Do you know where your content is?
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: May 19, 2009
|Write long enough and it will happen to you. A few months ago a large Web site published an article I had posted on my blog. It took a few minutes for me to fish a contact address out of the content pool on the publisher site, but with tenacity I was able to find it. I sent an e-mail requesting they remove the content. I didn't ask to be paid—I didn't want my content on the Web site because it wasn't a quality site. They complied and sent an apology. One week later the same Web site did the same thing again. I e-mailed again. Only this time I explained the legal ramifications. I knew just from the look of the site the owner was grabbing content right and left so he could collect revenue from third party advertisements.|
|On the other hand, I have given a pass to some sites, especially if they're message boards. I grimace when someone copies a whole article and pastes it onto a discussion thread, especially if there's no link or attribution. But if it's a site devoted to something I care about, such as wildlife habitat protection, I tend to let it slide. |
I try to make time to surf around once every ten days or so to see who is publishing my work. My blog is syndicated, so I'm very particular about that content.
But a Web site doesn't necessarily have to purchase my column to use it. If a blogger uses an excerpt and includes a back link, that is appropriate and done in accordance with fair use. It's easy to learn who is using the content legitimately—they provide a back link and my statistics tracker reflects it.
If you produce a lot of content, it's a good idea to make time to track where your work is published. For one thing, you want to protect your brand. For another, if you're editing a commercial site with ads included, your own revenue will be diluted if someone uses your content illegally with the sole purpose of making money for himself. For another, if the offending site has paid for placement and that site is higher in search engine returns, your own rank may be penalized for duplication. Despite what some company CEOs claim, search engines aren't always reliable when it comes to duplicate content—that's why sometimes you see weak results in the first few returns of a search.
What can you do?
For starters, be sure you have a clear copyright policy posted somewhere on your Web site. A simple copyright symbol alongside your name and the year are good, but I always add the words, 'all rights reserved.' I also include a widget that links directly to the company that syndicates my content. Beneath the widget, I inserted several lines of copy explaining that use of more than a 250-word excerpt must go through the syndicate or a request must be sent to me.
The Web is bursting with content, so it's no surprise that the marketplace is responding to writers and other creatives who want to protect their work. For instance the Fair Syndication Consortium grew from the founders of Attributor, a company used by many large publishers to track usage. There is no fee to join the FSC; you supply the URL of your feed to get reports about publication of your works.
Another service, iCopyright also tracks content usage. Fees depend on the package you select.
There's also a homespun method for discovering where your work appears. A couple times a month I select my top-ranked article and insert the whole first paragraph into a search engine. Don't just rely on a single search engine; use two or three. Last week I discovered a very nice mention of a Web Savvy article that way, and the selected quotes were done in accordance with fair use. I was happy to see our work noted on the Web site because it was a quality site.
It's not a good idea to spend huge chunks of your time acting as a content cop. But it's practical to track your work for all the reasons I've mentioned. If you're writing for more than a hobby, staying on top of who has your content is smart for your bank account and your brand.
US Copyright Office
Prior Web Savvy columns:
Liability an issue even for the best writers
Tracking your statistics
Should Ad Networks Pay Publishers for Stolen Content? (Tech Crunch)
Content Tracking Companies:
Fair Syndication Consortium
--Posted May 19, 2009
Our next Web Savvy explores offline tricks to bring new readers to your online Web site.
Kay B. Day
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.