M Jane Ross
A week ago, an SCN friend contacted me for advice on a thorny problem. She suspected that whole paragraphs, personal reminiscences of her own, and photos she had taken had been lifted from her blog and from her 2008 book of personal stories and inserted into very similar stories on someone else’s blog.
My friend sought advice from several quarters, including her lawyer brother, decided how she was going to handle the situation, and within a week was successful in seeing much of the copyrighted text removed from the other blog. There were some useful lessons in this SCN member’s experience for any of us who might find our writing has been copied without permission. If this happens to you, how can you know for certain whether the other party has infringed your copyright and what should you do about it?
My advice as a publishing professional is this (see disclaimer below):
1. Understand that your writing is covered by copyright law as soon as you write it. And it is covered when it is posted on the internet. Never mind the fact that you have no way of physically preventing someone from copying your words, copyright law still applies. You do not need to register your copyright or even have a copyright notice on your blog or web page for the copyright to exist.
2. Make sure you are very clear about the exact passages of your text that have been copied and the ways your words have been altered to make them seem superficially different in the copy. Vague similarities or a blog post on the same theme as yours do not constitute copyright infringement.
3. Once you have documented the extent of the copying, don’t wait to deal with the issue. Act as soon as possible to address it.
4. Do not use a public forum (such as your blog) to accuse a particular person of plagiarism! In the first instance, give the copier the benefit of the doubt. They may simply be unaware that their copying is unauthorized. Plagiarism is a very dirty word and accusations of plagiarism have destroyed careers. So tread softly. At the same time, you can certainly post on your blog how it feels to suspect that you have been plagiarized, without naming names or linking to the offending blog. In fact, your copier may read this post and take down the copied text of their own accord.
5. Do turn to your own writing community for advice, especially if you have a lawyer or a publisher in that community. But be careful not to libel the person you believe has copied you nor to start a witch hunt against them.
6. Make sure you own the moral high ground and that you yourself have not copied anyone else’s work without permission, including pictures. Downloading and reposting pictures from Google Images or Ebay is as much a breach of copyright as copying someone else’s text. So do the right thing: remove any material from your own blog that you do not have permission to use. Use only pictures that you do have permission to use or pictures that have a Creative Commons license such as those on the Flickr photo-sharing website’s creative commons area.
7. Be prepared to contact directly the person whom you believe has copied your text, giving very specific information about the instances where their text is identical or close to identical to yours. Though copyright is a legal matter with complex rules, very often the issue can be resolved with a polite but firm request to the person you believe has made an unauthorized copy of your work that they remove this copyrighted text from the web. The copying may have been done without a clear understanding of how this constitutes plagiarism and the offender may be anxious to save face.
8. Tell your truth. Point out how you have put considerable time and energy into writing your blog posts. Explain how the other person’s use of your words could damage your reputation as an author, if future readers don’t notice that your original piece was published before the copied version. Tell them you expect them to remove the text that they posted without permission by a certain date. Or alternatively if you prefer, ask them to give you credit for the text they have copied.
9. Do add a copyright notice to your own blog.
If this approach does not work and you feel strongly about retaining the copyright of this copied text, it may be time to call a lawyer for advice.
And take some time to learn about copyright. There’s lots of good information online at the US Copyright Office and plagiarism.org. Sharon Lippincott includes some excellent links at the end of her blog article on copyright here.
Disclaimer: This advice is for information only. It is not legal advice. If you need legal advice on a specific copyright-related issue, consult a lawyer. The advice presented here is the view of the author alone and not of Story Circle Network.