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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, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. I think the best way to deter content theft is to fill your articles full of links back to your own site and images with watermarks. People can tell if an article is copied if the links go to a different site but are mentioned in first person.

  2. How often do you do this? Wouldn’t you have to send every post to the copyright office before being published (as rss thieves are going to post it immediately)?

  3. Thank you for the most thorough piece I’ve read on copyright in six months of blogging. The depth is much appreciated.

  4. Very interesting for sure. One thing that is a little confusing though, is the constant use of the verb “to copyright.” My understanding (I’m no lawyer) is that a copyright comes into existence the moment a work is created. So, you can’t really copyright anything better, worse, or more securely. A copyright simply _is_.

    I think the focus is really registration and enforcement rather than how “to copyright” something.

    That enforcement and registration process should include: proper (and on time) registration,
    copyright warnings / notices watermarks, etc (not required, but a really good idea)
    education of the public that one’s work is not there simply for the taking.

  5. Thanks for this great read. I had someone copying a lot of my content for a while, but I was able to stop them. This piece should protect me for next time.

  6. Great article!

    Do you have any extra info or tactics on how to track down bloggers who may be copying your content?

    I always put a lot of thought into my blog’s content, and it would really tick me off if the time & thought that I put into my site was ripped off by someone else.

    Thanks for the info…

  7. @AgentSEO: Check Copyscrape. ^_^

    —————————————————————————-

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    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.

    Creative Commons will not work if the content is not copyrighted to you. As such, the license automatically copyright the content to you first, and only then that you grant some rights to other users.

    From CC By-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcode)

    License

    THE WORK (AS DEFINED BELOW) IS PROVIDED UNDER THE TERMS OF THIS CREATIVE COMMONS PUBLIC LICENSE (“CCPL” OR “LICENSE”). 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.

    BY EXERCISING ANY RIGHTS TO THE WORK PROVIDED HERE, YOU ACCEPT AND AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE TERMS OF THIS LICENSE. TO THE EXTENT THIS LICENSE MAY BE CONSIDERED TO BE A CONTRACT, THE LICENSOR GRANTS YOU THE RIGHTS CONTAINED HERE IN CONSIDERATION OF YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF SUCH TERMS AND CONDITIONS.

    “Work” as defined in Section 1:

    h. “Work” means the literary and/or artistic work offered under the terms of this License including without limitation any production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression including digital form, such as a book, pamphlet and other writing; a lecture, address, sermon or other work of the same nature; a dramatic or dramatico-musical work; a choreographic work or entertainment in dumb show; a musical composition with or without words; a cinematographic work to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to cinematography; a work of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving or lithography; a photographic work to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to photography; a work of applied art; an illustration, map, plan, sketch or three-dimensional work relative to geography, topography, architecture or science; a performance; a broadcast; a phonogram; a compilation of data to the extent it is protected as a copyrightable work; or a work performed by a variety or circus performer to the extent it is not otherwise considered a literary or artistic work.

    Maybe the question for bloggers is: Are individual blog posts considered “Work” or the whole site is the one that is considered “Work”?

    I’m no law expert, so again, please correct me if I’m wrong.

  8. I have a major problem with RSS feed theft on my blog, there doesn’t really seem to be any real solution to this.

    Good post.

  9. Thanks for such a thorough explanation. The lines between the different types of copyright can get fuzzy – you’ve clarified it beautifully.

    :)

  10. @TH: At the moment of comment I don’t know about any splog which copied my content. I did my battles once in a week for about 4 weeks to remove every blog post which infringed my copyright. There were several dozen.
    You don’t have to send it to the copyright office before publishing. It’s enough to send it in “packs” after publishing. Say, I wrote about 80 articles in January. In the first week of February i exported my posts using WordPress’s export tool and sent it to the copyright office FTP server. The current US copyright law offers backward protection.

    @Writer Dad: With much pleasure. Am glad I could help

    @Let’s discuss this in the next post’s comment section, OK? ;)

    I will not be able to answer everyone’s comment, but I will try. Please don’t feel offended if I miss to answer your comment.

