Beware of 'Savage Bloggers'
By Janet Roberts
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You could see this coming: With the rise of blogging as another online-publishing venture comes the rise of "savage bloggers," who post material from your site or ezine without giving you credit or linking to your site.
I didn't coin the term "savage bloggers;" that came from an Ezine- Tips reader who sent me a desperate note last week, asking for advice on dealing with a blogger who routinely posted material from her Web site, first without credit and then, after our reader complained, with a URL but not an active link to the original site.
"The blogger in question sees nothing wrong with the practice, only that her oversight was not mentioning the source (just by naming the site, not with a link) and that our request to use only part of the material & a link is 'excessive' since she's not making any money and is, by her estimation, doing us a favor by spreading the material around," said our reader, who sends a daily email newsletter with headlines and links to news stories at her Web site.
"What's the best way, if there is one, to explain to bloggers, forum/newsgroupers about fair use and attribution?" our reader asked. "Better to just assume a certain percentage of content will be cut & paste -- and forget about it?"
Why You Should Fight
To some extent, people who publish via email or the Web can expect to have material reproduced elsewhere without consent. The "up" side is that you get exposure you didn't have to pay for. The "down" side is that you don't get the credit OR the page views, if it involves a Web site.
In the scenario our reader outlined above, the blogger is getting the page views for the material, not the person who created it. It isn't enough just to say you found the information at Ezine-Tips.com . In order to be effective, the link has to be active: http://Ezine-Tips.com/.
Active linking was one of the principles behind blogging in the early days. When bloggers post your information on their sites without including an active link to your site, they're stealing page views and traffic from you.
They're also hogging the information, which runs contrary to the original blogging spirit.
What You Can Do
My recommendation: You're limited in what you can do unless the blogger is passing off proprietary or patented information as his/her own. Unless you have an attorney on retainer and well versed in intellectual-property rights, you won't gain much by going through traditional legal or copyright-challenge channels.
Try this step-by-step process:
Contact the blogger directly with a calmly worded email in which you thank him/her for using your material but ask for credit and an active link to your site. Supply the specific link, too; not just the homepage but the URL that would take the reader directly to the information.
If the blogger refuses you'll have to decide whether it's time to move the problem to the next level: the ISP or blog host.
The blogger might also request a link on your site. This is a judgment call. Will you gain more by linking to the blog, or will you hurt your own credibility if you think the blog lacks quality?
Check the blog to find out which ISP or blog service hosts it, then read its terms of service to see if it covers use of unauthorized material. If it does, copy that material and send it in a follow-up email to the blogger, pointing out that he/she is potentially violating the user agreement. Again, keep it calm and repeat your request for an active link.
If the blogger refuses to cooperate, contact his/her ISP or host service. You can start with an email to a webmaster or abuse address, but you'll probably have to move to paper mail at some point if the problem is serious enough.
If the blogger's site doesn't link directly to an ISP or blog host, you can find contact information by looking up the domain name server (DNS). A service such as www.DNSStuff.com, has lots of look-up services on its homepage. The DNS look-up should give you a phone number and address to contact.
If the blogger has a postal address at the site, use it to send a letter there, too.
Once you have an address, assemble your documenting information.
Capture and print out a screen shot of the offending material, showing as specific a URL as you can. If you are complaining about material lifted from an email newsletter, print a version that shows the date you created it. For Web copy, capture and print a screenshot and supply any other back-up information that shows when you created it. Include your reprint policy as expressed either in your ezine or at your site.
Also, print out and include any email correspondence with the blogger. If you have the blogger's postal address, send a copy of everything there, too.
After you send the material (by registered mail), follow up with an email to the host site to see what, if anything, it is going to do.
Monitor the blog to see if your material keeps appearing without credit or active links. Keep a log, with screenshots or URLs, of all instances where your material is used improperly. Send this to the ISP or host site.
If All Else Fails
Beyond this, you will probably have to be willing to commit serious cash to fight a savage blogger. You can hire a lawyer to send letters, you can even try to take the blogger to court if you can figure out jurisdictions, but will you recover enough to justify the effort?
You can try a few end runs that might not solve the problem but could help keep it in check:
See if the blogger subscribes to your ezine. Delete the address, although this can backfire and won't stop them from getting material at your site. It might slow them down, though.
Amplify your reprint policy, in your ezine and at your site. Make it clear what you will and will not allow.
Run your site through several search engines at least once a month to see where your material shows up.
Ezine-Tips for September 09, 2003
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