Copyright violation and the blogger

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.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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6 Responses to Copyright violation and the blogger

  1. Peter Harvey says:

    As a published author I fully support everything that you say. With photos there is the risk not only of them being claimed as original by someone else but that they may actually be marketed, with people making money out of selling your property!

    One thought has only just occurred to me. In Catalonia (and perhaps in the UK) there is an Intellectual Property Register. Anybody can take any written or graphic material that they have created and have it registered. This provides an official time at which the material was recognised as your poperty. Of course, it has to be done in hard copy. Print-outs of blog entries would certainly qualify. This would not provide any direct protection against pirating but is a line of defence if there is a dispute over intellectual property.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Thank you for expressing your support. Maybe we should press for an Intellectual Property Register suitable for electronic works. It should be possible.

      I think the main problem, though, is that the only effective way of obtaining a remedy is through the courts, something which most bloggers cannot afford. Unless, that is, law firms decide to extend their “No win – no fee” mode of operation to blog world!

      • Peter Harvey says:

        Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t like to say that the Catalan Government register doesn’t accept electronic material, CD-ROMs for example. I have no idea whether there is anything similar in the UK.

        I don’t know much about it because a book with an ISBN is automatically protected by being placed obligatorily in the Spanish National Deposit — the Copyright Libraries in the UK.

        • SilverTiger says:

          I’ve had a quick look around but haven’t found a national or public system, though there exist fee-paying commercial organizations.

          Apparently, there used to be an organization called WriteSafe which accepted electronic documents and issued receipts but this is currently down.

  2. Ancient Brit says:

    Yes, sadly, Writesafe is no more. The former owner confirmed it to me the other day.

    I did wonder about trying to set up a replacement for it, but it would require investment capital that I don’t have and couldn’t get, as well as technical know-how that I don’t currently have (but could acquire, given time and money – only one of which I have right now). Not to mention that I’ve never run a business in the US, and it would appear to be something of a nightmare to get off the ground even if we had perfect credit.

    But I’ll keep my eyes open for anything else that might be suitable. Other copyright registration sites here require a physical presence and printed originals, which is why Writesafe was so good. That and the others were charging more than double the price for a registration that lasted at most a couple of years; Writesafe’s lasted ten.

    • SilverTiger says:

      I found what looked like an interesting set-up called MyFreeCopyright, which was free, as the name suggests, though it had a paid-for upgrade. The idea here was that you subscribed and they took a copy of each new post by RSS and emailed you a dated electronic “fingerprint” to keep. In the event of a dispute, this would establish that you originated the post.

      I signed up but received neither the validation email nor a reply to my email to support. It appears that they too have gone to the wall.

      Perhaps some enterprising blogger could set up an organization. I know bloggers tend to be independent folk but there’s no doubt that pressure of numbers works better than lone voices when it comes to making complaints.

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