Let’s Talk About Who’s Stealing Blog Content

6702078371_d5a401bab5_zStop me if you’ve heard this one before:

I found my blog post published on someone else’s site. I’m so mad!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have heard it before. A lot. You can barely sit down in front of your computer lately without reading about someone whose content has been stolen. In some cases, it’s the usual splogs. In others, it’s apparently actual members of the genealogical community…like, people you know. People you’ve Facebook-liked or LinkedIn-endorsed or whatever. The splogs are part of life on the internet, but when people you actually know are stealing from you…well, now, that’s a problem we can solve.

Here’s the problem, though: Nobody will say who’s stealing from them. We have an epidemic of nice, and it’s providing cover for people who are doing shady things. I think we need to end the epidemic of nice right now.

Let me tell you what I will do if you steal my copyrighted content:

  • If you’re a splog, I will report you to your hosting company. I will not send you an email first. I will not educate you about copyright, or ask you to remove it, or spend one single second of my time interacting with you. I’m busy, and you suck.  That’s two reasons right there why those things aren’t worth my time. It’s faster and easier to just report you, and the sooner I do it, the sooner I can enjoy the satisfaction of checking back and finding that your blog has disappeared from the internet (which is usually what happens…the content disappears within 24 hours. Then I celebrate with ice cream. It’s win-win.) If you don’t know how to report a splog, GeneaBloggers has some great resources.
  • If you’re a real person from the genealogical community, and it’s clear that this is real theft and not an honest mistake, I’ll go get a can of pop. Then I’ll create a blog post. It will say, “On [DATE], I published the following post: [LINK]. On [DATE], I found the following on [YOUR FULL NAME]’s website, [FULL NAME OF WEBSITE AND/OR YOUR COMPANY]. Then I’ll post a screen capture of my content on your site. That’ll be the end of the post.

See, that’s factual. I’m not calling you names, I’m not whining, I’m not playing reindeer games with you. I’m just presenting a document and citing my source. That’s what we do in genealogy. You can call all the lawyers you want, but if it’s a real screen capture that I haven’t altered or something, there’s nothing to argue about. The community can draw its own conclusions, and so can anyone who searches for your name on the internet. That’s accountability, and it’s a good thing.

I’m boggled every time I see someone saying, “Someone stole my content, and I’m really mad.” WHO stole your content? WHY won’t you say? For a bunch of people who talk nonstop about citing sources, we sure do make a great big exception for this, and I can’t fathom why. Are you afraid of lawsuits? What do you think someone’s going to sue you for, exactly? If you’re not name-calling or doing something else stupid, there’s no problem. In fact, back in my HR days, I used to hear, “I have a lawyer” about every 17 minutes. I usually said, “Okay, well, make sure your lawyer spells my name right.” Lawyers aren’t scary if you’re not doing anything illegal. It’s not illegal to post a screen capture of your copyrighted work on someone else’s site, and it’s not illegal to say where the screen capture came from. It might be illegal if you call that person a lying thief and total weenie (not really, but whatever). So don’t do that. Post the evidence, and let people think “weenie” themselves. (It might also be a good idea to turn off comments on your blog for this particular post, because otherwise you’ll have a mob of people who DO call your thief names, and that can be legitimately problematic. If I get that sort of thing in the comments of this post, I’m telling you right now that I’ll probably have to edit or delete them. I like facts, but not pitchfork-and-torch stuff.)

I realize that there are a few cases where people are actually suing, or planning to sue, or whatever. My site isn’t really commercial, but for those who are, I can see where that would be a real option. In that case, you should take your lawyer’s advice if she says not to say anything. My own policy, though, is that suing people is time-consuming and stressful and expensive and bad for my blood pressure, and since this website is not making me a ton of dough, it’s not really worth it. If I can out them for free, on my own blog, in a matter of minutes…well, I’d rather do that.

I think we need to stop providing cover for people who steal. We could solve this problem in very short order if we stopped being honest only in secret and started stating facts and citing them. If someone broke into your house and stole your stuff, and you knew who did it, you wouldn’t go on Facebook and say, “This unnamed guy I know stole from me and I’m so mad!” and then provide his name via super-secret email only. You’d call the cops, give his name, and press charges. You’d do that because the weenie stole from  you, and because you wouldn’t want him out stealing from other people. Why does that rule not apply here too?

Post the evidence. Cite your source. That’s how I roll, and I wish that was how everyone else rolled too. I think this problem would go away in a heartbeat if we just stopped whispering.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. If you take legal advice from some chick on the internet, you’re probably an idiot. 

Photo by dullhunk

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