a quick lesson in not stealing

I spent several hours this evening tracking down and emailing sites that have reprinted my content without permission, so please indulge me in a brief public service announcement:

You cannot take someone’s content off the web and put it on your own site without their permission. It is not yours to use as you wish; it is theirs.

Now, what you can do is to reprint a small excerpt — say, a paragraph — and then link back to their site for the complete article. That’s completely legitimate and most bloggers really appreciate that.

But what you can’t do is reprint their entire article, even if you credit them for the content. If you want to do that, you need to secure their permission first.

What’s even worse are sites that reprint someone else’s content and strip the original writer’s name off of it — i.e., presenting it as their own. Even though this is obviously beyond shady, even sites as mainstream as the  New York State Department of Labor are currently doing it to me.

So to the many sites currently stealing my and other people’s content rather than writing their own:  You suck!

{ 100 comments… read them below }

  1. Hazel Edmunds*

    Why the hell do people do this? I’ve been lecturing on copyright for years – technology simply makes it easier for people to break the law, it doesn’t change the law.

    1. Heidi*

      People are lazy. That is why they do it. Or they are way overworked with a fried brain to even think of something to write so they steal.

    2. fposte*

      The copyright equivalent of “an employer has to be fair to everybody and must let you see your personal file” is “accessible to the public = public domain.”

  2. Adriana B.*

    I don’t have a blog, but publish articles on several websites in my area of expertise, and many times a year I get an email from the website owners asking if by chance I authorized such and such website to republish my content. The answer is always no, and typically as soon as the rightful owner gets in touch with the guilty party, the stolen content is removed.

    This tells me these people already know what they are doing is completely wrong, but decide to do it anyway, rather than put any effort creating their own content.

    I can only hope that content administrators reading your post will start sending the link to site owners who tells them to just copy and paste from another site when it’s time to add content to their pages ;-).

  3. Diana*

    Wow. It amazes me what people think they can get away with. Definitely dishonest and disrespectful. It’s also called plagiarism and if you do that in school, you can get booted for it. Do you have any recourse?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Definitely. I’m starting with an email to the site owner in each case. If that doesn’t get results, I’ll email their hosting company. Kerry Scott of cluewagon.com tells me that when she’d done that, the hosting company has often shut the violating sites down.

      1. Cube Ninja*

        At a minimum, the violating site will be required to remove the offending material, not just at the direction of their host, but under US law (assuming, of course, that they’re hosted in the US – if they aren’t, you’re possibly SOL).

        If you’re seeing things that violate your copyright, just cut right to the chase and file a DMCA complaint with their provider. Most hosts provide easy forms for doing so. :)

  4. Julie*

    Back in the days of Geocities (yes, I’m ancient on the Interwebz), I once had someone copy my entire site — all 300-odd pages of content — and changed only the name and email address at the bottom to be theirs. Admittedly, I wasn’t making any money off the site and I’d never have known if one of my regular visitors hadn’t given me a heads-up, but still. It galled.

    Good luck in your cease-and-desist attempts.

    1. Dana*

      No kidding! Nice “paraphrasing”, if paraphrasing = completely ripping off someone’s entire article. Gotta love the links back to US News too – what, so the reader can read the article a second time?

  5. Anonymous*

    I work for an organization like the one you linked. I have a couple things, especially your post about talking about being fired, that I print off the “if they only read this little bit” part it will help, but I don’t print the whole thing, and your information and the long version link (and a bit.ly cause who wants to type a whole link) are both on the hand out along with a bunch of other stuff. Sort of like a link back blog post except paper, ish I know, but people need paper. Is this ok?

    1. Elizabeth*

      I’m not Alison, but it seems to me like it wouldn’t be too hard to go one step farther and leave her a comment on blog posts that you you want to share. “Hey, this is great. I think the people I’m training could really benefit from reading this – do you mind if I print it out and make copies of it for them? I’ll leave all your information on it, of course!”

    2. Kristinyc*

      What you do is fine. It’s one thing to share the content with others to read (as long as it’s attributed to the original writer, which it sounds like you’re doing). But passing it off as your own and not giving credit to the original writer is a problem, and that’s what these other people are doing.

