For some reason, sensible, moral people who understand the concept of copyright seem to lose it when it comes to the internet.
There’s the assumption that everything on the internet is free for the taking. It’s not. If you like a photo, an article, a short story, or a graphic you cannot just copy and paste it and make it your own. It is someone’s work and that person owns the copyright to it.
Copyright laws apply to the cyber world just as they do in the real world. Copyright is the right of the owner to reproduce or permit someone else to reproduce their copyrighted creative works. Copyright is in place by default. What I mean by this is I don’t have to explicitly state that I own the copyright to my work, it’s automatically implied.
The only instance where it’s free to take something that isn’t yours and use it, is when it is in the public domain, and in this case it will be explicitly stated, or where materials are old enough to have the copyright expire (usually the life of the creator plus 50 years).
Copyright is different from plagiarism. In plagiarism, the person takes your photo or story and pastes it at their website and leaves your name off, or worse, puts his name on it. I recently had a column of mine copied in its entirety and posted on a South African website.
They acknowledged that the column was written by me and even stated where they got it from, but still, this is copyright infringement. I am the copyright holder and I have the right to say who can use my work. A column already published in one place, can be sold again to another publication. When the website owner decided to steal my column, he actually stole my potential income from that column as well.
I take a hard-line view regarding copyright. Not all writers and editors do. Some believe that on the internet there is something to be gained when a website picks up your article or story and re-posts it on their site. It gets your name out there and gives you more exposure.
The world of the internet is all about hits on your name and moving up the Google ladder. Some writers accept that this is good enough. In the case of my column, when I contacted the South African publication, the editor told me that he liked the column so much he wanted it to get more exposure. He seemed to think his little start-up in South Africa would give me more exposure than the well established and respected publication in the United Kingdom where the column originally appeared.
He thought I should be thankful. He claimed no other writer had ever complained before about his practices. Exposure is a word most artists in this country despise. Yes, we need to be known. No, we do not want to be exploited by people too cheap to pay for our work.
His reasoning had many holes in it. There is a proper way to bring more exposure to an article or story that you like. You can put a few lines on your blog or website and then link it back to the original website that paid for the writing. In this way not only are you helping to expose writing you enjoy, you are pushing internet traffic to the original site.
Advertising on websites is sold at rates determined by the traffic on that site. The more people, the more the website can charge for advertising. In this way you’ll be assisting the website that paid for the writing. This assists the website to continue to be able to pay writers. And by linking back in this way you’ll not be infringing on anyone’s copyright.
If instead you do as this website did, and steal the writing, you stop traffic going to the website that paid for that column. In the long run such a free-for-all will lead to a situation where no one can afford to pay for writers to write content for websites.
What I find so demoralising is that often writers, editors and publishers themselves are the biggest culprits in this type of theft. It is a short-sighted view that will lead to a situation that will make all of us poorer.
This is the first part on copyright and the internet. Next week we’ll hear what some writers and editors feel about the issue.