Copyright Abuse and Filing Copyright

I've been posting articles and book excerpts on the Internet since 1995, and I've been ripped-off thousands of times. The medium happens to be ideally suited to copyright infringement. A simple "Save As" or cut-and-paste is all it takes to plagiarize somebody's work. Intellectual property posted on the Internet is subject to the same copyright law protection as work published any other way, but that doesn't stop the rampant abuses from occurring. There are three basic categories of copyright abuse on the Internet:

#1 Casual infringers, primarily discussion list or forum participants, who think nothing of lifting a couple paragraphs or pictures to illustrate a point and using them in a thread without even giving attribution. Sometimes they link back to the source material, which may bring the copyright owner a few extra visitors or visibility in the search engines, so I don't get excited about this form of infringement, though I wish they'd just put in a reference that says, "See this site," with a link.

#2 Automated infringers, scraper sites, faux databases and directories that try to disguise their copyright abuse as "fair use" by stealing a few sentences from a dozen or so sources and presenting them on a page (surrounded by advertisements) as a "resource." I've talked to my lawyer about this, a top intellectual law attorney, and he explained that one of the conditions for "fair use" is adding some value to the original, by means of commentary or the like (my wording), and it was unclear that automated collation would meet that test. The real damage here is to the integrity of search engine results and the possibility that massive linking from scrapers actually hurts the search engine visibility of the original pages.

#3 Individual, wholesale infringers, who plagiarize entire pages, often removing copyright notifications (even those embedded in images) and either present the work as their own or as a find that they are free to exploit for their own purposes. In some rare cases, these people may even repackage and sell material that is being given away for free or that is available for sale from the publisher with protection (Digital Rights Management) which the plagiarist has removed.

Properly displaying copyright notification and even filing a copyright for a website does not prevent copyright abuse. Filing a copyright for your website with the U.S. Copyright Office costs $30, which makes it easier to prove infringement in a court of law, and also allows you to sue for damages. However, if you read Circular 66 - Copyright Registration for Online Works, you'll find that the registered copyright only covers a single fixed form, that version which is registered, and large websites with frequent content updates may file for revised versions every day!

It's quite easy to find cases of copyright abuse for your material on the web. Just pick a random phrase, four or five words long, and search for it in Google, in quotes. For example, I just searched on "find cases of copyright abuse" from the previous sentence, and there's not a single exact match on the Internet. Tomorrow or the next day, this page will show up, and if you're reading this in a couple months, you'll be able to Google the phrase and find all the copies. Some may be legitimate extracts in Blog announcements, but if you find the whole thing in a discussion list or on somebody's personal website, it's a rip-off.

For all the copyright infringement and abuse of intellectual property that takes place on the Internet, it remains the best way for self publishers to promote their works. Face it, if nobody is ripping you off, nobody is interested, and this is that unique situation where it's better to be mugged than ignored. Every month or so I take an afternoon and Google-up a half dozen or so copyright infringers from the third category, individuals who are trying to cash in on my work, and send them an e-mail to cease and desist. If that doesn't work, I e-mail their web host with an invitation to make the acquaintance of my lawyer if they don't remove the offending site. It's worked 100% of the time for countries in the Western World.

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