managed to get “banned” from fav.or.it.com, who was displaying full feed content and images without permission, after I complained vehemently about their practice. Getting banned never felt so good.

    I’m not yet convinced at all that Google bigwigs (or other search engines) care one little bit about the “little guys” in the blogosphere. Finding out that your original post has been stolen/scraped is bad enough, but when you discover the stolen post ranks better in Google than your original and that they’re running Google Ads alongside YOUR original post, that’s when the gloves come off and I’m ready for a fight.

  11. @JC John Sese Cuneta: Bah, I mixed up the TM and R, sorry, you’re right, it’s my mistake. TM can be used anywhere, R has to be registered. I know only a bit about trade mark, I didn’t dig myself in it since I never had to use it. Though, sometimes I wish I to have a service which is worth to register it.

    @denis: regarding

    “[…]The moot question is how do we stop the content-theft epidemic?[…]”

    If Darren agrees too, I’d be happy to share some tips which I learned. But basically it would be a collection of tips which are already published somewhere on the net many times, i fear.

  12. Charles Baldwin says: 02/08/2009 at 8:31 am

    As a previously pointed out, a copyright exists from the moment the work is created, in draft or final form. Registering the work merely affords the author a way of documenting his/her copyright. Furthermore, I do believe there is still a fee for registering. So, if one is a prolific blogger then registering every article might get expensive.

    It’s also my understanding that a Creative Commons license is a method of spelling out what the holder of the copyright will and will not allow to be done with his/her work. There are alternative Creative Commons licenses which claim “Some Rights Reserved” and another which puts a work fully in the public domain. With respect to syndicated feeds, there is a group associated with Creative Commons at fairshare.cc that allows one to register his/her feed and license, and they attempt to track the content to discover if and when it is re-used.

    For me, the real gray area of copyright is fundamental to the nature of the web itself. In a very real sense, the web is one large hypertext document. The question becomes how does one protect one’s piece of that document without violating the rights of another contributor?

  13. @Gary: Eh, nothing to apologize about. You can register your blog’s name, it is a “brand” (and if you have a logo too). But yes, I agree, is trademarking worth it for the brand that’s going to be registered.

    @Charles: yeh, fairshare.cc. I signed-up for it a few days ago, just waiting for the data. Hmm, I should check now.

  14. “In the U.S. you do have to register your work with the Copyright Office before you can sue”

    Not true. You have to be registered before you can get statutory damages. You do not need to be registered in order to get actual damages or injunctions.

    “trade marks always has to be registered in a legal way, for a lot of money.”

    Completely false. Trademarks do not have to be registered.

    Maybe we should leave opining about intellectual property law to people who actually know what they’re talking about. This is one of those cases where bad information is worse than no information at all.

  15. Good info. I also found this step-by-step article on how you can go about copyrighting your website content yourself to be really useful.

    I also highly recommend reading plagiarismtoday.com

  16. Hi Gary,

    I appreciate your intent here, in helping people, esp bloggers, to protect themselves, but as many have noted above, there are a few significant errors in your research.

    First, as someone has noted above, Creative Commons (CC) is not meant to lay “on top of ” an “all rights reserved” USCO registration, because they are inherently exclusive of one another.

    Copyright (all rights reserved) denotes that you retain all rights to your work, and that technically, no one can repost, share, etc without expressly getting permission from you each time. To protect themselves, they would then technically want to get that permission in writing so as not to put themselves at risk of being sued by you.

    Imagine if every post that was worth sharing required a person to ask you, in writing, for permission (not only to re-post but even to distribute via email, or print on a printer and hand to a neighbor, etc.) Sounds silly, because it would be.

    In the internet/digital age, Creative Commons came around noting that this level of preservation of rights was silly. It was throttling the nature of sharing and the law was too restrictive for common practice.

    It’s too easy (and too beneficial) to share content. CC put together less restrictive copyright levels so that a content owner can retain certain rights while granting others.

    I’ve worked in close concert with CC directors here in San Francisco for several years with my content site (http://dublit.com), which is the first of its kind to offer creative writers the option of a traditional copyright in the upload process, or CC licensing. For creative writers, since there is another method of registering content with the WGA, we offer that as well as an option.

    Finally, your comment about TM vs C being that TM always has to be registered is also not true. Anyone has the right to stamp TM on anything that they create. Registration is simply a method to create an ostensibly neutral and easily referenceable 3rd party archive of that stamp having been created, just like registering a Copyright (all rights reserved).

    I hope that helps – the issue here is finding a healthy balance between hording content rights and sharing content with the world. Increasingly, sharing content seems to be getting more popular, and monetization avenues are being devised in parallel to support this new model of thought around intellectual property.

    By no means am I saying that you or anyone else doesn’t have the right to copyright and retain all rights, but the question is whether you actually want to, and if it’s the best strategy for your overall content distribution goals.

    The Creative Commons tools are designed for the more liberal levels of content licensing that are arguably in closer concert with today’s digital distribution tools and social norms.

    Warm regards and thanks for initiating this discussion,

    managing director

  17. “Regarding the blackhatter thing, what do you mean?”

    Your average scrapper won’t be a problem because they’re probably pretty clueless or misinformed. The problem might be that you run up against an blackhat SEO who actually knows what they’re doing and they pull some dirty tricks to get your site deindexed, your Adsense or affiliate accounts banned and so forth.

    I’m glad you had some luck beating a scrapper though. I haven’t had any success at it and deemed it too much of a distraction, too risky and too stressful to pursue over a year ago.

  18. I recently found a scrapper and when I emailed him he removed all my content off his site.

  19. Big thank you for the information. I have heard this creative common thing before but I got a great explanation about that today.

  20. I found this blog because I discovered that someone stole a good portion of one of my articles and mixed it in with their content. I used Copyscape to find the websites. There are 3 websites that all posted my content on or close to May 22, 2008, which leads me to believe that it is one person who takes care of 3 websites.

    I was very upset, but fortunately I found a protected (locked)pdf file, that I created, of a big portion of my website, including the content in question. The pdf properties contain my name as the author and the date the document was created, which was April 7, 2008. I also emailed the pdf file to myself on that date as an attachment and saved the email. I am going to send out cease and desist letters next week.

    My suggestion to everyone is that until you are able to submit your content to the copyright office, consider doing what I did in order to create a date of possession/creation that can’t be replicated or easily refuted by anyone else.

  21. Copyright has nothing to do with what people can and cannot do with your posts. You can write all your stuff using GPL license (like Linux is licensed and WordPress) or even BSD (can modify and sell the work) and still hold the copyright.

  22. We have an individual that used to work for us and stole our content and is now competeing with us. It appears that we can only file a civil suit aginst him to take this theif down…any insight?

  23. hi,

    i just started blogging about art events 2 months ago. It’s because I went to art exhibition/ performances/ museums almost every week, and loving it, and I’d like to share the experience with the world.

    So currently I’m putting it on my blog, with stories of the exhibited artwork. Is it legal? I didn’t ask permission for the pictures, obviously.

    Please look at it at http://goodlorax.blogspot.com and let me know what you think.

    Thank you so much !!

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