How to Handle Plagiarism
I recently wrote about content theft, how my FreelanceSwitch blog posts ended up on another person’s blog without proper credit. Scratch that—there was no credit! My blog post was published and another author was taking credit for it. He claims it was unintentional, but it was against the law — frustrating.
I learned some valuable lessons when this happened, and I thought I would share them with you and how you can handle plagiarism if it happens to you (and I hope it doesn’t).
Lesson 1: The power of social media
A friend of mine alerted me to the fact that someone was publishing my FreelanceSwitch blog posts on his business blog. When I checked it out, I sent the link to the editor of FreelanceSwitch, Sean Hodge, to handle. I wasn’t sure what was appropriate, and I didn’t want to get in the middle of it.
Instead of emailing this man, named Kevin, myself I posted a link to two of my blog posts on my Facebook page, calling him out on it. I figured my friends would be on my side, but some of them actually went on to Kevin’s site and left messages that what he was doing was wrong.
Three hours after my Facebook status update, all of my FreelanceSwitch blog posts (and other blog posts from various FreelanceSwitch authors and other blogs) were taken off his site. He even wrote a post trying to apologize. How’s that for service?
Lesson 2: Copyright law
I had a vague understanding of copyright law, and as a writer and college professor, I am so hyper-aware or plagiarism that the mere thought of using someone else’s work and calling it my own sends shivers down my spine. College kids are expelled for plagiarizing and numerous journalism professionals have been stripped of awards and fired for the same thing.
I found out that even if Kevin had given me credit for the blog post and mentioned FreelanceSwitch, that by him republishing my posts on his own business blog he was breaking the law.
Lesson 3: Some people are dumb
Kevin, who runs a website development and design company, should know better. In his “apology” blog post he writes: “I’ve done some research as to whether or not I was ‘stealing’ content or not. I have not found a definitive answer.”
When you take content and stock photos from someone’s blog post and repost it onto your own blog, it’s stealing. I created that content specifically for my client, FreelanceSwitch, and not for anyone else. If Kevin was a newspaper publisher and copied a story from another paper word for word and published it in his paper under his name he’s be in a boatload of trouble. Online content is no different.
Feigning ignorance is, in my opinion, no excuse.
So what can you do if you find that someone is plagiarizing you? There are several options.
Put it out on social media
I’ll use my own experience as an example. I didn’t have to do anything but update my Facebook status. I didn’t even get into great detail or ask for a call to action! All I did was point out that there was a guy stealing my content and provided a link. The public did the rest. And there were results in three hours.
Email the offending party
Sometimes a simple email pointing out their error will do the trick. I’m pretty sure that if I had sent Kevin an email I would have seen the same result. Most businesspeople don’t want their name raked through the muck and will back down, especially if you alert them that what they are doing is against the law.
Cease and desist
If an email doesn’t work, find their snail mail address and send them a Cease and Desist letter. Ask your lawyer to help you create it. I would also suggest adding delivery confirmation to the envelope at the post office so that you have proof that they received it. It’s easy for someone to say they never got an email or letter in their mailbox, even when it’s not true.
Contact their web host
One of my photographer friends (who has had her images used without her permission plenty of times) searched for Kevin’s web host on www.whois-search.com. She found it immediately.
Send a “Take Down” letter to their host, requesting that the site be taken down immediately under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Here is a template for one (yes, it’s ok to use this). Some hosting companies make this even easier with an online form. —Orbitmedia.com
No one wants to be blacklisted on Google, but if the search engine is alerted that something unlawful is happening on someone’s site, they’ll may on it.
Take them to court
Hopefully this won’t be necessary, but you never know. I would suggest you try everything else you can first and discuss it with your lawyer. It could be an expensive process.