I recently had a bizarre run-in with a copyright-infringing web site owner who went crazy when I found that they’d illegally published one of my articles. But their extreme response taught me a valuable lesson that I now want to share with you. It’s a lesson about making sure you keep your private information private – always.
I’ve come across copyright infringers many times before and the way I always deal with them is to contact the website owner and ask them to remove my work from their website. If they don’t, I send a DMCA copyright infringement notice to their hosting provider.
Usually this works well. The copyrighted material is removed and that’s the end of the story.
But, recently I came across a blog that published my work illegally and this web site owner’s reaction was…well…you can make up your own mind.
It all began simply enough when I came across an article of mine called “Should You Self Publish Your Own Books Or Not?”
This article quite often gets published online, which is usually okay (and legal) because it’s on a free article site. However, some dreadful article-spinning software had been used that had rendered the whole article as nothing more than a load of incomprehensible gobbledy-gook, which can result in embarrassment to the real author of the article.
For instance, one of my paragraphs that started with “On the other hand” had been changed to “Upon the alternate palm”. And the “small royalties” that I’d said most authors receive were now “tiny kingships” and they weren’t authors any more they were “bards”.
I just stared at the page and thought, “What in the world?”
What on earth was this rubbish I was reading about alternate palms and bards receiving tiny kingships?
I looked at the “about” page on the site and then researched their WHOIS information but they’d hidden their identity and the only way to contact them was through their comment boxes on the web site. So I left a message asking them to remove my article. But the next day my comment had been deleted.
So I left another message and again it was deleted. I faxed a cover sheet and a DMCA complaint to their hosting provider. I included the fax cover sheet as a courtesy for the hosting company and thought it would simply remain as an internal document.
But the following day, when I checked the site again, I saw that the article was gone and had been replaced with a copy of my fax cover sheet and my DMCA complaint. The site had then posted a variety of odd comments (song lyrics and such), making it appear I had posted those to their website. Of course, I did not.
I was astounded by their inappropriate reaction to a simple request and I thought that was all they’d done, until I clicked on the link at the bottom of that page.
There, they rant and rave about how I’m not to be trusted because they looked up my WHOIS information and found my contact details were protected (a thing I did years ago when I was new to the Internet), which is a pretty ironic coming from a web site owner who masks their identity too and has no contact info on their web site at all.
They then go on to say that by doing this, “Writeaholics and Ruth Barringham are destroying their reputation.”
They then rant and rave some more about how “unprofessional” I am. They admit they did indeed add my name to the comments on the previous page, and say that they found the comments (that I never posted) to be “threatening”. They also updated this page several times and said that because I failed to deny what they had said the first time, I “admit they are true”.
I thought this was a very peculiar reaction to something THEY’D done wrong. They were the ones that had illegally used my article and turned it into silly things like alternate palms and tiny kingships.
And if all that wasn’t enough, they then put up ANOTHER page:
Obviously they were still angry about not being able to find my contact information. But what they failed to realize is that all my contact information can be found at the bottom of the home page of my web site at:
I was lucky that the contact information I’d used was already public anyway, so this web site owner wasn’t giving any secrets away. But I had no idea that whatever you send with your complaint, even a cover letter or a fax sheet, gets included with it. And a web site owner can do whatever they want with it, including making your private information very public.
So my advice to you is this; if you make a legal complaint (or any complaint) be careful about the contact information you include about yourself because this will also be sent to the person you are complaining about.
I did ask the hosting company (Hostgator) about this and they said that by law, anything you send along with a legal complaint MUST be included.
So if you need to send contact information but you don’t want to use your personal address and phone number, perhaps you could rent/borrow a post office box and buy a cheap mobile phone and a pay-as-you-go sim card. That way if you come across a malicious person, you can replace these disposable items, if need be, and still maintain your privacy.
While I was writing this article I came across another spun article of mine on the same web site. Another DMCA complaint was faxed that included the information about their extreme reaction to my first complaint, which was why I hadn’t attempted to contact the website owner first this time.
Oddly enough, they didn’t publish THAT information when they removed the article.
And, upon the alternate palm, if you’re a bard, be wary of receiving tiny kingships.
Ruth Barringham is a writer and author from Brisbane Australia. She runs a web site for writers at RuthIsWriting.com, and is the co-author of the popular e-book for writers, The Wealthy Writer: How to Earn $100k+/Year Writing For the Internet.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This writer has retained the services of an attorney and will be pursuing this website owner for a variety of things, not just copyright infringement.