Monday, November 28, 2011

Copyright Theft

On Saturday morning I checked my emails and dealt with the usual crop of blog comments and links that needed moderating. I run a few blogs and websites, but by far the busiest is that provides free writing advice and services. I earn a nice bit of money from this blog from advertising so it is worth putting in the daily effort. But this day I noticed that someone was linking to one of my articles on what makes a good children's book . Although old, it still attracts a fair bit of traffic. So I followed the link back to its source as I usually do before approving it. Like most of you, I should imagine, I do this in order to make sure the website is one that I don't mind being associated with.

However, when I got to the site I discovered a bare bones affair that had only recently been put up. My article, reprinted in its entirety, was one of about half a dozen articles 'stolen' from other sites on the web. The owner of the blog had actually linked to my site, so it wasn't plagiarism, but had not realised (or didn't care) that it was illegal to reprint someone else's article without their prior permission. Even more disturbing was that the owner of the blog claimed to be a digital media student at a British university. Now I'm a part-time lecturer in writing for the media at another British university, so know that media ethics and copyright law should be part of a media studies programme. In other words, this girl should have known better.

I sent the blog owner a polite email asking her to either reduce my article to a paragraph exerpt with a link or remove it entirely. So far she has not responded to my request. I will give it a few more days and if she still does not comply I will contact the media department at her university and ask them to 'deal' with it.

This copyright 'thief', whether inadverdent or deliberate, is at least traceable - perhaps because she is not particularly web savvy and does not know how to hide her identity. In contrast, the owners of an apparently American website selling ceramic butter dishes who used one of my articles on writing from a point of view, proved to be completely untraceable. Well I suppose an online forensic detective could have tracked them down, but I'm not one of those! I still don't know why writing from a POV would be considered appropriate content for a butter dish site, but they certainly hadn't buttered me up to buy any of their products!

On reflection, I think the media student was simply ignorant of her breach of copyright but the butter dish people were deliberate. Either way, it points to a worrying trend: in this increasingly digital age intellectual property rights are no longer respected. The internet is predicated on a philosophy that information can and should be shared freely and that with a simple click and drag, your hard-grafted words can be used to someone else's profit. Fortunately, to my knowledge, this has not yet happened with any of my fiction, but I have heard of other authors who have lost work this way.

I think there is a need for a re-education of bloggers who simply do not know any better or those who have 'forgotten' how copyright operates. In much the same way as the music and film industry educate their consumers about piracy, electronic writers of prose need to start raising awareness of the issue. I think I know what my next blog post will now be about. And if someone decides to steal that, well at least the message is being spread.

Formerly a journalist, Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer of books, theatre plays and screenplays. Her latest novel, The Peace Garden, is a romantic thriller set in England and South Africa. It is available as an e-book. Her Young David children’s picture book series is available online and through bookshops. Fiona is also the editor of the popular writing advice website The Crafty Writer and her courses attract students from around the world. She lives with her husband, daughter and two dogs in Newcastle upon Tyne where she lectures in media and scriptwriting at the local universities.


  1. Hi Fiona,
    I think the internet is also responsible for this mind set -- if it's on the 'net, it's free. I know there are sites that require subscriptions and payments - Publisher's Weekly, for example -- but with the millions of sites available, I think the population in general believes anything out there is fair game to copy, use, abuse, quote, etc. It seems the gatekeepers are disappearing, not only for writers trying to get published, but for readers wanting a story for free. It's no wonder so many newspapers and magazines have gone out of business. The downside of all this "free" information is that advertisers become the new arbiters of what's worthy and useful to boradcast. Yikes!

  2. So true when you say the gatekeepers are disappearing. And if we think it's bad for writers, spare a thought for the poor photographers! But are we going to just sit back and let it happen? What can we do about it? Or is it simply a matter of adapt or die?

  3. Success! The errant media student has now withdrawn my article from her site. One down, several million to go in my quest to re-educate the blogosphere.