Picture this: your heart starts racing as if you just sprinted a marathon.
These were all the feelings that bubbled up to the surface when I discovered my published work had been stolen.
Google alerted me to the fact my first novel was being offered for free download. Only problem? My book isn’t free.
With my jaw on the ground and my stomach in my throat, I took all my panic and channeled it into research so I could fight back.
Here’s what I found out: this issue impacts all writers online. As a blogger, you might be at an even higher risk of having your work hijacked. Luckily there’s something we can all do to find out if our work has been stolen and then put the smack-down on the offenders.
Do bloggers lose income if their work is stolen?
The answer is yes.
Why? Think about this: What’s the first thing you do before you pitch a potential client?
You research the company, their blog, and other details to make sure you’ll be a good fit, right? Well, your potential clients are probably doing the same to you.
As a blogger who freelances for income, you count on your clips to impress potential clients. You send them links to your best work so they get to know who you are and how you’ll make their blog amazing.
What do you think will happen if a potential client finds a copy of your post on someone else’s site, without your author credit or byline?
They’re going to be asking themselves: “Who actually wrote this piece anyway?”
With your credibility in question, can you guess what happens next?
Yup. Say bye-bye to that potential client, not to mention your potential to become a full-time writer earning a living from your words. And the scary thing is, you may never find out why.
So am I just screwed or what?
The answer is no!
You work hard and make your posts as kick-ass as they can be. Slimy people might steal that hard work for their own gain.
However, it’s your job to make sure your work is protected, so let’s talk for a second about my 3 new favorite words: intellectual property (IP) law.
In the simplest terms, IP is anything you birthed from the depths of your creative genius. Graphic art, a patented product, photographs, a book, and every single one of your bylined blog posts. For bloggers, the most important part of IP law involves copyright.
Copyright law is a complex and multi-layered topic but, as a freelance blogger, here’s the single most important thing you need to remember:
As soon as you write it, you hold the copyright.
I want everyone to go back right now and re-read that sentence, because it’s what will keep you calm if you find out you’ve been infringed upon. But don’t confuse copyright with publishing rights.
Copyright and publishing rights are different but work together
Copyright is the protection of your unique expression of your idea. Publishing rights should protect both the writer and the client or publisher. Let me give you an example how this works.
I write weekly for a client as a ghostwriter. Meaning my name (or byline) never appears on my work. In fact, after he accepts the piece I have no idea what happens to it. We have a contract that says once the piece leaves my hands and payment hits my account, I transfer ownership to my client.
In other words, I sell the piece outright, including the copyright. You may also see this arrangement called work-for-hire. [A work-for-hire agreement can only apply to certain types of freelance work — learn more here.]
Not all bloggers are going to be cozy with that concept, so we need to know about the different rights we can choose to sell to our clients.
When you sell publication rights, your client gets only the precise rights specified in your contract, while all unsold rights stay with you. If you’re not sure whether you’re selling copyright or publication rights, check your contract or ask your client to clarify the rights they want to buy — and research the rights they request so you know exactly what you’re dealing with.
As an example, check out Sophie’s guidelines for guest posts. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll read that she maintains exclusive electronic rights, meaning your post can’t be published anywhere else online than Be A Freelance Blogger. However, if you want to re-publish your piece in print she’s all for you selling the print publication rights!
Is there a way to find out where my work ends up online?
Indeed there is.
It’s pretty easy to keep an eye out for where your posts might end up. In fact, the way I found out about the violation on my novel was through a Google alert. Just follow these steps to set yours up:
- Go to Google and log in.
- Navigate to Google alerts.
- Under “Search Query” enter the title/headline of your article.
- Fill in the other criteria as you need to and click Create Alert.
That’s it! I encourage you not to stop at one alert though.
Set alerts on all your most popular posts, on keywords you use a lot (headlines can be changed after all), your name, your business name, even phrases in your popular posts.
If your post shows up somewhere online, you’ll get an email alert and you can check whether the publication is authorized or not.
Sometimes you or your client may have arranged syndicated publication, which means your post will be published to multiple locations. Just remember, if you’ve been writing for a while you could forget about a post you syndicated. Refer to your contract, and communications with the client, to remind yourself before taking action on a post you think might not be authorized for publication.
But if you do need to take action, it’s comforting to know you can.
How to handle a copyright infringement
When I found out my work had been hijacked by a digital kleptomaniac, I turned to a friend who’s a practicing IP Attorney. She had just one thing to say to me:
“Jenn, you should do a DMCA notice to the web host. They will pull down the entire site if the infringing content is not removed.”
A quick search online gave me all the info on what a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice is and how to write one. If you get an alert and find out that someone is trying to steal your work, first, track down the site host (whois.com is a great resource) then send a DMCA like I did.
All in all the entire process took me no more than an hour.
Does a DMCA notice really work?
After sending the DMCA notice I checked on the link daily. After about 3 days I saw “Error 522 – website is offline.”
For a blogger who just wants to make an honest living, there’s nothing scarier than finding out your work’s been stolen by people who don’t intend to pay you, thank you or even mention you.
But with copyright laws on your side, and a little persistence, you can take back control of your words and your income.
Invest a little time to learn about your rights.
Because protecting your business is the best investment of all.
Confused by copyrights, contracts and all that other legal stuff? To cover your ass and know your rights, check out Sophie’s step-by-step training for beginners:
Get Started for Freelance Blogging Success.