How To Protect Yourself From Plagiarism Without Crossing The Line

Today, most bloggers understand that plagiarism is not acceptable. Unfortunately, there are influencers, bloggers and vloggers who believe that plagiarism is a form of flattery and use it to attract views and make sales. Just last week I watched a video with a script that was stolen word for word from another blogger’s video. As a blogger, how can you protect yourself from this sort of intellectual theft? First, you must know your rights.

Your Rights as a Blogger

Any material that you create yourself is copyrighted to you. You do not need a copyright notice or a registered copyright to protect this right. As long as the original item is your creation or a photograph you’ve taken, you own it. If on your system, the date stamp of its creation is generally good enough proof of copyright.

Checking If Copyright Has Not Been Violated

While you do own what you create, there are certain cases where copyright protections have not been violated. These are:

Case # 1: Fair Use

The U.S. copyright protection provision, “Fair Use,” allows limited use of your content for certain activities, such as parody, commentary or critique. Examples include book reviews, sharing a statistic or a quote from a news article or website. Many considerations go into determining fair use, including length of content and the purpose, so you search cases at Copyright.gov to see if Fair Use applies.

Case # 2: Waived Rights in Campaigns

Bloggers often sign contracts with brands or PR firms without reading all the details and many times, agree to have their content shared publicly or on advertising for the firm or other related parties. Make sure the content doesn’t fall under this scope.

Case # 3: Waived Rights on Social Media

Users don’t always know that their content may possibly be subject a transfer of copyright on such venues as YouTube, Google Docs, Facebook, etc., depending on the agreement. Be sure that you have not agreed that such sites now own your content.

If you believe your content has been stolen outside the parameters of these conditions, its time to take action.

Protecting Yourself From Plagiarism

If someone has stolen your digital content or images, take these steps you can take to protect yourself.

Step # 1: Ask the Offending Party to Take the Content Down

If you’ve found your content on someone else’s site, find the site owner and send a polite but firm email requesting that they remove your content since you have not given permission to use it.

Sometimes a polite request is all you need because there are still bloggers and website owners who do not know they cannot use photos or text without crediting the author. While this is becoming rare, it is still a good place to start from and will help educate the blogger.

If it is a content sharing site, contact the administrator or editor. However, if you get no response, it is time to escalate the problem.

Find out their web host and request that the content or website be taken down. Use WhoIs.net to find the host and the administrator. Contact the administrator and the web hosting company to see if they will help. You still might not get a timely response and, in that case, you should escalate to the next step.

Step # 2: Issue a Takedown Notice

You might not get a timely response and, in that case, you can escalate the problem. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a law enacted in the US that protects digital intellectual property. Under its guidance, you can issue an official “takedown notice.” This is a formal request to have the web host remove your stolen content.

To help, you can use the DMCA.com website. This group helps you issue the takedown letter and quickly process your effort to remove your content from wherever the plagiarist posted it on the Internet, including personal photos, text, games, videos, etc.

This process involves writing a formal takedown notice and officially submitting it to the web hosting company.DMCA.com has extensive contacts with web hosting companies to expedite the notice to the proper parties.

You can hire them to do the work for you for a flat rate or pay a nominal monthly fee – both options are cheaper than hiring a lawyer. Once you have decided which is better for you, you’ll complete their form. The next step is to write a proper takedown notice.

How to Write a Takedown Notice

DMCA.com guides you, but you will still need to write an effective complaint. The more information you provide to make your case, the better. Here is what you need to include in your takedown letter to get it processed as quickly as possible:

  • Keep your complaint letter clear and unemotional, simply listing the facts.
  • Start with a subject identifying copyright infringement, so that hosting company knows to prioritize your email and send to their copyright attorney.
  • Include your full name and company/website name.
  • Detail what content was stolen from you.
  • List the exact URL(s) where you found your stolen content.
  • Write the purpose of this takedown notice, that is, to request that the material be removed.
  • Include or attach proof of copyright. You don’t need a formal copyright certificate and you don’t always have to provide such proof to a hosting company, it’s better if you can show it to get the content removed faster, according to DMCA.com. Remember that takedown notices apply to digital content, like images or text, so proof should exist on your computer.

The following 3 statements are required according to NPPA.org, an advocacy group for visual journalists:

  • That you are complaining in “good faith.”
  • “Under penalty of perjury, that the information contained in the notification is accurate.”
  • That you have the right to proceed because you are the copyright owner.
  • Your digital signature is required as well.

See a sample letter with all these requirements at NPPA.org.

The DMCA Google Controversy

In researching this article, I noticed that DMCA.com was getting a lot of criticism, particularly because it can be costly even though it is cheaper than using a lawyer.

Additionally, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world, has problems with the DMCA legislation itself. Because the use of content has grown in unforeseen ways in the decades since the DMCA was enacted, big corporations, like ISPs or Google, can actually benefit from the law. They claim that today, the act is barely used for its intended purpose of stopping Internet piracy but more commonly impedes fair use practices and is more intrusive than helpful for the average user.

In fact, you should not file a DMCA through Google for this reason. The recent article “Google-funded study concludes: Make DMCA even more Google-friendly” contends that the DMCA’s policies can make it harder to get copyright protection.

If you take a DMCA action through Google, it can take 46 steps, many of which are meant to intimidate you before your claim is even entered, according to NSU Copyright Officer Stephen Carlisle, J.D. For example, you must agree to provide Google’s property, “Chilling Effects,” the right to publish your complaint to the world before you have even stated the complaint.

You are also required to sign up with Google and agree to their TOS and Privacy Policy before submitting. Carlisle implies this is intended to increase Google’s user base rather than file formal action.

Right now, the DMCA.com Takedown is still the best protection you have against outright plagiarism without hiring a lawyer. Make sure your work is truly being plagiarized and follow the tips above. Learn what else to do to when your content is stolen.

Protect Your Blog from Plagiarism

Beyond legal actions, there are common sense ways to protect your blog from being plagiarized and from making these mistakes yourself.

# 1: Use YOUR Voice

The more unique you are, the easier it will be to find stolen content and it will also make it more challenging for others to steal your brand.

# 2: Brand Yourself and Your Images

Use a watermark or make sure your images have a similar style for added text.

# 3: Don’t Use Content if You Don’t Know Who Owns it

For example, never download images you find from a Google search. Be sure to purchase or use free stock photos or your own work.

#4: Understand Copyright and Fair Use

Become familiar with what is protected (a photograph, a poem) and what isn’t (a list of ingredients, fair use).

# 5: Credit Your Links

If you are uncertain about quoting from or linking to a post or article, you can always contact site owner or author for permission.

# 6: Always Be Accurate and Authentic

Stealing an idea for the majority of your work, misquoting and otherwise providing incorrect information from a source are also forms of plagiarism, according to Plagiarism.org.

Plagiarism is a serious violation that can undermine your blog and your integrity. Keep yourself safe and be on the lookout for violations of your own content.