Here’s a not so hypothetical indecent. A blogger writes an article and it is posted online. Some time later their friend calls and asks how they got published in a magazine. This is the first they’ve heard of it. They are given the magazine information and contact the editor. You’d think the editor would apologize for somehow failing to get permission from the writer or for offering them payment for their work… but noooo. The writer is then insulted about the quality of their work and says that the writer should pay them for fixing the article and publishing it. They add that because it was on the internet it was public domain they were free to use it. Are they correct?
No. First, articles and images do not become public domain once posted in the internet, unless it is clearly expressed by the author that the work is in the public domain, or unless it meets other public domain rules. Second, an editor should always contact the writer, because they may have sold the rights of the article to someone else and so at this point they may be stealing from two people. For example, if I were to submit this article to Associated Content and given them exclusive rights to it, someone wanting to use it would contact me, only for me to send them to Associated Content to get permission to use the article.
There is no way for the editor to know who actually owns the article, and so using it without the permission is breaking copyright laws and violating the owner’s rights, whoever the owner may be.
The editor in this case would also be guilty of a lack of professionalism because you can’t justify your right to someone’s work by insulting them about the quality. Surely you saw value in it, or you would not have used it in the first place.
As a content writer, it is not unusual to find that someone stole your article. This actually steals revenue if the original article is posted on a site that pays for reads of the article. The duplicate article siphons off reads and the author loses income. Another way income is lost is that Google and sees the article as duplicates and devalues one or the other, or both, also causing the article to be read less and the writer to receive less money for page views.
Content writers should not have to spend a tenth of their day trolling the internet to search for stolen content. However, this is what is beginning to happen. Content writers are being less productive wasting more and more time dealing with the care and feeding of their article.