Monthly Archives: August 2014

Copyright Infringement: What to Do When Someone Steals Your Content

 

Copyright Infringement, Fair Use, DMCA Takedown Notice, DMCA complaint, copyright infringement lawsuit
Copyright Infringement: What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content

Disclaimer:  I am not an attorney.  Nothing in this blog post should be construed as legal advice.  This post is intended for information purposes only.  Readers are encouraged to do their own research and seek the proper counsel of a licensed Intellectual Property attorney for advice and assistance.

There is nothing more upsetting than putting your blood, sweat and tears into producing good quality content only to have it copied and used by a content thief.  This blog post discusses ways that you can protect written works published over the internet.  I explain some actions that can be taken to help prevent and stop copyright infringement.

What is a Copyright?

United States Copyright law protects original works of art and authorship (articles, print and digital publications, graphic images, photography, quilting, music compilations, audio books, movies, videos, etc.).  Copyright does not protect research, ideas or facts (Unique expression of ideas and facts are copyrightable).   A copyright exists from the moment that a work is created and put into a fixed, tangible medium.

There is a lot of ignorance and apathy pertaining to copyright law. All of this confusion and nonchalance can lead to copyright infringement.  Some people think that their illegal activities won’t be discovered or that they can’t (or won’t) be sued if they aren’t using the copyrighted work for commercial purposes. A segment of copyright infringers justify their shenanigans by citing the original source of the work, and then fail to ask for permission prior to using a copyrighted work.

Some people are confused about what constitutes fair use or what works are in the public domain.  They have the mistaken belief that information disseminated over the internet is free for the taking or that it is all in the public domain.  I recently read a comment posted in a forum, stating that YouTube videos are “public property”, which is inaccurate.  It is unfortunate that people lack knowledge about this important subject and then spread their ignorance. Comments such as this illustrate that people are confused about what constitutes “fair use” and what works are in the public domain.

Many don’t realize that they could be held liable for copyright infringement by using copyrighted works without permission.  There are very serious consequences for copyright infringement including lawsuit, fines, damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

How Copyright differs from Trademarks and Patents:

An awful lot of confusion exists over the subjects of copyrights, trademarks and patents.  Here’s a very rudimentary explanation; a trademark protects slogans, phrases, logos, and service marks.  Some examples of trademarks are the logo for Apple and Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way”. A patent protects unique ideas expressed in the form of invention.  Applications for trademark and patents must be filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Filing an application for trademark or patent is a much more complex process than copyright registration. Their website is www.uspto.gov.

 

What can you do to protect your written works published over the internet?

 Get your work registered.

 Under the Copyright Act of 1976 (Title 17 of the U.S. Code), a work is automatically protected from the moment that a work is created and recorded.  I recommend that any author or artist making their work available to the public, get their work copyright registered.  Getting your works registered with the United States Copyright Office provides the greatest level of protection under U.S. law.  Artists, authors, musicians, and producers may get information about how to apply for copyright protection of their work by visiting www.copyright.gov .

The application can be filled out on paper and sent through the mail or e-filed at copyright.gov. A copy of the best edition of the work must be included with the application.  It costs $35 to file an application online (single works by one author) and $65 to file “text” applications by mail.  Please note that these are the fees associated with “text” applications for single works by a single author.  The type of application and fees required may vary on a case by case basis.  For example, different applications are required for groups of work and works created by more than one author. Fees are subject to change. There are many factors which must be considered to determine which type of copyright application is appropriate for your situation.

After the application is reviewed and accepted, you will receive your certificate in the mail.  A copy of the work will be available through the Library of Congress. If the application is rejected you will receive notification from the U.S. Copyright Office as to the reasons.  Their fees are nonrefundable.  If you don’t feel competent to handle the paperwork on your own, then it is wise to have an Intellectual Property attorney file the application in order to avoid confusion, mistakes and delays.

 Include a copyright notice on your work.  

 A copyright notice isn’t required in order for the work to be protected.  However, it is a way to claim your work and put the public on notice that you are the copyright owner.  The way to place a valid copyright notice on the work is to include the Copyright symbol, © by holding the “Alt” key and typing the 0169.   Then include the year that the work was created and published and the name of the copyright owner all in the same line, in the copyright notice.

Set up Google Alerts.  This step is fairly straightforward.  Just type in the phrases or sentences that you want to monitor.  Insert your e-mail address into the appropriate box.  You will receive an e-mail alert each time that those phrases or sentences are used on the internet.

Check for plagiarism using search engines Copy and paste selected text from your content into Google and see what turns up in the results.  I check using unique phrases and passages from my content set in quotation marks.