      1. Kristinyc*

        I just re-read Alison’s post and thought I should clarify. It’s okay to physically PRINT and hand out the article (but if it’s in HUGE quantities and you’re profiting financially in any way, she needs a cut), but REPRINTING (like, publishing it somewhere else without permission) is what you can’t do.

        You should also consider just giving your clients the link to “askamanager.org,” because I’m sure there are plenty of articles that will be helpful to them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s exactly right. Short excerpt online with link to full article — totally okay. Republishing full article on your own site with or without attribution — not okay. Making a reasonable number of printed hard copies that you’re not using for monetary gain — also fine. (And thanks for doing that!)

        2. Anonymous*

          I do for the ones that it is approrpraite for and while you might hope it is right for everyone it really isn’t. A lot of the people I deal with need help along the lines of “the best way to find a job is to put in a tiny bit of effort to find a job” or “show up for a job interview” or my favorite “cussing at the potential employer is never a good idea”. I’m always happy to get someone who is doing all the basics and I get to refer them to advanced things like AAM.

          (And no certainly not profit and not huge quantities.)

  6. Alison*

    Augh that makes me so angry. This happens to a friend of mine all the time. She is a photographer and writes short articles for one of the small NYC papers and she’ll find people all over the world stealing both her words and her photos. And to make it worse it’s usually hard to track someone down to remove it/credit her for it (and if she can they often just don’t care).

  7. Taye*

    I understand how you feel. Are you planning on copyrighting and trademarking your Ask a Manager and its logo? If not, then I strongly recommend you do. I feel the logo and its’ phrase – “Ask a Manager” should be protected. I know getting it approved via trademark is rather expensive, however, having it copyrighted is rather cheap and easy.

    Just a thought.

    1. Elizabeth*

      SME is right:

      “When is my work protected?
      “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, the content is instantly copyrighted, which is nice. As for the title “Ask a Manager” itself, I actually just went through the trademark process earlier this year — very exciting!

  8. SME*

    I want to second the amazement at the DOL doing that. You’d think a major agency like that would employ people who know better. The general view of the internet seems to be that if it’s available, it’s free to use. I’m a photographer in my free time, and spend a lot of time sending DMCA takedown notices. Of course, there’s not much I can do about the Russian record label selling an album with one of my photos as the cover art. It’s really infuriating.

  9. Heather*

    A website I used to run routinely had content showing up in other places, copied and unattributed to our authors. More than one person had the nerve to claim that because we provided a feed of our content, our content was therefore public and free for the taking. BWAH HA HA. Nice try.

    I also do photography and had a high school, of all places, steal a photo of mine of their courtyard (it’s well-known for being in 90210 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and put in on their site without asking me. A school! I weep for the future if this is what they’re teaching students.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I woke up this morning to a bunch of email replies saying exactly that (that the RSS feed means it’s somehow free for the taking)! What the hell? I’m missing the logic there entirely.

      1. fposte*

        It’s the “publicly available means public domain” equation. Since it’s to people’s advantage to believe this, it’s a hard one to disabuse them of.

      2. SME*

        This is why I don’t even bother asking people to remove content anymore. I go straight to the service provider. They tend to act quickly and without argument because they understand the law.

        1. Adam V*

          Yep, under the DMCA they’re liable for damages if you inform them that they’re hosting copyrighted material and they don’t take it down.

      3. Anonymous*

        I have a series I wrote about a really archaic topic that still floats around the internet. It has so many different authorships that it is really hard to prove I wrote it at this point. Fight early, fight often. Many people simply see it and think it is good and take it because they can. The mental gymnastics come after the fact because they don’t understand that they might be one of those internet theives.

      4. Adam V*

        I think this is essentially a “fair use” defense, but I think it fails at least a couple of points in the four-point balancing test:

        1) Their versions of the posts are arguably derivative, not transformative;
        2) Their version is essentially a restatement of the entire post, rather than simply a few sentences.

        The other two points (nature and effect) probably need a more legal mind than mine to state one way or the other.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          “Fair use” would limit them to about a paragraph (and with attribution). These are full reposts. Some of the email replies I received from my emails to violators last night seemed to indicate that these people think that RSS means “syndication” means “being sent to the public for anyone to use.” But of course, that’s not at all what RSS is! Most bloggers, myself included, use RSS to make it easy for people to subscribe in an RSS reader … it’s not a signal that the content is there for the taking!

