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Contrary to popular belief, the Internet is not a free-for-all. But the ability to copy and paste content from one page to another is just so easy, many people think that if it’s on the Internet, it’s up for grabs. The truth is that content is copyrighted from the moment it is created, protecting both the content and its author from theft. For bloggers, that means the content that your write is your own, and no one else has the right to use that content without obtaining the proper permission.

Here, get a basic overview of intellectual property and copyright, and what you should do if your content is stolen.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind – songs, essays, paintings, designs, novels, photographs and yes, even blog posts. Writers, artists and other authors of intellectual property rely on their right to claim ownership of their creations in order to build their professional reputations, grow their careers and make a living off of their work. Their original work holds value based on the time, skills, equipment, education and experience required to produce it.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a bundle of individual rights that protect authors’ ownership of intellectual property. Web content, including blogs, is protected under copyright law. So just as copying the content out of a printed book and passing it off as one’s own would be considered copyright infringement, so would copying a blog post and pasting it onto another blog.

Blog posts are protected by copyright as soon as you write them, including their original content and photographs. If you wrote a blog post reviewing work gloves, complete with photos that you have taken, then you own that content. No one else can copy the content anywhere. There is no need to register your work in order to prove ownership, although many bloggers display the © copyright symbol to let readers know that their work is protected and may not be copied.

Transfer of copyright gives ownership to someone else besides the author, and requires a written agreement. Without a written agreement, all content still inherently belongs to the author. For example, let’s say you write a guest article for a blog that isn’t yours. Unless there is a written policy that states all content on the blog belongs to the blog owner, your content still belongs to you.

What is work-for-hire?

Work-for-hire is the exception to the rule that all content belongs to the author. Many professional bloggers work for marketing agencies as employees under a work-for-hire agreement. I am an employee of Chicago Internet marketing agency Straight North, for instance, so all of my work belongs to the agency.

Freelance bloggers should be careful when signing work-for-hire agreements, as they don’t receive the same benefits (health insurance, sick days, retirement plans, etc.) that full-time employees often receive to compensate for loss of copyright.

Your content was stolen … now what?

Let’s say you don’t work for an agency, and you didn’t sign any work-for-hire agreements. You write your own blog on air quality monitoring, and you own all the content on your blog. You spend a lot of time researching and staying up-to-date on the latest air quality monitoring instruments and news in order to write quality content. And one day, you notice that one of your blog posts has been copied word-for-word on someone else’s blog without your permission. Now what?

  • Contact the thief. In many cases, if you send a message to the blogger who stole the content asking to please remove the content, he’ll usually comply.
  • Write a Cease and Desist Order. Send this letter if the thief does not respond to the first message, or if he claims he is not violating copyrights. A Cease and Desist can include notification of copyright infringement, and the demand to cease and desist during a certain time frame or further legal action will take place.
  • File a DMCA complaint. DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Filing a DMCA complaint to the blogger’s Web host, in accordance with the Web host’s guidelines, can result in removal of the blog from the host’s servers. You can also file a DMCA complaint to Google Adsense if the thief has Google ads on his site.

Many content thieves may claim that you should be flattered they’re displaying your work on their site because you’re gaining exposure. Others might say that if you didn’t want it copied, you should not have put it on the Internet in the first place. No matter how they try to justify their copyright violation, the bottom line is that they have no right to use your content without your permission, and the law will back you up on that.

Has anyone ever stolen content from your site? Any advice on how to prevent or react to content theft?