Subscribe to Copyscape.  Running a check of your content through Copyscape software will return results of webpages with content similar to the webpage that you check.  There are both free and paid versions of Copyscape.  The free version allows a limited amount of searches per month.  There is no cost to register for the free version of Copyscape.

Get The Evidence Together Make screenshots of the copied webpages using software like Adobe Pro in PDF format or use the Microsoft Windows Snipping Tool.  Keep your evidence in a safe and convenient place in case you need to present it later.

Do a Who-is search.  This will help you discover the identity of the infringer and locate their contact information.  You can do a who-is search at www.whois.is.

Send an e-mail.  Contact the copyright infringer by e-mail (or snail mail if possible) and demand that your content be removed.  The e-mail is basically a Cease and Desist letter.  Give them a specified amount of time to remove the content before you take further action. Keep your communications professional and be sure to reserve copies of all communications.

File a DMCA takedown notice.  DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. These can be filed with the website where the copied content appears, the web hosting service of that website, and the most popular search engines. It is basically a complaint, asking for the plagiarized content be removed.  If the takedown notice is accepted, then the web host will either remove the copied webpage or the entire website.  Search engines will de-index the copied content from search engine results.  The webmaster of any website where copied content is displayed will delete the copied content from their servers. Third party providers like, web hosts, search engines, and webmasters will cooperate in order to avoid liability and keep their safe harbor status under the DMCA.

Exercise good judgment in filing these and make sure that it is done in good faith. People aren’t required to ask for permission from the original copyright owner in cases of fair use.  But, this is a very complex and seemingly ambiguous area of Intellectual Property law.

Improperly filing a DMCA takedown notice could backfire. There are notorious cases of people wrongly filing DMCA takedown notices, when more suitable legal actions applied (example, defamation of character).  For more information on filing a takedown notice, visit www.chillingeffects.org.  Like Copyright registration, DMCA takedown notices are public record.

Copyright infringement lawsuit.  This action is usually taken as a last resort and to make the victim whole again. Having works registered with the United States Copyright Office gives the owner a greater legal standing in the event that a lawsuit is filed.  Copyright registration is required in order to file a copyright infringement lawsuit.  This will definitely require the help of an attorney. A judgment against the defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit can result in an award of attorneys’ fees, costs and damages incurred.  Also, the court may issue a cease and desist order to have the copied content removed and destroyed.

Useful resources:

www.chillingeffects.org

www.copyright.gov

Is loaded with information about how to use their e-gov system for electronic filings and circulars pertinent to copyright law.

Library of Congress website:

www.loc.gov

Websites where you can find legal information and ask questions:

www.avvo.com

www.nolo.com

Massive Changes at Bubblews

The entire look and feel of the website was revamped. Here are some of the major changes that occurred. In general the changes have made the website more enjoyable and easier to navigate.

1. The dislike button was eliminated. That’s cool, since I didn’t hate on or troll other members like that. If I don’t like someone’s post, then I just move on to another one. Some people were abusing it.

2. Members can no longer like or dislike comments.

3. Bubblews added the ability to delete comments. Yay! Members are more empowered to get rid of people who leave spam or idiotic comments.

4. They limited the ability to edit posts. The option to edit posts is only open for a short while, although I can’t be sure how long. I wanted to update some old posts but that option is no longer available.

5. It now takes about 30 days to get your money after cashing out. It used to be around 72 hours after hitting the redeem button that you would receive an e-mail notification about your payment. Then, members were supposed to receive their payments within about five business days after that e-mail. Bubblews started having problems with delayed payments to members. Hopefully, this will give them a chance to get caught up with paying their members.

6. The website moves much faster now, with fewer errors and less downtime. The 504 error is a thing of the past. It is now easier to leave comments, without double posting them.

7. It is easier to upload pictures from Pixabay. Members can search through Pixabay for free images in the public domain to put on their Bubblews posts.

8. The notifications page is improved. It is broken down into different tabs, with a tab for “likes ” received on your posts and a tab dedicated to comments left on your posts. The confusing “commented on your comment” thread in the notifications was removed.

9. They removed the ability for members to leave comments on another member’s profile page. I was happy about this, since the comments cluttered the profile page and most of the comments were spam.

10. It seems that spammers and plagiarists have dramatically decreased. I think that Bubblews staff will eventually weed out all of most of them as they continue to refine their system. The other members are taking a stand by deleting the spam and reporting members who violate the rules.

11. Many members are complaining that their earnings have decreased, while others are saying that their earnings have increased. My overall earnings per post have dropped a little. I haven’t quite figured out what I need to do to get it back up.