          1. Kat*

            I’m not a social media expert by any means, but I just don’t understand WHY anyone would think RSS=Fair Use. So when I get an RSS of my local newspaper’s articles, I can go ahead and reprint that entire article on my blog and call it my blog? Wha? Who DOES that? Well apparently, we know, a lot of people.

          2. Adam V*

            I hate to disagree with you (especially because I’m such a huge fan!) but technically I believe they *could* copy the majority of your post and it still be considered “fair use” if they transformed it enough.

            For example, they could take that post of yours (“6 Reasons You Failed the Phone Interview”) and print each reason in full, followed by the writer’s rebuttal. Because the intent of such a post is to disagree with your conclusions, odds are that a court would be inclined to view that as “fair use”, assuming the other factors weighed enough in their favor.

            Please don’t read this as me defending their actions! What they *actually* did in this case was to merely remove a few lines and rewrite the rest in a different form (more like “Things to do for your phone interview” instead of “Reasons you failed”). That doesn’t pass the smell test! And when their idea of “attribution” is a link back to your post (with no explanation of the link), then that’s utterly dishonest as well.

            A recent post by another blogger I read, John Gruber, talked about a tech site reposting news without attribution (http://daringfireball.net/2011/07/attribution_and_credit). It’s sad to see that lack of attribution is still so common when it’s so easy to stop and so obvious to find.

            (Note: I can’t get to that DOL site anymore. Looks like someone is paying attention?)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, the NY Dept of Labor removed that first one! But I found SIX MORE posts they copied from me. I’m in touch with them now and waiting to hear they’ve fixed it…

  10. Adam V*

    Alison, I would assume that USNews will also get involved, since several stories from other authors on their site have been lifted, and since they probably have access to corporate counsel who can ensure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In the past they’ve been very willing to, but I’m not sure where it falls relative to their other priorities, as they’ve got lots going on … whereas I’m more than willing to address it instantly!

      1. Adam V*

        True, but the other benefit of getting legal involved is that often it only takes a letter from a lawyer to make them realize “um, maybe this was actually a bad idea?”

  11. Cruella*

    How frustrating!

    On my own blog, I only blog -link and say something like “while reading THIS BLOG…” or “the writer at THIS BLOG thinks..” That way my readers can read it first hand, from the source, and I don’t have to worry about copyright infringement.

  12. arm2008*

    Alison, I’m thinking about setting up my own blog. It would help me a lot if you could send me all of your entries in XML in one file so I wouldn’t have to copy and paste them one at a time into mine. If it would be convenient I can give you my username and password and you can just start making your entries directly for me ;-)

    Amazing. Just amazing.

  13. Suzanne Lucas*

    I seriously hate that. When I write people I often get the following reply. “I’m new to the internet, so I didn’t know what was allowable.”

    Oh hogwash. Your 7th grade English teacher taught you not to steal other people’s work. You’re just mad you got caught.

    You go get ’em Alison.

    1. ANON*

      I’m not a blogger nor do I copy articles, but honestly, I didn’t realize it was such a big deal as long as you attribute the author. I think schooling and the internet isn’t a fair comparison because if you plagerize in school, it’s for academic gain ( i.e a good grade) that essentially affects your future.

      Anyway, I’m not saying people should continue with ‘copying/pasting’ articles; I just think people should give others an excuse and reminder instead of assuming everyone ‘should know’.

      1. Natalie*

        Actually, you’re making an error I see quite a lot online – conflating copyright infringement with plagiarism.

        Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as your own, and is a moral offense, rather than a legal one. You can plagiarize things that can’t be copyrighted (due to age or source).

        Copyright infringement is a violation of the author’s copyright, and is actually a violation of law (albeit civil in nearly all cases). It has nothing to do with attribution. Consider people who pirate music – none of them are claiming that they wrote or recorded the album, but they are infringing on the copyright nonetheless.

