Leading on from my previous two posts, I would like to consider briefly the matter of copyright violation as it affects the blogger. This is not an expert review, merely a few words about my own thoughts and discoveries.
The first thing to keep in mind is that copyright exists, whether it is asserted or not. Once you put your thoughts down on paper or on a computer screen, they are your property and are protected by the copyright that you own. The same is true of your photos. No one has the right to use your text or your images without your permission.
Putting a copyright notice on your blog doesn’t increase your protection but neither does it reduce it (unless its terms explicitly waive any of your rights) but it does at least show that you are aware of your rights and this may possibly discourage some potential abusers.
My fairly brief scan of the Web showed that my copy turns up frequently, sometimes in some unexpected places. In the vast majority of cases, the source is acknowledged and only a few lines, if any, are actually quoted. I am not too unhappy about that and it may, in fact, lead a few people to my blog.
Sometimes, articles of mine are cited quite irrelevantly in long lists. This suggests that lists of references are collected and copied and passed around (or plagiarised!) indiscriminately.
One interesting case was the URL of a particular post which kept cropping up for no obvious reason. Why? I then remembered that this article had attracted a particularly large amount of comment spam. It therefore occurred to me that some of these lists are spammers lists of known comment URLs. This has not been confirmed but it is, I think a good working hypothesis.
The blog itself was listed in a number of cases. This was done by sites claiming to offer it for evaluation and review or to list links to it. These sites are obviously make-work sites hoping to attract advertising revenue.
Actual use of large chunks of my text was rare. Apart from the two cases on LiveJournal I came across a rather more professional one, a travel site whose entire material consists of articles copied verbatim from people’s blogs, including mine. I have emailed the site’s administration, which is apparently in Switzerland. I don’t honestly expect to receive a reply, especially not a useful one, given that the whole site relies on stolen copy and is operating quite openly. The sources are acknowledged but it is still copyright violation. (But see next post!)
It is not only text that is purloined. In a few cases, my photos also turned up. Usually, they appear as thumbnails on a page with many others. If you click on it, you may be taken to a page where the image is shown, together with details (size etc), and the legend “May be subject to copyright”.
This, I suppose is not too grave a violation, though it could lead to one’s photos being widely used by others and perhaps claimed by them as original works. Watermarking (see below) may help a little here.
The bottom line, then, is that the ordinary blogger is more or less defenceless against copyright violation and plagiarism. Even if you can prove that you are the author and copyright owner, there is little you can do to assert your rights if you cannot afford litigation. Plagiarists and scrapers can laugh all the way to the bank.
One can at least add a copyright notice to one’s photos (photo editing software often includes a “watermarking” function) and I shall be doing this in future as it would tend to call into question a scraper’s claim to have originated the material. Clipping the watermark off is of course possible but probably not worth the trouble.
Including a copyright statement within the text, hidden between HTML comment markers (<!—…. —>) could also be useful because examination of the source text would reveal the notice while a scraper quickly snatching copy is unlikely to spot it and will post it along with the visible text. In the absence of legal action, however, this is likely to remain a source of moral satisfaction, rather than a practical solution.
Where do we go from here? I have no idea. Bloggers tend to be independent folk and slow to join groups, clubs and associations. Only a cooperative union of some sort could, in my opinion, help the lone blogger whose work has been ripped off. I for one would be prepared to pay a subscription to an organization that proved effective in this work.