What do you do if your work is stolen?

By Katharine Swan On Monday, September 24, 2007 At 5:41 PM

The theft of intellectual property is a major concern for writers, particularly those who entrust their work to the World Wide Web. Unfortunately, many idiots out there believe -- or profess to believe -- that everything on the Internet is free, and steal other people's work at will. In other words, most writers have to deal with content thieves at some point in their career.

If your work is ever stolen, you do have options available to you. The first thing you need to do, however, is Google your name periodically. You can also Google unique phrases, in quotes, from work you have posted online (that you retain the copyrights to, of course). Although I have not tried it, supposedly you can set up a Google alert to automatically notify you when new pages are posted that meet your search criteria. As this would save you a lot of time, I recommend looking into this feature (and at some point, I will take my own advice and do so, too).

If your work is posted to a website without your permission, I recommend a no-holds-barred approach. Don't forget, this person STOLE from you, and deserves no lenience whatsoever. I don't care if they claim they thought it was okay. If you are going to have a website or an online business, you have a responsibility to know the laws associated with the work that appears online. No exceptions, and no excuses!

If you find your work has been stolen, these are the steps I recommend you take:

1) Get the website owner's full contact information. Whether or not this is listed on the website, I recommend doing a WHOIS search. The website registration information is legally required to be accurate, whereas the information on their site may be incomplete or false.

2) Screen print your work on their site. Save this information as proof of the theft.

3) Contact the website owner. Don't complain or sound uncertain. Tell them in no uncertain terms that they are using your work illegally, and that you have attached an invoice for the use of your work. Make this invoice professional and the fees fair.

4) If you're lucky, the thief will agree to pay up. If you're not, s/he may wheedle, beg, claim ignorance, or try any number of tactics to get out of paying you (or lower the amount). You don't have to negotiate with a thief! Simply tell her or him that these are your rates, and that they have already used the material (without permission!) so they have forgone the right to negotiate.

5) If they still won't pay, research their hosting company's terms and conditions. (You can also find out who their hosting company is using the WHOIS search.) Most likely it mandates that hosted websites must not be used for anything illegal. Once you verify this, write to the thief and tell her or him that copyright infringement is a violation of their hosting company's terms and conditions, and that if they do not pay your invoice you will notify their hosting company. Also tell the thief that you will contact WritersWeekly.com, Ripoffreport.com, their local police department, and anyone else you can think of. Tell them that if you don't receive payment by a deadline that you have set (a week or two, usually) that you will notify all of these parties.

6) Stick to the deadline. If you don't receive payment, follow through. While turning the thief in may not inspire her or him to pay you, at least you'll have the satisfaction of teaching one more deadbeat that stealing writers' work is NOT okay.

I've my work printed online without my permission once. I used the strategy I spelled out above, and although I never was paid, I did succeed in getting the offending web page removed. Moreover, I'm sure Joyce Svitak will think twice the next time she wants to use someone's work without their permission!

For more information and tips (and to see where I got my strategy), check out these links:
http://www.writersweekly.com/the_latest_from_angelahoycom/003316_03082006.html
http://www.writersweekly.com/the_latest_from_angelahoycom/003328_03152006.html
http://www.writersweekly.com/the_latest_from_angelahoycom/002330_01122005.html

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Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

Interesting post. I've never invoiced anyone, because I feel as though if they do pay me for it, then I'm agreeing to allow them to keep the stolen piece up on their site. I don't really want to be in the business of selling my work to thieves.

I give them a week to remove it, and if they don't, I notify their domain owner and hosting company. What's really fun is when they steal something I've already sold to another client. Then, I get that client involved, and if the client is a company with a legal department, it gets really fun. :-)

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

Amy,

Thanks for visiting. I got the idea of invoicing from Angela Hoy. She says — and I agree with her — that you are justified in invoicing the thief because in duplicating your work, they have devalued it, even if they take it back down again.

 
 
Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

I'd be all for making them take it down AND pay me, but I'd never thought of that before. It just seems to me some of these morons would have the attitude of "Well, I paid for it after I stole it, so now I can legally use it." Ya know?

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

That's why you charge them A LOT. :::evil grin:::

At least, whatever is fair for lifetime rights to the work (because you know they won't abide by any one-time use clause). ;o)

 
 
Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

Haha. Maybe I'll have to try that next time. ;-)

 

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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