12. Members can no longer hog the front page of Bubblews for days at a time. Now, more members have a better shot at getting their posts on the front page of Bubblews for at least 10 minutes.

13. Bubblews removed the categories. People are compensating for this by using more tags. The “+” and dashes are used for tagging words and phrases. “&” is used to tag another member in a post or comment.

14. Some of the interlinks and tags disappeared in older posts. This is a glitch that will probably be fixed.

15. The archive wasn’t great before. Now it has gone from bad to worse. I don’t know how to easily access many of my old posts. If I run a title search with their search tool, I may or may not find some of my old posts.

16. The like icon is now a star. When you click it to like a post, the star turns yellow.

17. The bank is cute now. It displays how much earnings are currently there and how much you have to earn before the next redemption.

18. I think that their referral program is gone. I don’t see any information on the site regarding the program. I don’t have access to my referral link.

19. Some Bubblews members are reporting that they were paid some of their missing redemptions.

20. Views to posts and earnings per post aren’t as predictable. Some of my newly published posts are making less than $.50 after the first few days published. But, other posts perform much better and earn much more. It is hit or miss in trying to figure out the types of posts that will earn more money now.

Yahoo Contributor Network Shutdown and Squidoo is Merging with Hubpages

Yahoo! shutdown the Yahoo Contributor Network and Yahoo Voices the end of July 2014 and all of the published articles were deleted from their servers.  I wrote a short review about the Yahoo Contributor Network in another blog post.

Even though I wasn’t active there, I am a little upset to see them go. This was one of the first websites that allowed me to publish my content and get paid for it.

I published less than 40 articles, and continued to receive a few dollars in Performance Payments every couple of months. It’s not much, but every bit helps if you want to buy a cup of Starbucks.

I had stopped publishing for YCN over a year, ago. I developed a bit of a distaste for them after I submitted an article to them and never heard anything back (even after 10 business days). I deleted the article from YCN and published it on my personal blog instead.

There are some contributors who published hundreds and even thousands of articles on Yahoo Contributor Network. Many of them were making hundreds to thousands monthly in Upfront Payments and Performance Payments. To see all of that residual income vanish with short notice has to be devastating. Not only does this impact their income, it also impacts the amount of time that it will take for them to download those articles and come up with another plan.

The contributors are going scramble to find somewhere else to put their writing. They will do this in order to keep their residual income stream flowing.

And another one goes down in smoke… Squidoo is shutting down, too!

Squidoo announced that it is closing down. Helium is closing down in December and I hear that Zujava lost their Amazon Associates account. Suite 101 is no more. I see a recurring trend here. As the saying goes: “The only thing that is constant is change”. Many user generated content mills and revenue sharing websites have either shutdown or have problems paying their contributors.

Squidoo is a writing platform founded by Seth Godin that allowed individual authors to publish articles called “lenses”. I joined in 2010, but decided not to publish there, because I didn’t like some of their rules and standards for publishing. I lost interest in Squidoo a few years ago when I noticed how much poorly written stuff was published there. Plus, I didn’t like the way that they treated some of their publishers. Lenses (the articles published on Squidoo) seemed to be locked in an arbitrary fashion, without warning.

Squidoo was acquired by Hubpages (another publishing platform). Lensmasters (the publishers on Squidoo) with at least one featured lens are permitted to migrate their work over to Hubpages, if they wish to do so.

Squidoo was hit really hard by the Panda update, along with many other similar websites. So, the update caused a reduction in search engine traffic, which led to reduced readership and revenue. Hubpages was able to bounce back a little from the Panda update. I don’t think that Hubpages ever made a full recovery of most of its high ranking in Google and traffic. Some of the authors on Hubpages complain that they aren’t making nearly as much money as they were prior to Panda. Many of them have jumped ship due to this fact.

I am going to be honest. When you submit your content to a revenue sharing website, you are building up their internet property and adding value to their system. More good quality and relevant content and media added to a website tends to make Google happy.

The biggest takeaway that I get from this situation is that they can kick you to the curb, whenever they want. They don’t care about your bills and the amount of time that you have invested into producing content and helping their business. They probably won’t be moved if you were to scream “Murder!” and cry tears of blood about the debacle.

Just look at how much courtesy and respect that Squidoo paid to their contributors by dropping the bomb on them at such short notice. The owners of revenue sharing websites are obligated to look out for their own best interests; your interests and financial welfare take a backseat to theirs.

