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Who Should Defend the Copyright of Content Network Bloggers?

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Mike Doyle

Since 2005 scribe of the local blog, Chicago Carless. I invite you to visit.

I've decided to call it quits as a Huffington Post Chicago blogger. A charter blogger at that--I was among those personally invited to scribe for the site shortly before its August 2008 Windy City debut. But after fourteen months, nonstop theft of my content by spam sites has left me weary and wanting out. It's not just a HuffPost issue, either. As print media interests across the country continue to launch blog content networks, why don't their resident bloggers receive the same vigorous infringement defense as newspaper and magazine writers?

For me, it was a good fit while it lasted. HuffPost bloggers aren't compensated, but retain the copyright to their work which can be used in other places. So for the past 14 months, I've used my HuffPost byline to cross-post stories of civic interest that simultaneously appeared in the pages of my personal blog, Chicago Carless. The large audience of the national content network gave those stories a wider reach than would have been possible on Carless, alone.

However, for the past several months, almost all content that I have published on Huffington Post Chicago--content that originated here on my personal blog--has been stolen and reposted on domestic and off-shore spam sites. From time to time that has happened with Chicago Carless, and in most cases I have been able to have the stolen content removed, usually by filing DMCA complaints with the relevant web hosts. It has happened rarely enough that I don't find it too much of a nuisance.

However, in the past few months every single entry I have published on HuffPost Chicago has been stolen and reposted. I take my copyright very seriously and defend it vigorously--but I don't have the time or the patience to follow up every HuffPost entry I publish with a DMCA complaint and the research required to file one. And, frankly, I'm tired of watching my copyrighted Chicago Carless posts infringed solely because I allow HuffPost to use them.

This would be made easier if Huffington Post Chicago defended the copyright of its bloggers in some way. However, the content network places the onus of copyright defense squarely with its scribes--even though my content is being stolen--and consistently so--from their servers, not my own. Given the longstanding controversy that continues to surround HuffPost's practice of posting questionably long excerpts from third-party news articles--a form of content scraping--I don't expect them to damn the irony and rush to defend the copyright of their own bloggers.

But they should. And while you can still manage to benefit from infringing scraper sites (see good recommendations here and here), I'd rather beat them than join them, thanks.

I wish the Huffington Post Chicago editors and bloggers my best, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to borrow their pulpit for awhile. However, I can only wonder how large a problem this is. I can't be the only Huffington Post Chicago blogger being infringed on a post-by-post basis. Hopefully, HuffPost will look into the issue and offer its bloggers a better defense against infringement in the future.

It's worth noting that in guidance given to its own copyright-holding bloggers, ChicagoNow also places the onus of infringement defense on bloggers. It remains to be seen whether this will pose a problem in the future for me or my fellow ChicagoNow scribes.

What does seem obvious is that copyright infringement (as in: cut-and-paste theft of entire blog posts) will only get worse as content networks like HuffPost, ChicagoNow, and their ilk continue to forge virtual publications from the work of modestly paid (or unpaid) online writers. Letting bloggers keep their copyright is cold comfort if a content network won't to step in when their words are stolen--especially for bloggers who are monetizing those words in other venues.

I'd bet money on copyright defense for resident bloggers to become a touchstone issue in the not-so-distant future. That is, if content-network bloggers are actually paying attention to theft in the first place. Word to the wise content blogger: Google yourself. You may discover bylines out there you never knew you had.

Or wanted.

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4 Comments

Joe Germuska said:

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Just wondering: if you crosspost, how do you know the content is stolen "from their servers, not my own"?

Mike Doyle said:

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Joe, that's a great question. Usually, I changed a few lines in my cross-posts so that they made sense in other places (for example, saying, "over on my blog, Chicago Carless," instead of saying, "here on Chicago Carless," when I am referencing my personal blog.) Sometimes the scraping sites lifted my HuffPost bio, too--and some of the infringing sites even blatantly announce that they are "featuring" HuffPost content. Finally, in almost all cases the scraping happened minutes after my HuffPost cross-posts went live. This was a dead giveaway, since HuffPost adds a layer of review before blog posts go live--sometimes 24 hours or longer--yet the scraping would almost never happen right after the original posts were published on Chicago Carless.

Sox Puppet said:

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So it's just a coincidence that you spent all of yesterday complaining on Twitter about HuffPo's new intern questioning your writing? That didn't have anything to do with your decision? Hmm.

Mike Doyle said:

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Actually, I spent about five minutes in three or so tweets yesterday bitching about the new Huffington Post Chicago intern. And not having to deal with my posts being held up for 24 hours for my syntax and grammar to be reviewed and my word choice repeatedly questioned is certainly a benefit of giving up my HuffPost byline. However, the content scraping began long before and I've been considering moving on from HuffPost because of the problem for months. My experience with being second-guessed regarding my most recent Huffington Post entry was simply the straw that broke the camel's back.

Of course, I figured complaining about the HuffPost intern was ad hominem venting best left done before followers who choose to read my tweets on Twitter rather than in front of potentially thousands of ChicagoNow readers. If it weren't for you having even less tact than I (and that says a lot), I'd never have gotten the chance to vent about it here, too. I owe you one.

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