      2. Liz in a Library*

        True, but the stakes in the “real world” are larger. The person stealing the text is gaining in a way that can affect his/her future (consider the social/professional reputation to be gained from effective professional writing, as well as the monetary gain). Additionally, the original writer LOSES the same monetary/social/professional benefit.

  14. Kathy*

    I work in a government agency and one prevailing attitude that I’ve noticed is that just because we’re government and not for profit means that we have free use of other people’s work. Having had plaigairism drilled into my head as a college student, I was pretty shocked when I learned that way of thinking! So, that could explain the DOL thing.

    1. fposte*

      Maybe they they thought the “government material is public domain” principal meant that “all material the government wants to use is public domain.”

  15. Anonymous*

    What’s the big fuss? People do it all the time and have done it forever. As long as they’re not harming you financially why do you care? The only difference is now it’s on the Internet.

    1. Suzanne Lucas*

      First, it harms me financially. I get paid by the hit, so if you take my column and post it elsewhere, you’re stealing directly from me.

      Second, it harms me professionally. If you steal my article and then post it without attributing it to me, there’s a possibility that someone would think that I was the one doing the plagiarizing instead of the other way around.

      Third, it’s mine. It doesn’t matter if you think you aren’t hurting me, it’s still mine. You can’t walk into my house, and go through my closet and say, “She hasn’t worn this skirt since 1997. I’m taking it!” That would be theft. It doesn’t matter that I am not going to wear it again and would give it to a thrift store if I got around to it, it’s still theft.

      Most bloggers are generous and all you to take pretty big chunks to quote. But, quote an excerpt and attribute back to the author with the appropriate link. Otherwise, you are stealing.

      1. Anonymous*

        But I wouldn’t be taking it I would be copying the one you have. You’d still have the same skirt. And I wouldn’t be breaking into your house. It would be more like I saw it in the window.

        And as long as I give you credit how’s that different from looking at a cached version of the article? Thats not a website hit, right?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Are you seriously defending republishing other people’s copyrighted intellectual property without their permission? You know it’s illegal in addition to all the other problems that Suzanne described, right?

          1. anon*

            I guess I’m just saying cut people some slack if they don’t have bad intentions. I can understand being pissed if you’re not credited with the work, but I just can’t see what’s so wrong about reprinting an entire article if you’re given credit. I mean really it’s no different than looking at a cached version of it. Isn’t that the same thing?

            1. fposte*

              Nope. And I think the “intentions” claim is a bit disingenuous. If they just wanted to be helpful, they’d just link to the material, but they’re including the appropriated content to enhance their own site and stature. That’s not exactly world domination, but it ain’t selfless, either. Build your rep by doing your own work.

            2. Jessica*

              No, it’s not the same. An archived version of something is similar to my keeping a backup copy of something at home and sending the “original” off to be printed by a publisher. Usually if you see an archived copy of an article, it includes site archiving as well, and you can see what site it was originally published on. It is basically an archive of the site page and not simply the article.

              If you think something is good enough to steal, then you should link back to the original and say, “Gee, I wish I had said this! This person is super smart and was able to succinctly say what I was thinking about the other day.”

              We can’t know the copyright offender’s intentions without asking, and we all know what assuming does. Assuming that they all have honorable intentions but they simply “forgot” to credit the original source doesn’t help anyone. I’m a realist and say that you go to them and ask them to remove the offending information (if they have honorable intentions, they’ll realize their mistake and take it down). If that doesn’t work and they get defensive, can we assume that they didn’t have honorable intentions and are just thieves?

          2. Anonymous*

            That’s kinda hypocritical coming from you isn’t it. Just because it’s illegal doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be.. Didn’t you defend pot smokers for a living. And please don’t tell me all those people aren’t burning joints or lighting up the bong.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Actually, what I did was work to end laws that I believe to be a violation of privacy and civil liberties, as well as a waste of taxpayer money and law enforcement resources, a view shared by many law enforcement officers too.

              Not the same thing.

            2. Jessica*

              This is similar to what I mentioned below in my first comment below (near the bottom). If you don’t like the copyright laws, YOU need to work to change them. AAM apparently has worked to end laws she doesn’t agree with, which isn’t an issue. Deliberately breaking a law just because you don’t like it is an issue. She has hard proof that someone is breaking a current law that affects HER personally. Do you have hard evidence that AAM is breaking a law that affects YOU personally? If not, then I don’t believe that comparison applies here at all.