I won’t come down on user-generated content mills and revenue share websites too harshly; that would be like throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. There are some benefits to utilizing them. Revenue sharing websites are fine for building up a portfolio and earning some residual income. They are not a permanent or dependable income stream. We should never become overly dependent on them. If you are going to use them and other third-party money making systems, keep in the back of your mind that you aren’t in control.

Like I said in my video, diversify your income and your efforts. Don’t make the mistake of putting all of your eggs in one basket. Again, look at what has happened to some of the people whom have published their content on Squidoo. Some of them published anywhere from hundreds to thousands of articles there. Those articles were netting many of them hundreds to thousands of dollars per month in residual income.

Now, they are going to hustle and scramble to find a way to replace their lost income. They are going to need to figure out if they should rewrite, repurpose their content, republish it or retire it. Some platforms don’t want content that has been published elsewhere on the web- even if the content has already de-indexed in search engines. So, it may or may not be a good decision to try and put the articles up on another website.

I would love to go on about this, but I think that I have rambled about it enough and beat this topic into the ground. So, I will leave you with this: You can either stop using revenue share websites/user-generated content mills or continue to use them. The choice is yours. If you decide to continue using them, get what you can out of revenue sharing sites, but make sure that you create your own internet property and other revenue streams.

 

The Folly of Putting all of Your Business Eggs in One Basket

When it comes to business and your income, it is not wise put all of your eggs in one basket.  This occurs when you have most or all of your time, energy and money vested into one business or way to make money.   I continually read these sob stories about people that lost their livelihood (and got their feelings hurt) because, for whatever reasons, an income stream dried up on them.

Examples of things that could go awry when you put all of your eggs in one basket:

  • Your Squidoo account is banned or your lenses are locked.
  • A writing platform decides that your posts aren’t high quality and they end up getting deleted without you being notified.
  • A free blogging website determines that you have violated their terms of service agreement in some way and takes down your blog.  There goes your content, the ads, and your readership.
  • Your eBay account is suspended, because too many buyers complained that you sold items “significantly not as described”.
  • PayPal freezes the funds in your account due to “suspicious” activity or just because they want to.
  • Your AdSense account is shut down because of suspected “click fraud”.
  • A major affiliate network that you are a member of changes their terms of service agreement and you are no longer eligible to participate in the program.
  • Amazon Associates eliminates their affiliate program in your state.
  • And, worst of all:  The FTC and attorney general in your state have determined the MLM that you are “affiliated” with is making false claims about their products and defrauding investors and consumers out of their hard earned money.   The government shuts the company down, seizes the company’s assets and the company files for bankruptcy.

Just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the laws in the United States are fickle.  They can change from one moment to the next.  Something that is completely legal today, may become a criminal offense a week from now.  What will you do if your state or federal government suddenly determines that your business model is based on “illegal activity”?

Did you notice the trend with that list?  Some of those companies can get rid of you and leave you with very little or no recourse.  What it all boils down to, is that you don’t have ownership in those systems, so you actually work as an independent contractor for them (i.e. eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Squidoo, Google).  Don’t let this happen to you!  These scenarios seem very pessimistic and far-fetched, but I can assure you that these situations occur quite frequently.

These income streams are fine if you are in the beginning- intermediate stages of entrepreneurship or you aren’t sure where or how to start out.  Many of the companies that I mentioned above are awesome places to earn some money to supplement your income and to learn some new ideas that you can implement and then later expand on.

I am not knocking them; What I am doing here is “keeping it real”. You shouldn’t get hooked on them like crack.  I have earned money through some of these venues myself.  I have learned over the years that creating your own products/services and setting up residual income streams should be the endgame.

Income streams coming through third parties aren’t that reliable in the long term.  Save your money and reinvest it into something that is yours.  As soon as you are in a position to move on then, that is what you ought to do.  I read a book by Felix Dennis called “How to Get Rich” (affiliate link).  In it he says, “Ownership isn’t the important thing-It’s the only thing”.  Much more money, freedom and flexibility come with complete ownership.

It is so much better to OWN YOUR product/service or to develop YOUR OWN business system, where your livelihood is not dependent upon another’s business model.   You have more control when you develop your own system for making money, where you call of the shots. You create the rules and you get to keep (or release) your customers if you so choose.  You also get to keep more profits, since you’re not splitting your revenues or paying exorbitant fees to a third party company.

When all is said and done, you have the option to sell the business or license your products, when you are ready to retire or move on to bigger and better ventures.  An excellent book that I recommend you to read on the topic of diversification is “Multiple Streams of Income” by Robert G. Allen (Yes, it’s an affiliate link and if you buy something through the link, I’ll make a little money off the sale).  Enough said.