    Note: Nothing I said or will say should be considered a legal advice as I’m NOT a copyright attorney. I just know one-two things about copyright. If you need legal advice, please contact a copyright lawyer.

  11. * Interesting tips Gary!

    I want to remark that if the legal practices are useful for sure, but they aren’t applicable to all countries.

    The countermeasures can be practical also like to use copyscape, send to the blogger a letter of warning, if not, to the host of the blog and have turned on alerts from time to time, like your case with google.

    Thanks for the article to Gary and Darren.

  12. Wow! This is an excellent resource for all writers. We haven’t had trouble with blogs as much as we have with bloggers taking article content we have written and distributed online.

    You are right, it is not only maddening to have your work copied — it can also prevent you from being able to distribute your own work elsewhere as it is now attributed to someone else’s name online.

    I think we will be taking a close look at implementing some of your suggestions!

  13. Darren,

    Thanks for publishing this post and thanks to Gary as well for writing it. I believe that content protection is a very important aspect of blogging that many bloggers do not pay attention to or even take seriously until someone actually uses their content without permission. I also find it ironic that I have been planning to write an article about protecting blog content for a website that I work with from time to time. I guess that’s out of the window but maybe that also means less work for me which is grand right now.

    Most of what is mentioned here is something that I have been quite familiar with for years because of my film making background and also within the last year after writing a book about intellectual property crime as it relates to screenplays, short films and feature films. Many people are familiar with copyright ownership rules, copyright theft and other related topics as they relate to music, movies, software, books, artwork and photography. However, many authors in the blogosphere have a right to protect their work and should be able to do so and call out those who have used their blog posts without permission…..this is especially important now that blogs have become so popular that they are sometimes the only source where many people get their news and other information.

    This post brings up a question that I would like to ask Darren (and Gary, if you are still following this post):

    What would you do if you found your post on another blog, but in the comments section?

    About a week ago, I was searching for certain topics to see where my blog was being linked from out of mere curiosity. One of the results from a search engine was a blog that wrote a post about a topic similar to mine. One of his or her readers posted a comment that was nothing but my entire post. That whole comment was 100% from my blog and I did not know whether to get angry or just ignore it. I am not sure if the commenter didn’t know how to summarize what he or she read in that person’s own words and then link to my blog posts as reference, OR if the commenter knew what he or she was doing and decided to leave a comment with my ENTIRE post anyway. I do not know how to react in this circumstance and would welcome suggestions.

  14. You do not need to search Google. You can use copyscape.com

  15. I don’t generally worry about copyright infringement. I just accept that it’s going to happen. However, when it does it will neither help the infringer financially nor will it hurt me financially. Unless there is a financial aspect to copyright infringement, it’s not worth taking an infringement to court.It’s far more practical to file a complaint to the offending party’s web host who is obligated under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to take action, at least in the US.

    I did quite a bit of copyright research a few years ago. My material is at CopyRight, CopySense

  16. But is that mean we will have to deposit our every post at there to get it protect from copied or what if someone else do it and we late for doing it.

  17. very indepth post…i have some nice youtube videos that i want to protect as well

  18. This is a very important issue. In the internet world, copy and paste is so easy and the definition of “fair use” is so vague that a lot of good content is copied all around the blogosphere.

    What makes things even worse is that the identity is hidden behind the server and screen. It’s barely impossible to sue or even warn somebody who you don’t even know who and where he is.

  19. @JimPoor: If you publish in a country which signed the Berne Convention, then yes, copyright “just is” as soon as you publish a post. However you may also want to think about how do you prove your authorship if the same post appears on a 3rd party.

    @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

    The US Copyright Office by default considers individual posts as “work” which can be copyrighted, however you can submit for copyrighting whole sets of articles as well, say a full WordPress export

    @Pliggs: Let’s leave this question for the next post

    @Nicole/MadlabPost: The infringing service is the blog on which the post appeared, even if in the comments. You should send a DMCA take-down notice to the blog.

