Protecting your online writing
Plagiarism is rife on the internet. Unscrupulous people find it easy to simply copy and paste your work. What can be done? If you’re running your own professionally created website, then there are lots of measures we can take to ensure that your content won’t be stolen. Simply disabling right-click will deter a number of thieves but there are many other steps we routinely take. But what can be done if you write on a site you don’t control?
More than you think. You can protect yourself when you write and provide plenty of evidence about when your content was first published. Ideally, use several methods and you’ll be protected now and in the future.
When you’re writing on the internet, it’s always best to be as personal as possible. This is what makes your work your own. Adding a resource box with your personal details at the end won’t help – you have to have personal details in the body of your article. You don’t have to give your shoe size or anything like that, just a few minor details that identify you and that are relevant to the subject. For example (when writing about air-conditioning) ‘I live in South Florida and this means that…’ or (when writing about music) ‘my husband is a musician so…’ or (when writing about software) when I worked as an IT person, I saw…’ How does this help?
- The thief would have to remove these personal references and this would take a little time. The thief, by his or nature, wants to steal your article quickly. If they have to remove personal references, they’ll move on elsewhere.
- If the thief does not remove these references – which implies that an automated software has been used – then you can prove that you live in South Florida, that your husband is a musician, that you worked as an IT person. The thief can’t.
Use your own images and/or invent a photographer
If you use images from free sources, then you have no protection or way to prove the article is your own. If you create graphics in Photoshop or similar, be sure to save the file. Invent a photographer? Yep, but someone you know – your partner, sister, best pal – and have them sign something dated giving you the right to use their photographs. How can this help?
- If you have the graphics file saved, again this proves your ownership of the content. The thief will not have this proof. Once he or she knows that you have this proof, they will find it easier simply to delete your work from their site.
- One of the first steps when dealing with theft is to contact the company that hosts the offending website. Tell them that you were alerted by the ‘photographer’ who intends to sue. This way, you aren’t the ‘baddie’; you’re not threatening legal action – but simply warning them that someone else will.
Use Twitter time stamps
It takes only seconds to take a screenshot. It takes only seconds to send a link to Twitter. These two seconds can prove when you originally created your content. It’s worth having a Twitter account simply for this reason, if no other. Look:
Can the thief prove that they tweeted it? Before that date? Nope. A thief can claim that their content was written before yours; softwares such as WordPress allow you to backdate an article’s publishing date but it’s very unlikely that the thief shared content on social media. Would you, knowing that you’d stolen it? You can also take screenshots of other places where you have promoted your article. Like this:
Normally, just letting the thief or the hosting company know that you have proof is enough – it’s rare that you’ll actually have to show it but…
Sit right down and write yourself a letter
Print your proof. If applicable, print your Word document where you first wrote your article and be sure it’s dated. Add this to an envelope and mail it to yourself, certified. When you receive it, do not open it. Write the name of the article on the back of the envelope and file it and forget it. Until you need it…..
If you find that your work has been stolen, write calmly to the hosting company saying that you always protect your work and that you have proof that the article is yours and when it was created. Tell them that this proof is from a third party (Twitter) and from government (your still-sealed certified letter. How cool is that? Certified by the government! True though.)
If the worst came to the worst, which is remarkably unlikely, only allow the certified letter to be opened by a legal entity and witnessed by a notary. But really, it won’t come to that.
If you are writing on a platform that doesn’t belong to you, you can still use Google’s cache to prove when you wrote it. As soon as your article has been spidered, screenshot it in the cache and print the page.
Archive.org takes longer to include your article but it will be there eventually. You are now fully equipped.The person who stole your article doesn’t have a leg to stand on
Be sure to have a Google+ and LinkedIn profile
These prove who you are. You’ll have your image there, where you live, where you’ve worked and so on. It’s easy to prove therefore, for instance, that you live in South Florida, that you’re married to a musician and once worked as an IT person… and you can be 99% sure that the person who has stolen your content doesn’t have social media profiles that are transparent and honest.