You Are What You Drink
“I assumed they were already in the public domain on other wine review sites and liquor store sites.”
So says Canada’s #1 wine writer, Natalie MacLean, in a statement as disturbing as it is wrong-headed. It seems that, despite seeking legal advice (where, in a bar after closing time?), MacLean is under the bizarre notion that just because copyrighted work is posted to the internet, it is thereby stripped of copyright.
Allow me to disabuse her, and everyone, of this notion once and for all.
All original work published online, whether paid for or not, from CNN.com to the humblest Tumblr, is copyright the creator, as of the moment of publication, automatically and by law.
MacLean, as you can see here, has been copiously copy/pasting reviews written by other writers into her blog and website. Previous to this going nuclear in the media towards the end of last month, the posts said “By Natalie MacLean” with only the initials of the original writer, and no link to where the reviews had first appeared. And, apparently, no permission requests whatsoever.
As PalatePress says:
Ms. MacLean’s use of others’ work clearly fails the Fair Use test because she publishes entire reviews, they are appropriated for commercial purposes and her use is not for any of the legally permitted reasons.
There is a difference between an attributed quote, which you can see here or right above this sentence, and is protected by fair use law, and an outright theft. In her defence MacLean claims that she always included the initials of the original writer…which is a bit “other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln” of her.
I’m a writer. I write for a living. That still leaves me time for several hobbies, one of which is seeking out people who have stolen my writing and posted it elsewhere without permission, attributed or not, and having their websites taken offline with no warning. And now, in case any of you also write and value your own talent and original expressions (paid or unpaid), I am going to teach you how to do it too. I wish we didn’t live in a world where you had to have these skills, but selah, we do.
- periodically, take the first sentence of each of your recent posts and put them in Google, in quotation marks. In the case of this post, I’d put “So says Canada’s #1 wine writer, Natalie MacLean, in a statement as disturbing as it is wrong-headed.” in the Google box. See if it brings up any posts which you, yourself, didn’t make.
- if so, read the posts and see if you think it’s fair use (ie they took a snippet of your post and directed the reader to your post via a link to get the rest of the info OR they then went on to discuss the point you made. Either way, a direct link to your site is indeed necessary). If it is, fine.
- if, instead, they have NO original content on their post at all, but instead either pretend they wrote it themselves or link to you in the (hopefully vain) hope that you’ll think that a link from an internet thief is somehow acceptable, you have my permission and encouragement to go Full Metal Raincoaster on them. We call these people sploggers, spam bloggers, when we don’t call them something worse, and wreaking vengeance upon them is easier and more polite than you think: why, even Canadians can master this!
- if you’re really nice, or you think there has been a simple mistake, search the website for contact details for the blogger/admin and if you don’t find any, leave a comment on the post explaining that it is your content and you are asserting your copyright, and would like it removed. If you can’t find any contact details or leave a comment, well, that’s telling, isn’t it?
- determine where the website is hosted. WhoIsHostingThis is the easiest tool to use, although there are plenty of others.
- find contact information for the web host, which is almost always easily available online (or nobody could contact them to get hosting, now could they?). If they have an Abuse email, use that. If they have a DMCA or Copyright email, use that. Here is what you email them:
- send a polite email explaining the situation simply. I guarantee, they get a dozen of these a day, so don’t waste their time. Say “My post HERE (link) dated X has been copy/pasted after publication to a site hosted by you HERE (other link) dated Y and I hereby assert my copyright and request to have the infringing material taken down.” If you are as mean as me, you’ll have looked around the site and may add “I believe a great deal of their content has been similarly stolen, which I am certain is against your terms of service, FYI.” Of course it’s against their terms of service: it’s against the law!
- if you really want to put the cherry in the Manhattan, add an actual DMCA Takedown Notice. You don’t need a lawyer for this, nor does it take more than five minutes, but it works Every! Single! Time! Poof: instant website outage! This includes some general guidelines if you feel like writing it yourself, and this is the template I myself use because I am lazy and do these a lot. Once you do one of these, there will be no stopping you.
Web hosts are legally obliged to take offline copyright-infringing content, and they don’t really give a rat’s ass how “important” the blogger is in his/her niche. If they don’t act on a DMCA notice, they risk losing their entire business, and they are not going to take that chance. That’s why this is the heavy-handed, but more productive, way of dealing with copyright infringement. It’s rare that anyone with a blog is stupid or ignorant enough to think they’re really allowed to do this, so asking them is often a lesson in fruitlessness. When their web host removes their entire site from the internet, that teaches them a lesson they won’t forget.
Now, go forth. Go forth and Google, and I raise a toast to your splogger-hunting success!
EDITED TO ADD: if you’re super-extra nasty like I am, go to the stealing site, click on their ads, not the ad itself, but the part that says “Ads by Google” or “Federated Media” or whatever, and report them there. Every ad network has a way to report sploggers, and when they confirm what you say, they will pull all their ads and probably NEVER let that person have another ad account. Hit them where they live, people!
Hat tip to the ever-vigilant Marquis Wine Cellar on Twitter