24 January 2012

Watermarks?!?

watermarks?!?

What the heck is that new watermark doing on my photos?!?

I have awesome readers who alert me when they notice one of my patterns appearing on another site, often uncredited. (Crediting the original author is good, but it doesn't make it acceptable to republish someone else's work in its entirety, particularly without permission.) I don't have time to police the web, and it's not something I want to spend what little free time I have doing. Chasing down thieves cuts into riding, photography, writing, designing, dreaming, making, sleeping...

Plus, I think it would spoil my mood more than the winter doldrums already do.

However, there are times when plagiarism is downright unacceptable. The most recent offense was the theft of an entire photo tutorial (and all the bandwidth to go with it) by a site that does nothing but plagiarize content of others and stuff keywords with current hot topics in the hopes of getting more hits and more ad clicks. The blog author, or scraper, to be more precise, then took it a step further by posting a link to the stolen content on Pinterest. From there, the link was repinned 503 times (so far).

How neat to design something so popular! But then to have all the traffic go to another site, and all of this at my expense. You might say I was just a little uptight. A little.

I pay for my blog and my photo website out of my own day job money. I have no outside ads. I have no income as a result of blogging. I turn down offers of free product in exchange for mentions. I blog as a hobby. A passion. I am thrilled when other crocheters can supplement their own income by selling snowflakes they make from my patterns. But I never set up this blog so thieves could make a living off what I pay for and what I create.

Okay, rant over. Now on with the good stuff. Thanks for being patient if you got this far.

What do you do when you learn someone has stolen your copyrighted content? And yes, your published content IS indeed copyrighted because you pushed that little orange button that says "publish." Or whatever color publish button you push on whatever blog service you use. Copyrighted means you have the right to lay down the law as to how your content is used, or, in this case, reused.

Unfortunately, scrapers don't give a hoot. They've probably paid for a class that taught them how to identify high-traffic pages, find the source code for such, copy it and paste it into a blog, which they then commercialize by adding outside ads that pay for clicks. In other words, they are being paid, if they get traffic, to steal content. Often without permission. Strike that. Almost always without permission. That's why they don't ask. They know the answer would be no.

Also unfortunately, many of these thieves are in countries where the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is not respected. Some are of cultures where copying is considered the highest compliment. They are not taught from birth that to take something that belongs to someone else is wrong.

Although there is nothing you can do to prevent someone from stealing your blog content, other than not publishing it (or making all content password protected, which turns off most readers), there are steps you can take when you find it has happened to you. Many blog posts have been written to help others victimized by plagiarism, but I believe there can never be too many informative blog posts about this topic, and I want to help everyone I can to do what they can to get illegally copied content removed.

Again, this is not a process I want to be spending my precious time doing, and I would advise others who have been violated to maintain a similar attitude. Nothing will thwart your creativity more than using what little time you do have chasing people who are going to steal whether you go after them or not. Set a limit to how much time and effort you want to put into it, and don't cross your line. Don't let it eat you up. Don't let it keep you from publishing wonderful blog content. Actually, I guess there are some things you can hold back and make available only to special readers if you don't want it spread all over the internet by scrapers. I plan to do that with some of the patterns in my new 2012 PDF snowflake pattern booklet. More about that on February 6.

Bottom line, don't let the theft of your original content keep you from joyously and successfully creating more original content. Keep being who you are and doing what you do best, and do not let blog theft ruin your day.

1. Find out how to contact the offender, if possible. Some blogs do not have any way to contact the thief. They do that intentionally. What to do in that case will be covered in Step 2. When you have the email address of the offender, send an email stating simply, no emotions, no exclamation points, no threats, just a simple and direct, firm request to remove content from link provided. I don't even say please. Just remove the plagiarized content immediately, and I include the link. I include my full legal name and my website address so there is no doubt who is making the request.

Some writers suggest you thank the owner for finding your content interesting enough to republish. You may do so if you desire. I don't and have no regrets.

