If you have a blog or personal web site, you probably upload pictures to it without a second thought. But how safe is your are your photos and text from content theft? If you think you’re just a small blogger in a blogosphere of millions and content theft worries aren’t something you need to deal with, you’re wrong. You might be providing your creative talent for free to unscrupulous publications, blogs, and web sites. Content theft is a real problem for everyone, since many people think that anything posted on the internet is free for the taking.
Content Theft: Even Publishing Companies Are Doing It
One of my favorite bloggers, Suzanne McMinn, is a former romance writer turned farmer who documents her life’s adventures with clever blog posts, delicious recipes and cute, creative photos on her blog, Chickens in the Road. Recently, one of her photos was stolen by a publishing company and used in both the print and online version of one of their articles. With the help of a band of loyal readers and a refusal to back down, Suzanne proved to the publisher that helping yourself to pictures from anywhere on the internet isn’t ethical and that content theft can carry repercussions.
In 2008, Suzanne posted the charming picture above of three billy goats on her blog. While someone unfamiliar with photography might consider it a lucky snapshot, Suzanne actually took about 100 pictures in order to get one just like that. Goats are stubborn critters, and they don’t typically line up and face the same direction on cue. When friends of Suzanne’s told her that they saw her picture in Countryside Magazine’s Dairy Goat Journal, she compared the two and confirmed that they were right.
You can read Suzanne’s original post here, but the gist of the story is that she contacted the head of Countryside Publications and informed them that they had used her photo without her permission. Despite initial (and insulting) refusals to apologize or listen to her requirements, Suzanne wrote the following letter:
“Had you asked to use my photo in your magazine, I would have gladly donated it for no other cost than my credit and a link to my website. However, you didn’t ask. You stole.
My charge for this photo now is an industry standard $350, per use (print and internet), tripled, per reasonable industry practice, as an up-charge for the unauthorized, uncredited use, bringing the charge to $1050 per use (print and internet). That is a total of $2100.
I also require a statement in the editor’s column of the next Dairy Goat Journal including an apology, a credit to me for the photo, my name, and my website address. (In the January/February 2011 edition, if possible. If not possible due to publication deadlines, no later than the March/April 2011 edition.) The photo must also be permanently reinstated in the online edition with the credit of my name and my website address (with link).
P.S. I will email my address to firstname.lastname@example.org so you can put the check in the mail. If I don’t receive the check within 7 days, you will hear from my attorney. Thanks!”
After fruitless email exchanges and a phone conversations with the head of the publication company that failed to resolve the issue, Suzanne decided that she was going to have to follow up with legal action, even though she lives in West Virginia and would likely have to travel to Wisconsin to do it. Meanwhile, Chickens in the Road readers rallied to the cause, calling editors, writing emails, alerting the Better Business Bureau, and canceling subscriptions to the magazine. Finally, Suzanne was contacted again and informed that her requirements would be met.
But I’m not a big-name blogger – why should I worry?
Even if your blog isn’t as popular as Chickens in the Road, as long as you are posting, you’re at risk of content theft. As the owner of Countryside Publications told Suzanne, “…the theft occurred while the editor… was browsing the internet looking for a cover photo.”
If you don’t want others profiting from your work, either out of ethical ignorance or with the intent of getting something for nothing, you should take steps to protect your work.
Protecting Yourself from Content Theft
Aside from completely password protecting your blog or web site (which would defeat the purpose if you actually want visitors), it’s impossible to make sure no one can ever steal your work. But there are things you can do to minmize the risks. Here are two options:
Use watermarks on your photos.
A watermark doesn’t stop people from stealing a picture of yours, but it does ensure that your name or website address will be on a permanent part of the photo when they do. To find out how to put a watermark on your photos, check out this article: How to Add a Watermark to Your Digital Images Using Paint.net.
Limit Your Feed
If you have a feed subscriber, like Google Reader or Feedburner, make sure that your feed isn’t set to full, and allow only a paragraph or so to show up in your subscribers’ reader. Not only will you up your page views when your subscribers click through to read your complete article, but content thieves will have a harder time stealing your work.
What to do if you are a Victim of Content Theft
If you find out that someone is using content from your blog or web site without your permission, you can take action. While it’s not always possible to resolve the situation with the kind of results that Suzanne achieved, if you have a plan in place to deal with content theft, you might at least be able to stop the person using your photos or text illegaly.
For a comprehensive article that offers great tips on dealing with content theft, check out What to do when Someone Steals Your Content from Lorelle on WordPress.
Content theft is an ongoing issue that affects everyone, from owners of popular blogs like Chickens in the Road to smaller bloggers posting about grandkids, craft projects and homeschooling. If you’re aware of the risks involved with content theft and prepared to deal with it effectively, you can protect yourself from having your hard work stolen for someone else’s profit.