    @Infonote: true but Google Alerts is free ;)

  20. I have to be honest and say that there is a lot of misinformation in this post and some of it may be a bit confusing to others. I want to go through and highlight some of the issues that I see.

    First, regarding the need to register:

    It is correct that your work isn’t copyrighted because you put a CC license on it, it is copyrighted because you created it. In the U.S., you have copyright protection on your work the minute it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” such as saving it to a hard drive.

    In the U.S. you do have to register your work with the Copyright Office before you can sue, but in most countries that is not necessary and, if you live overseas, you don’t have to do it before suing in the U.S.

    The Berne Convention eliminated all such requirements. Also, you do NOT need to register if you plan on taking other actions. More on that in a second.

    Second, a bit about resolution:

    What worries me the most about this article is that it limits the discussion to registering your copyright, which for most bloggers is almost useless.

    You can file DMCA takedown notices and get works removed from the Web without any form of registration. You do not need to spend the money or time to get illegal copies of your work pulled, just to sue and, even then, not if you aren’t in the U.S.

    Most copyright registrations on blogs are complete waste these days. I’m not an attorney, but I don’t know anyone who has registered their work and actually sued over it because, even with the registration, it is rarely worthwhile financially.

    Though I think it’s great to explain to bloggers their copyright standing, it seems like the conversation has stopped halfway. Practical enforcement on the Web centers around takedowns and that is something that works well on sites hosted within the U.S. and EU.

    If you need any help with that, please feel free to drop me a line. It’s something I’m happy to assist with.

  21. Thanks for the reply Gary. I’m not sure registration does much to prove ownership either. What’s to stop one from registering this post, for example, if you don’t do it first?

    Also, I could have swore I saw a comment come through that said you can’t sue if you don’t register. That’s (at least in the U.S. – again, I’m not a lawyer) not correct. What failure to register will do is limit the amount you can sue for to actual damages (which you will have to prove) rather than any punitive damages.

  22. With Copyright, it is as Gary said, the moment you posted it, it is copyrighted to you.

    However, having literally registered it is more “powerful” in courts than relying only in the “I posted it so it’s automatically copyrighted to me”.

    The issue of someone else registered my material, that’s something you really have to fight for. This is the reason why in many Copyright-related websites, they recommend registration.

    You have more power if you are officially registered. It is the same with protecting your brand.

    Check intellectualproperty’s website.

    (Re: Brand protection. You can use TM even if you are not registered. TM is for UNregistered and registered trademarks. (R) is for registered trademarks only.

    By adding a TM [which means you are either unregistered or registered], you are showing that you are exercising your right and claim to the brand.

    Again, having it registered is more powerful. And if you do register it, you can choose to stick to TM or switch to (R).)

  23. A question from someone new to blogging…so I can repost your entry (without permission) if I provide a backlink to the orginal article? Or is it still technically copyright infringement, but no one would really care since it links back to the owner?

  24. I’ve run into this as well–seeing copies of my work with no credit given. There’s a program called copyscape, but I’ve never tried it.

    Usually when I run across it, I’ll just leave a comment at the offender’s website, saying he/she should have at least given a link back to my website.

    Otherwise, I think the only 100% sure way to prevent this is to publish nothing–not an option. There’s just not much way to effectively police the internet.

  25. A very laid out post. Can’t wait to read the second one. The problem is that i was recently thinking what can be done when content theft happens. I have seen quite a few blogs, copy and paste my content to the tee. Came to know when i saw pingbacks coming, I guess they are using autoblog plugin which parses my feed to get them the content.

  26. @Jonathan Bailey: I did express that the CC licenses are NOT automatically copyright the content, but the Berne Convention does. I also stated that the Copyright offered by the US Copyright Office is the preferred by ME alone because I think that the fact that evidence is stored is something good in MY opinion, and I did not advice anybody to do register his/her copyright with this office.
    As per the second mentioned thing, Darren was kind enough and stated at the very beginning of the article that […]Tomorrow Gary will return with a second post where he shares how he goes about getting copyrighted material used without permission by others removed.[…]

    So, I’m sorry but where’s the problem?

