Holy Copyright, Batman! What to Do if Someone Steals Your Article

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. If you have concerns about how to proceed if you feel that someone has violated your copyright, it is in your best interest to consult an intellectual property rights lawyer for professional advice. Holy Copyright Infringement, Batman!

www.inkthinkerblog.com — Last summer on the LK Article Challenge discussion list, one of the Challenge participants shared that a number of her articles on EzineArticles.com had been picked up and used on a blog without including her byline or resource box. This a clear violation of the EzineArticles.com Terms of Service, which state that users must:

  • Respect the copyrights of the authors by publishing the entire article as it is with no changes.
  • Agree to include the FULL Resource box or SIG line at the end of the article.
  • Agree not to change the title or content of the article in any way.

Now, changing blatant typos is one thing. But leaving off the article byline and the author resource box so as to suggest that YOU, rather than the author, wrote the article is an unacceptable material change of the article. It’s plagiarism, for one, and it violates the permissible use of the articles, which also makes it copyright infringement. I’m of the opinion that the reason people steal content is that they can get away with it, and it’s up to authors to enforce their own copyright. Sometimes infringers don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong, and sometimes it’s willful infringement. Either way, writers need to look out for their own best interest and address the problem swiftly and consistently. Here’s my advice. When you find that your work is being used without permission or with permission but not in compliance with the conditions that allow its use, contact the infringer immediately and request that they either remedy the problem or remove the infringing content immediately. (Lawyers usually refer to this as a cease and desist letter.)This is an e-mail I recently had to send when someone stole content from my blog:

Hi, [infringer],

I love that you enjoyed my April 2007 post on useful blog links over at Inkthinker ([URL]), but by reposting the entire list on your blog in Free Useful Links of Tips for Bloggers ([URL]), you haven’t “adopted” – you’ve actually stolen it. I’m sure you didn’t realize this, but now that I’ve made you aware of it, I’d appreciate it if you would take it down immediately. You’re welcome to link to me, but my content is protected by copyright and you cannot reproduce it without permission. Thanks in advance for taking care of it quickly.


Kristen King

Note some key elements in that letter.

  1. I included identifying information specific to the material that had been stolen: what it is, where it came from, and when it was published.
  2. I provided the exact URL to the infringing use.
  3. I specified what the problem was and what solution was acceptable to me.

Of course you will want to write a letter that’s specific to your needs, but be sure to include those three elements, and put your request in writing. For example, here’s what I dashed off as a model for our poor infringed-upon fellow Challenge participant (which was a little more aggressive than I would probably do if I thought the person had made an honest mistake, but it seemed that this particular infringer was an intentional law breaker) :

The post at [[URL HERE]] is an infringing use of my copyright-protected work. You must add my EzineArticles.com author resource box and byline OR take the article down entirely within 48 hours. If I don’t hear from you or this situation isn’t resolved within that time frame, I will be forced to assume that you are willfully and knowingly committing copyright infringement and will contact your web host to begin proceedings to have your site shut down for unlawful use of content.

If you’re not sure who should receive your request because you can’t find a name associated with the website where your work appears without permission, look up the owner in the Whois directory. Whatever you do, don’t make empty threats and don’t threaten to harm the infringer in any way. That can get you in trouble. The goal is to get them to stop infringing on your copyright, not to exact blood revenge. Not that this is a particularly vengeful group, but I’m just sayin’…

Like I said before, it’s up to YOU to enforce your copyright. Every time a writer lets an infringer get away with it, he makes it easier for jerks to take advantage of other writers, and he sets a pattern of being a selective enforcer of his copyright, which could come back to bite him in the future if anything ever goes to court. So the bottom line: Take it seriously every time. It’s your work and your livelihood, and no one else will enforce your copyright for you. Well, not for free, anyway. But you get the idea.

Additional Resources:

(Photo Credit: Richard Harvey. This article originally appeared on the LK Article Challenge Blog in August 2007.)

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Contents Copyright © 2006-2014 Kristen King

5 comments… add one
  • Deb Ng Mar 13, 2008

    Performancing has a legal issues forum featuring stock DMCA notices you can send to infringers, hosts and other fun people. I recommend anyone who wants to do away with content thieves take a look.

    Also, Feed Footer is a WordPress plug in which you can create text for the bottom of all your feeds. I like “If you’re not reading this material through a feedreader, it’s stolen. Please report this copyright thief at (email address).

  • Lori Mar 17, 2008

    Perfect post, Kristen. I’ll refrain from stealing it… ;))

    It’s sad that many people out in the blogosphere really don’t understand that this is an illegal practice. Most folks aren’t writers and don’t understand copyright laws. That you give them a cordial note is a great idea – why come out guns blazing when it could be that the blog owner is just simply ignorant of the law? No excuse, but neither is blasting someone’s head off over what could be an easy fix.

    However, if they don’t remove it, time to lock ‘n load….

  • AnnaLisa Michalski Mar 17, 2008

    Go, Kristen!

    This post is timely for me as I’m currently chasing down not one but two content thieves. One in particular really toasts my buns because it’s such blatant theft–in this case, the blogger took not just one but a bunch of my articles and reposted them in full after completely stripping my byline, bio, and links. I contacted the blogger twice, first requesting correction, then after a week without response, requesting full removal. Still no response. Here’s where it gets sticky: I attempted next to contact the host, but the true host is very hard to find due to a clever collection of redirects from the “official” host that appears in WhoIs. We’ll see whether I ever get to the bottom of this.

    It really disappoints me is that people just accept this as part of Internet use. I also contacted four other writers whose work was ripped on the same blog. Of them, only one felt it was worth the effort to even make a first attempt at correction. Granted, pursuing the thief is taking up time that I probably could be using more constructively…but it’s MY WORK, doggone it, and this guy has no right to use it as he has.

    So, to make a very long story short, I am gratified to see a known and respected writer-blogger like you addressing this, Kristen. You are 100% correct that we shouldn’t just sit around when this happens–we need to take action to enforce our copyrights.

  • Kristen King Mar 18, 2008

    Yes, yes, YES. Writers need to protect their work by asserting their copyright when the work is stolen. If you don’t do it every time, you set a precedent for selective enforcement that could come back to bite you in the future. It’s YOUR WORK and YOUR LIVELIHOOD. Isn’t that worth protecting?

    Thanks to all of you for your comments.

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