            3. EngineerGirl*

              Pretty low blow. So in losing an argument (that taking content is wrong) you now go on to personal attacks? That is the argument (red herring attempt) of someone that really can’t justify their position.

              Content theives really have no idea just how hard it is to create content. They are clueless on how many hours of work go into it. Which explains why they are so casual about stealing it. They act like they are taking someones breath mints instead of someones diamonds.

    2. Lesley*

      Anonymous, it does hurt people. It hurts writers in all lines of business–copywriters, bloggers, journalists, etc. It is a huge part of the reason it’s extremely difficult to make a living writing.
      As a writer, I think you are one of the major things wrong with my specific corner of the world. If you borrow my work, or copy my work, you need to credit me and link to my original content. Otherwise, you are hugely disrespectful of me as a professional and as a person in general.

    3. ModernHypatia*

      I’d also add that it harms the reader – when I write stuff, I write it for a particular context (my professional blog is different than my personal blog is different than writing I do for the blog at work, etc.)

      Someone who looks at a page on my professional blog also has a lot of tools to help them evaluate what’s going on – they can click over to read about my background, see other things I focus on, decide if they think I’m sensible when talking about other related topics.

      Copying my words without that context takes those tools away. Which seems stupid to me, if the claim is “Oh, I just want to share and help people.”

      Information isn’t this thing that floats around in a void and is always right or always wrong. That’s true in some things (pure facts), but most of the time, the context is also important.

  16. Anon y. Mouse*

    I worked for a custom computer company that had some very distinctive wording in their policies, mission, and ‘about us’ web pages. I can still Google a chunk of any of those pages and find it on about a dozen other company’s websites. Usually it’s websites that someone started building to try and get their custom computer business off the ground, and never succeeded. It’s still incredibly annoying.

    I once found another business that had copied my employer’s ENTIRE WEBSITE, layout, content, product lines, customer testimonials, and all. The thief hadn’t even been careful about it, so some of the pages still contained my boss’s email address. That one got a fast letter from a lawyer.

  17. Interviewer*

    So Alison, can you describe your process of how you find your content elsewhere? Do you have a list of keywords or phrases to google every week? And how do you find your pictures posted elsewhere? Just curious – I have a personal blog about family stuff, not that anyone would want to copy that, but I wonder what I would find if I tried.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know if this is the most efficient way or not, but I just went through a handful of posts and googled a unique-sounding sentence from each. The search results would usually be a bunch of sites that had reprinted the article.

    2. SME*

      Google allows you to image search now. If you go to Google, click the image tab, and then look at the search box, you’ll see a small camera icon. If you click that, you can either paste the URL of one of your photos in, or upload it, and Google will search the web for instances of that photo being used. It’s not perfect, but it does find a lot.

  18. Christine*

    It’s amazing how the Internet seems to have made plagiarism so, so easy to get away with. It may seem innocuous if the content is not being lifted from a mainstream site or scholarly article, but I personally think it’s the same thing.

    Alison – Could you perhaps put a disclaimer on your “About Me” area asking people to not post your content without your permission? I know you really shouldn’t have to do that, but it might help.

  19. Anonymous*

    This discussion is interesting to me. I work in higher education. We teach about plagiarism but in the education department we also tell students to beg, borrow, and steal when it comes to ideas, concepts, lesson plans, student activities etc.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ideas and concepts, sure! Just not actual text. So it’s actually probably identical to what you’re teaching students — ideas are fair game, but you need to write it yourself (and still credit if you borrow too heavily from something that isn’t a common concept).

  20. Mike*

    Saw an article today on yahoo that was on your site a few weeks ago. Not sure if it was something you wrote or posted a link to, but I saw it here first.

  21. Jessica*

    This really bothers me. I remember when EHRL wrote about this some time back, and I feel the same way I did then. I just don’t understand why people think stealing someone else’s words doesn’t count as theft. The law is pretty clear, and an entire article does NOT constitute fair use.

