Friday, November 05, 2010

Screw Your Copyright Infringing Content Grab! Pay Me!

It was no surprise when I heard the story that a post by blogger Monica Gaudio had been lifted by a famous cooking magazine and posted on their site. Ms. Gaudio had been given a byline, but was never informed the post had been taken, nor was she paid for the scraped post (it was not re-posted, as there was no link back to Monica's original.)

Why should she have been both notified and paid? Because the site, Cook's Source is connected to a magazine which is ad supported. Even $10--the average payment offered by many teeny-tiny online mags/blogs that solicit contributors--would have been a nice (albeit cheap)gesture.

What Monica got was this terse response from the editor (taken from NPR's report on the incident):
...Honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me... ALWAYS for free!"

Wow. But I'm not surprised by any of this--I've heard the nonsense before.  BTW I live in Western New England (oddly), the magazine's region, yet I know of a number of "journalists" around the country who have no clue about new media, blogging, publishing online, etc. but are working for online publications. Note to those hiring: make sure your "digital" people understand about blogging, copyright, linking, etc. Don't be an ass and hire someone just because they have print creds and maybe took a college class on "writing for the web." They may know writing, but they don't know jack about the web.

Be that as it may, what else does not surprise me--about what was done and the editor's response--is that this game, as the editor notes, has been going on for awhile. I've been blogging since 1995, and some of my stuff over the years has been scraped and put on splogs (fake blogs) for one reason or another. I was quoted in both Time and Newsweek back in '97, and neither linked back to me. But that's not all....

My first and only post for The Huffington Post went through an editor, and I was not compensated for that--but I was told upfront I wouldn't be. I was a new writer back then, and liked the promise of the return of "traffic" for my blog. Which never materialized. So, because my goal was to get paid, I didn't write any more for The Huffington Post....because the "cachet" of writing for HufPo and $3 might not be enough for a latte at Starbucks...but I digress again....

Some of the posts on my blog (this as well as my old personal blog) were also in very bad need of editing. I never asked anyone to edit them, and since it's my blog, I am not obligated to edit them any further than spell check will allow. And I've never heard of anyone scraping a post, editing it, and NOT linking or informing the original author.

Once I was asked by the then-editor of Silicon Alley Business Insider for a post. I was told that I wasn't going to get paid, but that was ok, as I know the rep of that publication, and wanted the byline (their reasoning was that it wasn't an original post. that's fine by me.) I obliged, and sent the link. He took the post, did a quick edit--which he told me he was going to do--and then posted it on SABI. And I got some traffic. That's the first post I ever did for someone else that actually *did* pay me in traffic. SABI was totally up front about the process, the editing, the reason for not paying. If a publication is up-front with me, and I believe the publication will enhance my reputation, I *may* consent to a re-post of something I previously published. But I won't write/blog new content for free.

But now for a look at the point about the Internet being "public domain." I think there's a lot of confusion on this. We are told that if we post personal information on the Internet, that it is then "public domain" and can be scraped, repurposed, sold, used by marketers, etc. There is, however, a difference between the personal information we might "publish" on Facebook, and the post we "publish" on our blogs. As I understand it, even if we do not put in a copyright mark, there is implied copyright on blogs and other self-publishing platforms. I might not be getting paid because I choose not to have ads, but my work is protected by implied copyright. I could also add a Creative Commons License for a little extra protection. However, no one has a right to lift my work, edit it, and re-post it, even if "it happens a lot"--as it does when it's done by mainstream media outlets (many of whom have taken information from several of my posts--most notably two I've written on Google and personal searches--and never gave any credit), college students, corporate communications departments, and whomever else might feel the need for content.

There is a lot of weirdness going on right now regarding copyright, which could have lead to the editor's confusion. There are folks called "copyright trolls" who attack mainstream media outlets and say that they have a right to re-publish news articles in full. Here's one case in Las Vegas that details this kind of thing. Now, it's not right for bloggers to re-post articles in this manner, but it also isn't right for newspapers, magazines or others to re-post bloggers' posts either.

Actually, if the Cook's Source editor was really interested in knowing about copyright, a quick search on "blogs and implied copyright" gave me this wonderful article "Copyright Law: 12 Dos and Don'ts". This is an excellent breakdown of what is/isn't covered by U.S.copyright law, as well as what is and isn't considered "public domain." In fact, here's #7 of the don'ts:

7. Don’t assume that if you credit the author there is no copyright infringement

Still the other big issue out there that this massive faux pas brings up is the attitude about when to pay someone for their contribution. As I noted earlier, some small blogs will offer $10 or less for a post. And bigger new media outlets, like The Huffington Post, won't pay at all, even if something is edited. At "content mills" one can get paid whatever the publisher is offering or get paid/not paid on whatever earnings scheme the content mill offers ("scheme" not in the derogatory sense here.)

