Stop Thief!: On Content Theft & What To Do

A week ago, I found one of my posts showing up in another place. (see the case here) I groaned. Copycats (1, 2) are not new to me but somehow one never gets used to the unpleasantness of the experience. Whatever one creates, whether it is a child or an article or a song or a dish, it requires putting a little slice of oneself into it. And to see that so easily lifted and carried away by someone else, cuts real deep.

Strangely enough, a lot of people don’t seem to understand this. I can only surmise that you don’t really ‘get it’ until it happens to you. In the past and this time too, I’ve had people telling me to ‘not make a big deal about it’, ‘to get over it’ and that it’s ‘commonplace on the internet’. That doesn’t make it any easier for me to deal with AND that doesn’t make it right. Try telling a parent whose child has been kidnapped or even treated unjustly that shit happens all the time and that they should ‘get over it’.

My M.O. in such cases is usually to notify the offender, in private if possible and then with a comment on their blog. Failing a response on these two, I take it public and blog/tweet about this. The reason I do this is very simple – when something is stolen from you, your first instinct is to shout “CHOR! CHOR!” in the hope that someone else will help you or at very least acknowledge that you’ve been wronged.

I was happy to note that support for such cases has increased in the blogosphere. A number of people RTed my tweet, shared their own content-theft stories and connected me to people they thought might be able to help. There were the scoffers, the ones who thought I was just making a big deal out of nothing. But happily, they were in minority.

I finally registered a complaint with Google (the offender’s blog being hosted on Blogspot) by filling in the copyright-infringement form. Within a day the post had been taken down and the copycat had apologized. I’m finding it a little difficult to believe that someone who’d advise people about the internet doesn’t understand the seriousness of content theft. Also the fact that there was no response forthcoming until I’d taken matters to a serious authority adds to my skepticism. Still, I don’t care to continue this conversation with him.

I’m going to let that post stay up there as a record of what did happen and how I dealt with it. The purpose is manifold. First of all, I don’t condone stealing and this is a warning to any aspiring copycats. Secondly, I’d like to go on record to state that this is serious, is a big deal and must be spoken about. Thirdly, I heard something that annoyed me greatly. A friend of a friend who spoke about this was known to remark,

“Where are all these supporters when these things happen to small-time bloggers?”

The implication of blogging being an elite club where the inner-circle members look out only for their own would be laughable if I wasn’t so angry. Blogging by its very nature, is democratic, allowing anyone to publish their ideas and thoughts. I don’t think of myself as a ‘big-time blogger’. By whatever strange parameter I’ve been judged as so, I wasn’t born to it and it didn’t come to me overnight. I’ve been producing a steady and varied stream of content for seven years now. It takes effort and time.

The other thing I’d like to point out is that having a sizeable readership and Twitter following meant that I had the means to tell people about it. People responded and undoubtedly that was a lot of moral support, without which I may not have proceeded. But the final action was taken by me, initiating the complaint process. And that’s an option that is open to anybody, irrespective of followership.

If you’re reading this, I hope you take away the following things I’m trying to say:

  • Content theft is NOT okay. Stealing is stealing, no matter who does it (a big publishing house or a blogger).
  • The medium is of secondary or no importance. Just because its online doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs. Just because it’s easy to copy does not make it okay to.
  • The creator of content is its owner, no matter how small his/her following.
  • It is possible to tackle an online thief. The big hosting/blogging services respect content ownership and will be supportive of genuine cases.
  • Just because a lot of people ignore it, doesn’t mean it’s okay. Talk about it, email your friends, notify your social network friends, blog about it, tweet about it.
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