March 15, 2006
When Someone Steals Your Work | printable version
We received a huge response to our article last week about the writer who received $500 for the unauthorized use of her work.
Every week, I get emails from writers who have discovered their work published illegally online. Some of the copyright crooks ignorantly don't realize they can't publish someone else's work online (meaning some people think the entire Internet is the public domain). However, in my opinion, most people know they can't put someone else's work on their website, but do it anyway, hoping they won't get caught, not really caring, and/or deciding they'll just remove it if anyone ever complains. However, it doesn't work that way.
The important fact they need to realize is that, when you publish someone else's work online, it greatly devalues the work. The copyright crook has, in essence, taken someone's publication rights away, whether they be first rights, electronic rights, second rights, etc. Those rights are worth money to the author. In taking those rights, the copyright crook has stolen from the author, and they've stolen something that can't be recovered. The author can't sell first or second rights ever again once someone else has published the piece the first or second time. They can no longer sell electronic rights after a piece has appeared online. Those rights can't be returned because there are indefinite archives online and because trying to sell rights that have already been used would be dishonest and could get the writer into trouble.. The theft and publication of intellectual property is irrevocable. It's like stealing someone's rare 25-cent piece, spending it, and then trying to repay them with a 2006 quarter.
I've been dealing with publishing-industry deadbeats and copyright crooks for years and I know what makes them tick. I can usually tell from someone's very first email to me (after we've sent them a complaint) if they're ripping off writers or if they're just plain dumb.
When confronted, they react in one of two ways. They either admit their wrong, apologize, and quickly try to make it right. Or, they get violently defensive, tell us to contact their lawyer, and blame the writer for their wrong. Another interesting note is that I can count on one hand the number of false complaints we've had over the years. By the time a writer resorts to contacting writersweekly.com for help, the situation has gotten terribly out of control and there is often more than one victim, whether the writer is aware of other victims or not.
So, when someone sees their work published illegally online, instead of sending a friendly complaint, they should first take a screen-shot of the page that features their work (I create pdf files of these) and then contact the company owner with an invoice, demanding payment of a fair fee for the illegal use of their work. You can often find the owner of the website (and the ISP) by putting their website url in the box here: http://www.dns411.com.
The owner will often try to backpedal and get the writer to agree to a lower fee or to no fee at all. Don't fall for it and don't let them involve you in an emotional argument. Keep demanding the fee and don't hesitate to report the copyright infringement to their ISP.
And, it's not just companies and websites stealing from writers. There is also a problem with writers stealing from other writers. Next week, I'll be sharing the story of an author who insisted on using copyrighted material in his book, offered to take "full responsibility" for the consequences, and then threatening us when we refused to play his game.