    Anyone on here who doesn’t have an issue with this and who is arguing that it should be okay really needs to brush up on copyright law. Yes, intellectual property isn’t the same thing as a physical object (hence the different name), which is why there are clear copyright laws about that property (photos, artwork, words, etc.) Yes, it’s easy to reproduce intellectual and digital property without fair due to the creator. Just because an act is easy doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.

    You have not taken the time to create that intellectual property, and it is in no way yours to do with what you like without permission of the creator. You’re stealing someone’s work and someone’s time in creating that work. I’ll bet these people wouldn’t like it if they did a big job and had someone else take credit for it.

    All arguments against people getting upset when their property is stolen is moot. Why? Because the law states it is illegal to do this, and until you argue with the government and get that law changed? You’re never going to win with the “But…[fill in the blank],” because you’re simply wrong. (Good luck with arguing with the government. The trend has been to create stronger copyright laws instead of weakening them. This trend can also be seen as detrimental, just as having no law in place would be. Middle ground is wonderful. But in the beginning? It’s theirs. Keep your hands and binary digits off!)

  22. Suzanne Lucas*

    Holy Crap! I took one of my recent popular articles and googled a sentence out of it and found 8 websites that had copied and pasted the whole darn thing into their website.

    Gah. 8. One of those was an actual double plagiarism, where one site had copied and pasted my article and then added commentary and another site copied and pasted that article.

    I’m so annoyed.

  23. Jane Atkinson*

    That will explain why I can google something and see what is obviously the same article on very different sites.

    I used to think that this was due to some form of content syndication. The truth, evidently, is a lot darker.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sometimes it can be legitimate syndication. For instance, U.S. News syndicates my stuff to Yahoo, and I syndicate some of my stuff to a few career sites. And I’ve occasionally given an individual blogger permission to reprint something. So it can be hard to tell from the outside if that’s what’s going on or not.

  24. arm2008*

    Unfortunately the only way you will prevent copying is to not post anything at all. Now you’ll have to move on to doing something about it, because just being right won’t solve anything.

    An internet search on the topic will bring up different information. Here’s one link that talks about some tools you can use to find content. I don’t know that this is the best information available, but it will get you started in finding what you need.

  25. Jill*

    I just wrote a response to this on my blog. Not that many people read it and those that do are mostly information professionals, so it’s a bit like preaching to the choir, but the topic is closely tied to my profession, so there it is.

  26. TT*

    To be honest, root of some of these problems is beyond simple laziness/ethical issues. As internet continue to update and evolve, most of the new sites that are popping up have no idea how to properly quote a source or a reference, there are frequent assumptions for example that anything gleaned off wikipedia is considered public knowledge and do not need to be referenced. So people who are new to blogs and websites remain inexperienced in cite sourcing methodology.

    Remember how difficult it was to learn when we were growing up how to cite/footnote sources for paper manuscripts. Now we have an exponentially growing public domain, where information is readily available, constantly growing, and frequently mis-cited, yet the methodology behind how to properly cite a source is frequently conflicting and difficult to find.

  27. JT*

    “Remember how difficult it was to learn when we were growing up how to cite/footnote sources for paper manuscripts. ”

    I don’t agree that this is the core of the problem. It’s as if Ask a Manager or anyone here is claiming credit wasn’t given in a proper format, or in a specific way.

    There is often no credit given AT ALL – not a link to another page, not a name in the text, not a footnote, nothing. It’s not that hard to give credit in some way.

    If the DOL was putting Ask a Manager’s byline in without permission, that would be an example of what you talk about – stealing content and trying to cite it. But they didn’t even do that.

  28. JT*

    Excuse me, I meant it “isn’t as if Ask a Manager was claiming credit wasn’t given in a proper format or a specific way.”

  29. anon-2*


    It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I often disagree with that assessment.

    Plagarism is right up there with imitation. It’s a toss-up. If someone thinks your work is good enough to steal, yes, you get ticked off, as I do. But there’s a sincere form of flattery in there.

    Censorship is right up there, too.

  30. Anonymous*

    Don’t waste your time with anything other than DCMA takedown notices. A polite letter isn’t worth your while: most sites will ignore it or otherwise st demand a response, and you’ll just end up sending DCMA notices anyway.

