With the recent hubbub over Judith Griggs and the Cooks Source copyright infringement controversy, you would think that people would learn from her example. Apparently, some people still just don’t get it. People like Robert Heard, who seems destined to be the next Griggs.
It all started when Suite101 writer Tamara McGee Andersen found one of her articles, Happiness in Marriage: Tips to a Happy and Fulfilling Life Together, copied on Heard’s blog without her permission in late September. She sent a message to Heard explaining Suite101’s reprint policy (he could use up to 50 words of the text, plus a link to the original work) and requesting that the article be removed, and he took it down. So Andersen was shocked on October 29 when she discovered that Heard had reposted the entire article, again without permission.
Livid, Andersen contacted Suite101, who sent Heard another message requesting the article be removed from the site. He responded in a comment on her stolen article:
“The authors [sic] name is on the article and it is linked back from this site. I would think you would be pleased. However if you want it off my site let me know and I will take it down. Please accept my apologies for putting it up but I didn’t feel it was wrong. I sincerely hope you can forgive me for my transgressions in this incident. Why would I steal it and link it and put the author on it?”
This sounds all too much like the ignorant responses from Griggs, who seemed to think she was somehow doing favors to authors by reprinting their articles. While it may not seem a big deal to Heard and others like him, it is a growing problem for the community of online freelance writers.
Writers like Andersen get the short end of the proverbial stick when their work is stolen. The duplicate articles divert traffic away from the author’s original article, blog, or website. In some cases, a thieving website may have a higher Google page rank than the site the text originally appeared on, or search engines will view the reposted version of the article to be newer and “fresher.” In these situations, a content-stealing website can leach a substantial portion of the original author’s audience. Since writers at websites like Suite101 depend on web traffic for their income, copyright infringement is the equivalent of reaching right into someone’s pocket and helping yourself to a portion of whatever is inside.
Andersen isn’t alone in this. While Heard did remove Andersen’s article a second time (just this morning) after she sent a scathing message in regard to legal action, Heard’s blog also turned up articles stolen from eHow, the WebMD family of sites, The Washington Post, and many other websites. The blog is also peppered with stolen stock images; the theft is obvious due to the large watermarks on the images from sites like FotoSearch and PhotographersDirect.
Unfortunately, the incidents with Griggs and Heard are far from isolated. Similar stories and complaints crop up in writers’ forums all the time. It is not uncommon for writers to dedicate hours each week to tracking down plagiarized articles, filing DCMA takedown notices, and taking other legal actions against plagiarizing and copyright infringing websites.
The good news is, Heard’s days are surely numbered. Media giants don’t take kindly to content theft, and since Heard’s “transgressions” have been brought to light it shouldn’t take long for him to be swarmed by legal teams. However the fight is far from over; there will always be another webmaster with no morals waiting in the wings to continue the cycle of content theft.