The other day, completely by accident, I found one of my short stories, “A Memory of Mother”, on a website I’d never seen before.
The story was once published on the website belonging to an African writing friend of mine and I have it linked to my own blog. But now here was the story, lifted word for word from my friend’s website, and put on another one in Canada. No one asked for permission to do that. It had been on this Canadian site for eight months.
I contacted the owner of the website in Canada and asked him why he thought it was okay to take my story and use it to bring people to his website without my permission. He seemed to think I was mad. His take was that everything on the internet is free for the taking.
He also felt he was doing me a favour by distributing my work. It is the same “favour” promoters who don’t pay musicians speak about when they use that terrible word- “exposure”. I wonder if my plumber will fix my leaking tap for “exposure”?
I was furious! This was MY writing, no one else’s, and I would decide where and when it could be used. I complained on Facebook and writing friends commiserated, but most felt when it came to the internet there was little we could do but hope people would do the right thing.
One Facebook friend who is a writer and quite well versed on copyright, conveniently knew people working in the copyright office in Canada and they made a complaint on my behalf. The only problem was that our copyright society, COSBOTS, has yet to register writers’ work, otherwise if they had my work registered and were affiliated with the Canadian copyright association then the people in Canada could have fought for payment from this man on my behalf.
I went back to his site to get a better look and I realised the entire site was made up of photographs, poems and short stories he had copied and pasted onto his site. He put the authors’ names at the bottom in a tiny font size and if you clicked on the name it would take you to the site from where he had stolen the work. He seemed to think this covered him for copyright issues. It didn’t.
I decided to get proactive. I chose about twenty of the photographers, writers and literary magazines he’d stolen from and sent them an email explaining that their work was also on this site. For about a week or so the website was down. When it came back the stolen content was gone. So there are ways to deal with such people and it doesn’t need to involve expensive lawyers, only a bit of creativity.
Despite what people might think, nothing on the internet is free for the taking. You don’t have to claim your copyright, once created and stored in anyway, the work belongs to you. I know for a fact that print publications in Botswana have a problem with lazy journalists lifting things directly off the internet, putting their name on it, and handing it to an editor. This is illegal.
If you have a blog and you find something you’d like your readers to read, you can’t just copy and paste the article. The correct method is to write about what you like, perhaps including a few lines or a paragraph that is linked back to the original site from where you read it. This drives traffic to that site and the author will be happy about that, unlike if you lift it and paste it on your blog.