Monday, November 29, 2010

How Copyright Laws Fail Us When We Need Them Most by Marilyn Bontempo

I used to worry about other people stealing my work. I do lots of different kinds of things so there is plenty to steal. In 35 years of being in business, I have produced plenty of exceptional photos, illustrations, graphic design, ads, websites, printed collateral material, logos, music and writing, to name just a few. And of course, I also have plenty of clients for all my competition to try to steal away from me as well. This is normal. If you are talented in any way, or in business of any kind, people steal from you.

What about copyright laws? Unless you want to waste lots of money hiring a lawyer to chase after every thief and take them to court only to get a judgement against them which they probably will never pay, what is the use? And that's if you're lucky. Most of the time in cases of Internet violation, you can never even locate the person responsible, let alone convict him of the crime. But it's not money I'm after. If I were, why in heaven's name would I be writing articles for Internet article directories who don't pay for use of their articles? I write for such sites to get the benefit of linkbacks for my website and blog. What are linkbacks? They are a vital component of SEO (search engine optimization), as links back to my website from highly ranked, popular websites, which contributes to my achieving page one search results for my own website when appropriate keywords are searched on Google. It's complicated but it works.

I recently was searching for some javascript code I could use to do something clever on my website. When I found what I wanted to adapt, I checked to see what the terms of use were. The writer of the code very humbly asked for a mere $5 if you wanted to remove his name from the invisible credits that would only appear where other code seekers would see it. Otherwise, it was free. How can you not respect a request like that? I happily left his name even though I needed to spend many hours tweaking the code to work in my situation but felt a certain kinship with this skilled individual that engendered the utmost in admiration and obedience. I treat others the way I wish to be treated myself.

It certainly was upsetting when I first realized that my articles were being used improperly and published as if written by someone on the website where I happened to find them. I checked the usage policies of the article websites to which I had submitted my articles which stated that it was required that articles be published with a signature line (meaning, author's name) along with a link to the author's website.

After reading that, I thought, "Oh, great! Maybe they will help me enforce their policies." But after further reading I quickly learned that it was my responsibility to do any policework, notifying offenders of what they so innocently had overlooked. Once such violations are brought to light, these well-meaning publishers will be eager to correct their ways. Ha! That's a laugh!

Not only do these offending websites have no way to contact anyone, they are enshrouded in secrecy by unknown hosts who ironically invite you to "report abuse," only to inform you that they cannot accept responsibility for any individual blog publisher's offenses. If you want to try posting a comment to communicate the violation, you usually need to register and log in, divulging all your own personal information, so your comment will ultimately get picked up by Google associated with a less-than-reputable website in some future search that will follow you to your grave. (Is this where we're headed, as members of this Google-dominated culture we live in?)

As I was searching the title of my article which is how I discovered the stolen usages, I saw something else which made me realize what a tangled web we weave on the Internet. One instance of my article used my title verbatim, but what followed in the body of the article was what appeared to be an error-ridden, broken-English, horrendous translation from some other language, which suggested that this article had gone full circle. I imagined someone publishing my English-language article in say, Chinese, for example, and someone translating it back into English to use it on the website where I found it. Let's just say I wasn't a bit unhappy about the lack of attribution in this situation!

But this is sad... a very sad state of affairs, wouldn't you agree? Or isn't it, rather, "Wake up and smell the coffee! This is reality, so get over it"? Hence, my resignation. As a person with wavering self-esteem to begin with, I accept having someone pirate my work to call his own in the same way I accept someone cutting me off in traffic, or cutting ahead of me in line at the grocery store. It's gotten to be so commonplace that what else can you do but just shrug your shoulders about it? Sure, you could make a scene but ironically in today's society, you would be running the risk of getting arrested for breach of peace and instigating a public disturbance. That would be a perfect example of today's justice. No thanks. I'd rather just look the other way and be glad that they're not hauling me off as the real criminal for publishing interesting articles that tempt others to steal them.

But... just a minute! Isn't that a website that has actually included my name as the author? And included a link to my picture and website as well? Well, now. Isn't that nice of someone, to be so kind! Funny how abiding by the rules we're all supposed to be following is the new supernatural, worthy of reverence usually reserved for the divine or the immortal.

Are we so jaded that merely obeying the law of the land has been elevated to an act of sainthood, and deserving of the grand prize awarded only to superhumans? I guess it follows then that telling the truth, showing respect, offering help and being fair are also beyond expectation for normal individuals, and anyone exhibiting such behavior should be honored with recognition as one of today's superheroes. Never mind that many religions teach "Thou shalt not steal"; in fact, raised as a Catholic, I was taught not to even "covet" my neighbor's goods, let alone go so far as to steal them. It was wrong to even "lust" after them, to use a term made famous (or would it be "infamous"?) by Jimmy Carter in a Playboy interview back in 1976. And certainly in civil law, everyone knows it is a punishable offense to take something that doesn't belong to you. But this is more than that. It is not only taking it, but gaining glory from it as well! And in some instances, it is even gaining revenue from it because of advertising that appears as a result of its saleability and magnetic appeal, drawing cybertraffic to fulfill promised ad viewership. That should fall under a more grievous category and worthy of an even bigger punishment.

And if I were inclined to contact a copyright lawyer, I would be advised of my many rights in such a case. I would also be informed that I would be responsible for payment to the lawyer to represent me whether he was successful in apprehending the guilty party or not. Another case of divine justice gone bad. My rights are violated and I pay as a result. No pain, no gain, right? The pain being my shock and awe at having been so flagrantly ripped off; my outrage at having someone else impersonate me as the author; and my disgust at needing to pay a lawyer to defend my rights. The gain? Obviously all in the thief's court, so to speak.

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing since 1975, has extensive experience guiding business leaders, directors, and professionals with successful strategies for business growth and sustenance. Long-term relationships have been established with law firms, medical practices, pharmaceutical companies, real estate executives, and a variety of other trade, corporate and industrial specialists. Her professional writing, photographic, design and aesthetic specialties provide clients with proven methods of achieving successful branding and public image. Mid-Hudson Marketing is a top New York advertising, marketing, website and graphic design firm located in Dutchess County's Poughkeepsie area specializing for more than 35 years in the creation and management of high quality branding for business success. With numerous prestigious awards to its credit, the firm's services include full scale advertising programs; expert website development and search engine optimization; professional writing and ghostwriting; blog setup and management; e-commerce and email marketing; outdoor billboards; trade show and point-of-purchase displays; sell sheets, posters, flyers, brochures, and catalogs; logos and trademarks; photo enhancements; direct mail marketing; newsletters; public relations; and more: call (845) 493-0070. For more info, please visit:

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