  27. Very interesting article something I am going to look into as I am sure people are copying my content with out leaving a link back. I am definitely looking forward to your second article.

    Thanks

  28. I misread the intro, that is my mistake. I retract that part and will wait for the second article.

    The problem is that by mentioning something that you prefer, you do recommend it to others, this is something I have to be careful about on my site.

    If you’re only interested in providing evidence, there are far cheaper and far faster solutions than the USCO. The only practical reason to pay the money and spend the time to register with the USCO is if you plan to file suit over your work.

    If you want, I can point you to some that you might be interested in…

  29. @Jim Poor: we started to hit the limit of legal advice/plain conversation i fear.
    During registration with the Copyright Office you swear under penalty of perjury that the material you are going to register belongs to you. If you make a false statement, in front of court you will lose the case. It also helps in front of court if the domain name the material is published is registered in your name.

    And you’re right as far as I’m concerned, you can sue without your work being registered, but the court may ask for evidence of authorship and that’s hard to provide without your work being registered in the Copyright Office of the United States or any other country you wish

  30. @ Gary,

    You are correct, but I’d love to carry this deeper. Maybe someday . . .

  31. A few weeks ago I found out that someone stole my whole blog post including images. While they copied the text they linked to the images on my server.
    One of the images was a very large header for the article.
    I deleted the file from my server and created a file with the same name with not so nice adult content – it was very NSFW.

    They got the idea pretty quick – they took down my post in about a day.

  32. helpful article, now a days we need it, so many people are suffering with this content theft. TNX.

  33. @Jonathan Bailey: OK, let’s enter journalism ethics and standards. Please see the EU or US ethics and standards of journalism, which states that this kind of publication, this style if you like DO allows inserting personal opinion in an article if that doesn’t will be in your own or the media’s you publish on, benefits. This is something which maybe perturbs your own ethics but not the journalism’s. Again, I don’t see the problem. Yes, I graduated in the journalism field.

    Regarding the USCO. I used it because… I described in the article why. One doesn’t required to register at any Copyright office (as per the Berne, the UCC and the WIPO conventions/treaties) it just helps if the copyright infringement arrives in court.

    As per pointing me in other directions, I use the above described things in real-life and with success but I’m opened to new lessons. If you want to share your knowledge, please use the contact form on Devoracles to get in contact with me. But please do not mention the poor-mens solution because that’s a piece of joke which failed in many courts already.

  34. If some one like your posts (and if your posts are like this one It’s great) I don’t see any reason why not adding your name as the writer with a link to their post.
    every idiot can see the deference in the writing when it comes to deferent writers

  35. @Gary

    First, I apologize for the tone of my original comment. I realize that I was a bit harsh in hindsight and I am sorry. That stemmed largely from a misreading of the intro. I certainly don’t think there is any reason to be hostile here. We’re on the same team.

    Second, regarding the USCO. You’re right when you say that “poor man” solutions don’t hold up in court. Not by themselves at least, you still need to register if and when you wish to sue in the U.S. if you are within the U.S. (the clarification about non-U.S. citizens not needing to register at all still holds true, I’m watching a case where a British citizen is suing a U.S. company for infringement in Florida without filing a registration and it is going along fine).

    The problem I have is that the USCO registration, as I said before, is expensive and time consuming. Most bloggers will never see any benefit from it. I’m not sure how you register your work, if you do it every X months or every post (technically, you would need to register at least every 3 months to ensure your works were fully protected) but it is a lot of time and money for little good.

    If it does come to court, yes, it could provide some protection. But the odds are slim to none of that happening. I’ve handled over 700 plagiarists without a single trip to the courtroom.

    I would never recommend a non-repudiation service as a substitute for a real USCO registration. That would be foolish. However, if you are only interested in verification of your work and have no plans on suing, they can provide a service and, since many are free there is little harm. Furthermore, given the delays between registrations, it makes sense to have something to verify when a work went online and who wrote it, even if it hasn’t yet been tested in court.