In most cases, the offender will comply, often with an apology, and sometimes they might ask if they can keep the content if they link back to you. That's up to you. For me, NO. BIG NO. I specifically state in EACH pattern items may sold or whatever, but the pattern is not to be sold. I'm providing it for free. How fair is it for someone else to be paid for it??? Plus, the whole theft thing... But that's emotions trickling through, and we're supposed to keep emotions out of it.

I don't explain my reasons, I just repeat the request to remove the illegally copied content.

2. If there is no way to contact the blog owner, homework is required. Put the domain name in the appropriate blank at Whois.net, and send your email to the address listed.

3. You'll have to do Step 2 if you get no response to Step 1.

4. If you still receive no response, then it's time to go over the scraper's head. Contact the site's host, which also is provided on Whois.net. Most hosts have copyright policies and will remove plagiarized content. Even foreign blogs are in jeopardy of being shut down if they have a host who abides by copyright laws.

5. If you were ignored when you contacted the offender, it's time to get tough, keeping in mind you do not want to spend all your free time doing this. Choose your battlegrounds wisely. Contact advertisers on the scraper blog, and inform them, with proof and no emotions or wordiness, the content they are sponsoring is stolen. Most advertisers will act upon this information. AdSense supposedly is really good about this.

However, beware of ads placed by the scraper directing you to their real site. If the ad is for a new and improved PDF service, particularly with multiple typos and poor grammar, you've just been scam spammed. You've provided a valid email address to someone who probably will sell it to scammers, as well as attempt to scam you themselves. Some fake blogs are set up specifically to draw traffic to their real scam sites and increase their rankings in search engines, as was the case with my most recent theft.

6. If the fake blog that plagiarized your work falls into the Step 5 category of smoke screen, there isn't much more you can do than provide all the information about the illegally copied content to major search engines. Search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) do have strict policies in place regarding plagiarized content, and they will block plagiarists as well as bloggers who use loaded keywords. That means inserting a popular movie star or politician in your keywords just to bump your traffic isn't going to win you any search engine friends and will instead get your IP address banned.

File a notice of infringement with search engines. Instructions are found on each search engine website, usually via one of the links at the bottom of the page. This action scares the daylights out of scrapers because it shuts them down as far as traffic, even if they try to start over with a new blog.

I was delighted to find even Pinterest has a policy regarding plagiarism. I have taken the suggested actions at that site and filled out the appropriate paperwork. I have not received a response at this point, but the offending illegal blog post has been removed, and any remaining Pinterest links will now be dead. This result alone was worth the ten minutes it took to follow the instructions on Pinterest.

UPDATE: Pinterest notified me approximately 26 hours after I submitted my complaint that all bogus links have been removed, and all pinners (all 500 of them!) have been notified why their pins were removed. (Pinners likely didn't know they were posting a plagiarized photo and link.) How awesome of Pinterest to follow through so quickly and to take that extra step!

If none of the above works, legal action or closing down your blog is the next recommended step, but I hope to never have to take either of those steps. I hope other bloggers who have been copied never have to take those steps. That's not what blogging should be about. We're doing this because we enjoy it, not because we want to spend the rest of our lives being the guy with the big stick. (Hmmm, wouldn't a baseball bat be just perfect... sorry. Emotions back in check.)

Once you've successfully completed any of these steps, sit down with a cup of your favorite hot beverage (because it is, after all, winter, here in the US) and start thinking about your next blog post. With a smile. You deserve it.

* * *

UPDATE: Here is the most helpful link I've found so far (after publishing this post) with instructions for what to do when you find you've been plagiarized.

Following is a list of some of the articles I used to find out what to do when my content is illegally copied. Each gives excellent information. I sincerely hope the links I'm providing are the actual authors of the content. In my research, I stumbled across so many scraped blog posts about plagiarism, my mind was reeling!

Daily Blog Tips
Pro Blogger
Greg Laden's How Not to Get Caught: Don't do it!

You copied WHAT???

18 comments :

  1. So true, I hate those thieves, I have met them, too.......

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  2. Firstly, thanks for a very informative, helpful post that can't have been easy to write.

    Secondly, thanks for sharing your experiences (good and bad) to illustrate your points.

    And finally, and most importantly, thank you for not letting the thieves win - not so much with the scraping issues, but more with the attitude thing; thanks that you will still dare.