    By sending a DCMA takedown notice you pass the buck to them (and their host). It puts the onus on them, not you, to deal with it–as it should be. It’s not as if you’re suing them: a takedown is pretty much SOP for handling plagiarists.

    Be warned that sending a DCMA notice for stuff you don’t own is itself illegal.

    1. JT*

      What are you basing this on? I’ve twice had material copied illegally, wrote to the site owner in each case, and had it taken down. I could do the same with a state agency that stole content.

      We’ve got to be the behavior we want to see in the world, and to me that means not immediately escalating something, but rather trying a more measured approach. If that doesn’t work, sure, escalate it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, so far what I’ve found is that a decent portion of the people I’ve contacted to have complied. I’m sending DMCA takedown notices to the web host when (a) I can’t find a contact email (surprisingly common, even with a WHOIS search), or (b) they ignore my first notice after a couple of days.

        Of the people who respond, most have removed the comment without argument — about half with an apology and half without. A handful have argued or defended themselves, but still removed the content.

        Oh, and I found four more of my articles on the NY Dept of Labor site, all without attribution.

      2. Anonymous*

        A DCMA notice isn’t anything untoward. It isn’t a lawsuit; it doesn’t get you on a police blotter; it doesn’t give you a record. there are no damages resulting.

        When you say “We’ve got to be the behavior we want to see in the world,” a DCMA notice is just that. It is a way of making sure that the world (well, the part in the US that you can control) is filled with people who follow copyright law and respect ownership, instead of breaking copyright law and stealing.

        They don’t have the right to steal your stuff at all. because they don’t have the right, they certainly don’t have the right (or even the expectation) to have you respond to the theft “nicely.”

        The most that any plagiarizer could reasonably expect is that you’ll send them something before you sue (which, FWIW, you do not have to do.) A straightforward DCMA notice IS “being nice about it.”

        And a takedown has other social benefits: maybe it makes them les likely to steal your stuff in the future. Maybe it makes them less likely to steal other people’s stuff. Maybe it makes the webhost more sensitive to plagiarism and copyright abuse. All of those are good things–they are the behavior you should want to see in the world.

        1. JT*

          Communicating directly with the person causing the problem, rather than going upstream, is a form of behaviour I want to see in the world.

          And while they might not have the right to be treated nicely, I *want* to be nice for starters, and only become less nice if that doesn’t work. That’s part of my values. YMMV.

          PS – I don’ t want webhosts to play a role in protecting copyright. That’s not a good thing.

  31. JT*

    This Department of Labor thing is mind-blowing. That’s case where, if you had time and energy and need, it might be worth seeking compensation. Not necessarily for damages, but rather them paying you some consulting fee or something as if you’d produced the material for them. But it probably wouldn’t be worth the time to negotiate that.

  32. Lesley*

    Have you consider sending them an invoice for republishing your content? A friend of mine tried that–she received payment from one site and two others took down her material.

  33. Marie*

    when I was taking classes to get my BA online and starting an online Virtual Assistant business I was advised by others to use copyscape.com to ensure my writing wasnt plagerized.

  34. JT*

    If it’s not, please let me know, since I found that link from another blog (libgig.com) and would want to let them know that that site is unethical (if it is).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, no, Heather (who runs that site) is great. It looks like that article was posting by someone helping with her site, and as soon as I pointed it out to Heather (after seeing your comment), she said she’d take care of it immediately. She’s one of the good ones :)

  35. Liz*

    I love copyright discussions and this one is as interesting as they come.

    Ever since I started blogging I’ve been amazed – and dismayed – by how so many “writers” online seem to have no clue about copyright – from thinking “if it’s on the internet it’s free” to as-long-as-I include-the-byline-I-can-copy-the-entire-piece. So we all need to keep the copyright posts coming!

    More than once I’ve had photos or writing stolen (call it what it is) by people who tout their journalism background. That makes no sense to me. On the other hand, I was delighted to overhear in a restaurant line a boy, about 10 or 11, saying “but that’s a copyright violation”. Somebody was paying attention in class.

    As others have mentioned (the article that arm2008 linked to in the Aug 27th comment describes it really well) copyscape is invaluable for protecting your writing.

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