    The mistake in non-repudiation services is not in using them, but in thinking them to be substitutes for the USCO. If you want to work together on these issues and start talking about it, I’ll happily drop you an email. I think we have a great deal to discuss and I’m interested to learn more about your specific registration strategy.

    Thank you very much for your replies…

  36. JC John Sese Cuneta, TM stands for trade mark and C stands for copyright, they are two separate and distinct thing. While copyright registration at a governmental office is optional, trade marks always has to be registered in a legal way, for a lot of money.

  37. Thank you for the post. We must stop theft online, as long as each one of us do our part.

  38. Thanks so much, backwards protection makes it all perfectly clear. I look forward to part 2!

  39. Wow this is an amazing post, thank you for the information.

    I will definitely need to look more into this.

  40. OK, let’s start by saying this post is helpful and also very important to bloggers. However, I think it is a bit confusing and/or misleading just because it discusses three related by distinct topics at once: (1) portions of U.S. copyright law; (2) international copyright law; and (3) creative commons licenses, and then blurs all three together a bit.

    I am a lawyer in the U.S., along with being a blogger, so I will discuss U.S. copyright law. But there is caveat — I am not giving legal advice here, nor do I specialize in copyright law. I am a litigator instead, so I am basing my knowledge on my training from law school and what I have read since then to keep up for my own knowledge and for blogging. If an expert in U.S. copyright told me I was wrong about something I say below, I would believe him or her, not me.

    OK, with that caveat, I will begin.

    Whenever you create and publish an article or take a photograph, you have a copyright interest in it (assuming you actually wrote it yourself and didn’t take it from someone else). You do not need to do anything further, under United States law, to hold a copyright. The Berne Convention, to my understanding, has a similar provision, because the international and national law have been, on a whole, designed to work together.

    If someone else copies your work you can send them a cease and desist notice, and ultimately if that does not work you can sue them to stop (but you must register your copyright first — I will get to this below). You do NOT need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright office though to hold a copyright. One is automatically created which you own when the content is published.

    So, what are creative commons licenses? A license is merely giving away all or part of your rights in something, such as your copyright. So once you have the copyright you can then license away some of your rights. If you say, “all rights reserved” you are making clear you are not giving away any of your rights. If you post your photograph you took onto Flickr, for example, you own a copyright of that photograph, but you can choose to give away some of your rights under a creative commons license. Any right you give away you cannot sue someone for doing. If you do not give away a right, such as you allow someone to use the photo for only noncommercial purposes, and they use it for commercial purposes, you can enforce your copyright against them to get them to stop.

    So, you do not and cannot claim copyright through a creative commons license. Instead, you claim a copyright by it being an original work of authorship. You give away some of those rights under your copyright with a creative commons license. On the flip side if you use material you have obtained under a creative commons license, a common example of which would be using a photograph you have obtained from Flickr that is offered under one of these licenses, you are not violating copyright law because the holder of the copyright has granted you permission to use it in a certain way.

    The discussion of creative commons licenses is where I think the article is misleading. You claim copyright under the copyright laws, and then can choose to give away some of your rights, if you wish with creative commons licenses.

    (Note I have not discussed when your employer owns the copyright and you don’t, or the issue of who owns the copyright when you guest blog, or how terms of service effect who owns a copyright, or lots of other such topics such as when you can use public domain material, and what is public domain material, etc., but I think these are all issues Darren may want to cover in the future, and I would be happy to assist with that Just contact me Darren via email or through my contact form on my site).

    OK, now back to why you might want to file with the U.S. Copyright office since you don’t have to do this to get a copyright on your work. The benefits filing confers is that (1) you cannot file an infringement action until you register your copyright with the action, at least in the U.S.; (2) if filed within five years of the works’ publication then it is much easier to prove your case of copyright infringement (although there are still defenses); and (3) if filed within three months of the works’ publication then you can get statutory damages and attorney’s fees if you win in court (otherwise you are limited to only actual provable damages and no attorney’s fees). These are some strong incentives to file for copyright protection, especially number three. That is why people do it, especially big corporations.

    Hope that helped!