    It is really appreciated.

    P.S. A week or so on, hope 'the rest of your life' is going well.

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  3. It's so sad that we have to live like this, but I commend you for adding the watermark and educating people about this problem.

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  4. I did see one of your snowflakes on pinterest and couldn't believe my eyes.I then went to the site,can't remember the name now and saw your pattern word for word.
    At the end it said if you want more patterns go to this blog
    and then it had your site link.
    I was going to contact you and I am glad someone did. I am going to start putting my name on my images of my crochet work also.

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  5. You're radiantly eloquent, even when righteously angry! You've written a powerful, informative piece that will make a difference for the (sadly) many folks whose work has been stolen/plagiarized/bastardized/reprinted without permission.

    It's happened to me and I can tell you this: I was not nearly as eloquent in my response.

    *pounds fists on table*

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  6. Detestable to be sure, but I can't help but notice that your new 'watermark' is like that elvish writing that appears on 'the ring'. :) I know. I'm stuck. :)

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  7. "There are no curses in Elvish, Entish or the tongues of men for this treachery...." (Lord of the Rings quote. It's Marigold's fault.)

    This has happened to me too but I didn't have the time to pursue it. Thanks so much for not only taking the time and trouble to track down the offending sites, but to give us a tutorial as well!

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  8. Thank you so much for this post. I have just really started getting into blogging and pattern posting. I am bookmarking this post to refer back to, just in case. Thank you so very much!

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  9. Thanks for all the great advice. I hate having to watermark photos... but maybe I should start doing it. I ran across one of my photos on someone else's site with no reference to where they found it... so I know a little bit about how you feel. I was in the midst of another crisis so I didn't deal with it...

    I adore that last photo of the juncos in the snow. It's gorgeous!

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  10. What a great blog

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  11. You have a great blog & beautiful patterns. Thank you so much for sharing them with us.... so sorry you had to go through the garbage with this thief.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Anonymous! I'm sorry I had to go through it, too, but other bloggers have told me what I've published here has helped them deal with it, so I guess it had a purpose.

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  12. Thank you for your generosity. Some people don't know what being creative is. But thanks to you I'm going to make my family some lovely snowflakes! I don't know if they'll come out as nice as yourand I love your teddies their very cute. Thanks again.

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  13. Thank you, Anonymous II! I hope your family enjoys your snowflakes and treasures them for years to come!

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  14. Can your patterns be printed on a private printer for use by an elderly lady who only uses the work to give to others, like grandchildren, and other seniors here in a retirement home. How do I get permission to print your patterns - I tried but couldn't get through, so now I write them off, but it takes time away from my crocheting, knitting, etc. Altho it does improve my ninety-year-old hand writing. I keep them in my album, and just use for myself. Thanks for the information. I don't want to cause harm to anyone - who likes to do this beautiful work. You are creative, and I appreciate you artwork. Sincerely - Mildred Weeks -

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Mildred, and no problem whatsoever printing the patterns for making. I applaud your diligence in trying to find a way to make them work!

      You are trying to print white text onto white paper, and the printer likely has no white ink anyway. There are printing instructions on the sidebar to the right, just below the Etsy shop widget and the stacked snowflake squares "Cool Stuff." The easiest way to print is to use printfriendly.com. Just copy the link address from the address bar at the top of your browser into printfriendly.com, and it will allow you to remove comments and anything else you don't want in your pattern.

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  15. AH ha! So you were the pin that was deleted! Pinterest said it deleted one, but I didn't know what it was! I LOVE your blog, and must have seen the snowflake and thought I'd pin it so I could find your blog again. I'm sorry it turned out to be a stolen one. I have rebookmarked your blog, so I can find you again, without infringing on the copy right thing. I really do love your patterns, and I enjoy your photos that you take when you are out. Thank you for sharing with us.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Gina! I'm sorry your pin was removed. I have no issues with pins that lead directly back to my site, but I did get a little hot under the collar when said blogger stole my bandwidth and didn't even link back to me. I believe that blog has been removed now. Anyway, thank you for your loyalty, and I appreciate your efforts!

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