As for me--I've been at this writing thing long enough now that I expect to get paid more than $10 a post or a promise of traffic for any original blogging. I'm not going to submit my work to a mill so that I can get a clipping. I have those, albeit on the very esoteric topics of developments in mainstream journalism (but, hey, my work's not bad.) I'm not afraid of editors, but can do my own editing when required--I just need a day to let my eyes rest and to bring a new set to the work. And I think it's time others stand up for themselves and start demanding better pay. The golden moment of free user-generated content and notions that publications can stomp all over a blogger's implied copyright are over.

Further: The Copyright Clearance Center has some new stuff and advice to help bloggers ferret out copyright infringement. Check them out.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Why I'm Quitting Foursquare (you might want to think about it too....)

Update 11/13/10: Jon Evans @TechCrunch writes similar sentiments in
Dear Foursquare, Gowalla: Please Let's Stop Pretending This is Fun Um, yeah--because it's not...

By the time Foursquare came out, geo-location apps weren't news to me. I'd already heard of BriteKite and Gowalla. Friends (predominantly male) were using both to regularly inform me of their whereabouts. It was all rather ho-hum, and I wasn't necessarily interested in revealing my every whereabout to the people I follow on Twitter and Facebook. One of the reasons for that is that I, like most women, have been taught to be *very* careful about to whom we reveal our locations (so it's no real surprise that Pew reports they're not catching on.) Even folks we supposedly know and trust--whether Internet acquaintance or casual f2f acquaintance--wasn't to be naively trusted with all our regular location-based comings and goings.

But then, everyone started to get all freaky about Foursquare. "I'm the Mayor of Starbucks in Cambridge!" "I'm the Mayor of Dunkin' Donuts in Silver Springs!" "I'm the Insert the badge du jour here of the Roger Williams Hotel Cocktail Lounge!" Foursquare, you see, was more than just a way to let your "friends" know your location--it was also a game! The most super-fun game in the world! Because you could earn badges that told everybody how often you were at that location!

Oh, great. Now it's not just that I'm revealing my location, but I'm also revealing how many times I go to that particular location. That's not the smartest thing in the world for a woman to do.....and need I say why??

When I told some of my male acquaintances who regularly used geo-location apps, I was told how "square" I was, how I had to get with it, and I was being over-cautious. Yet rarely did I ever see their spouses or girlfriends giving away their whereabouts on a regular basis. Hmm...can anyone say "double standard"????

Given that what I do for a living often requires that I advise clients on the latest and greatest social networking sites, I felt it necessary to go in and check it out at least. Ever since Ann Landers lashed out at the Cure's "Let's Go to Bed," I'd vowed never to vehemently criticise something unless I really knew what it was about. So, I got me a Foursquare account....

At the beginning it seemed to be a time-sink. Whenever I was at a location, if the location wasn't in Foursquare, I got the privilege to be the first one to laboriously enter all the location information. If I wanted to use Foursquare effectively, I had to download the Foursquare app to my iPod Touch (didn't want to sacrifice good cell reception for a shiny, expensive iPhone.) Given that wifi's kind of spotty where I live, I never really used the app. And after the initial pain-in-the-ass location upload, I felt I simply didn't have time for it.

So, I stopped using it. To me, if I have to spend time with something, I just can't be bothered. There has to be a significant and compelling reason for me to be bothered.

Foursquare then started to come up with ways beyond its badge-earning game that might make it appealing to me. They started to form partnerships with retailers and to offer coupons based on my geo-location. So, if it knew I was at, oh, the Gap or something, it could give me a coupon for the Gap (when this was tried, even many Gap employees had no idea about Foursquare and no idea about the coupon. So much for corporate communications.)

Women are supposed to be all about the coupons and saving money, aren't we? As far as I'm concerned, not if it takes giving away my location information....and, contrary to what some acquaintances think, many people (not just women) are concerned about a loss of privacy due to the use of geo-location apps....

This brings me to the status of my Foursquare account, which has been dormant since that first use. Foursquare often reminds us that the info we put there is private, and that we shouldn't be friends with anyone we do not know personally (when it comes to those who might do women harm, sometimes it's not strangers--but I digress...) Odd thing is, though, with my dormant account, I seem to get a whole lot of requests to be "friends" from people I don't know. Which drives me up the wall....

And it's been all those people I don't know--be they network marketers, real estate agents, virtual stalkers, or anyone in between--that's contributed to my desire to delete my Foursquare account.

Which I just did.

Do I feel any remorse? Absolutely not.

But what about potential clients? How can I advise them properly if I don't personally use Foursquare???

Simple answer to this: I've used it--I know the upsides and the downsides, esp. if it's not maintained. Find out who the customer base is, and the most recent intelligence on the demographic represented in that customer base. Consider recent surveys on attitudes towards this particular form of social networking. Once this info is known, a determination can be made as to whether Foursquare might help or if maintaining it will be a time-sink. If the client's customers aren't there, then what's the point?

Further reading: check The Foursquare Conundrum on Bitches Get Stuff Done which gives another good p.o.v. on why neither women nor men should feel so darned comfortable giving away their locations.