  41. This is a subject many of us don’t spend too much time but it’s important nevertheless. Thanks to Gary for your consideration in writing this and Darren for publishing it.

    I’m now more mindful of copyright issues and better poised to prevent a problem rather than getting into an ugly legal mess to fix one.

  42. Ok, so considering that 1. there is an automatic copyright upon the publishing of the work and 2. there are benefits to MANUALLY copywriting the work directly with the US Copyright Office, how would a blogger best protect his or her work? Would a separate filing be required for each and every post?

  43. @Taylor at Household Management 101: Thank you for the comment. You provided great insight.

    I shared my gathered knowledge as I understood from the applicable laws and within the limit of a blogpost. I’m not an attorney just a simple plain blogger who actually read all the applicable circulars of the USCO, read the Bern convention and considered a lot of opinions regarding the CC licenses due to the fact that I needed the information.

    Regarding the registration with the copyright office (any of them), there’s a back-story why did I started to register my work with the USCO, It will be covered in the next post. But in a few words, when I filed a DMCA copyright infringing notice to a huge US based webhost, they asked me for “proof”. I gave them the registration number and the infringing material was gone in a very short time.

    Before submitting the final article to Darren, I actually put an attorney to read the article and he gave green on it. Actually, it was read by her twice, if you would have read the first version you would be surprised how misleading that was :)

    Anyway, I’m fairly sure there’s no article which is on everyone’s like. I’m sure if Dow Jones would read this article he would find other issues with it, Schwarzi would find it an excellent post while Bruce Almighty would rather bury it. We can’t satisfy everybody, there’s always a slight collateral loss

  44. @T Edwards: Pushing the legal advice limit i fear and I think I’d rather refuse to give a legal advice, but you can copyright an intellectual work which was already copied by a 3rd party.

  45. Or, you can just understand that this kind of thing happens and that your possible recourses are time-consuming, stressful and aren’t likely to work well.

    Instead, use your time to continue to write good content and publicize it. Encourage others to link directly to your post pages and not just your home page. Ask them to use properly anchored followed links, not your name or ‘click here’, in their ‘link love’ posts. Work out mutual exchanges of links and guest posting with your friends and online assoicates. Use ping services and RSS aggregation services to insure that your post gets full credit for being the first published. Soon the scrapper will be on page 152 of Google and your blog will be on page #1.

  46. Here is a tip – try writing a post like Lynn did on Clicknewz.com. Here is the link to her ‘I’m a scum-sucking content thief’ post: http://www.clicknewz.com/1842/content-thief/

    Not only does it crack me up – but for the RSS thieves out there, it would make it quite a statement. It might catch some people’s attention.

    Just a thought. Thanks for the great post!

  47. Many, many thanks for this post! I’ve already started the copyright process.

  48. Thank you. Knowing this is a big help. Cheers. :)

  49. Gary,

    Sorry if I offended you with my long post about copyright. As I read your post I definitely understood what you were saying about creative commons, I just thought it might be easily misinterpreted by others. “Misinterpreted”, on second thought, may have been a better term than “misleading” so I apologize for that.

    I think you have brought up some interesting issues, and also brought to light a problem that is actually quite prevalent – that people steal your work, and then you need to take steps (before and after) to deal with it and fix the problem.

    I look forward to reading your next post, because you have actually been there, done that, with trying to fix the problem. Reading in law books is different than actual practical knowledge and so your insights about that are superior to anyone that hasn’t themselves had to deal with such a situation.

    Keep up the good work!

  50. Well, call me ‘mrs positive’, but you CAN see these ‘scapers’ as people who do you a favor, instead.

    Here is what you do, to change your perspective:
    a. Put one or more links to your own articles and to the main page of your blog in the text of the article. Yes, you can even hyperlink your favorite keyword.
    b. If you do full RSS, again, put in links back to your website in the footer as well as a copyright statement
    c. Place advertisements within the post, with your affiliate codes in them.

    Last but not least, after initial placement of the article, you replace the ‘scrapers’ version of your article with the one you want your blog readers to read in the years to come.

    Smile. Life just got better.

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