The Business Of Writing: Diligence

As some of you know, once in a while I do a presentation on the “business” of writing at the Carnegie Center. So, I thought I’d share an issue that I personally ran into while simultaneously showing you in a real-time first person example. (I have always believed first person accounts trump most others)

Whether it be writing or any other en devour. It is first and foremost a form of business and must be treated as such.

Sure it can be an act or labor of love however, if you don’t treat it as a business with all that entails.  (i.e., monitoring where it’s showing up, or where it’s being used, etc.) You’re just asking for issues down the road.

It can be stolen, misused, misrepresented, and a myriad of others. If you don’t want these troubles – write in a diary and keep it in a locked drawer. Like it or not once you put it out in the public domain – you had better be ready to protect or defend your work. Period.

Here’s a classic example that everyone dreams of happening yet, can be a nightmare of headaches:

You’re going along writing, posting, whatever. When suddenly your site or blog spikes in traffic. You think “OMG! This is awesome!”

Only trouble? It’s not because of something you’ve hoped for. You realize your material has either been scraped from your site, or hijacked in some manner of form, and someone or some other entity is taking credit or calling the work “theirs.”

They “reference” you in some lame attempt to cover themselves and provide a link to your site. But, (and it’s a very big but) maybe just to your home page – not the actual article or work in hopes no one digs deeper into your site to see the original. (archives of older posts are rarely, if ever, clicked on from the homepage)

The trouble for most is they’ll look at the spike in traffic and try to rationalize that “just maybe” this was a good thing as to do nothing about it. Others will have no clue nor do they care. As long as there are “hits,” they’re OK with anything. I’m here to tell you – it’s not.

If you’re going to put your work into the public domain you have a responsibility to both yourself and your work to protect it from misuse. Period. That protection starts with – diligence.

Just as an owner of a brick and mortar establishment needs to periodically shop their own stores as to look for unseen problems or other assorted hazards such as theft. So too must you if you are putting your intellectual capital in the public domain.

It’s always treated at first as: “If I ever have that problem I’ll worry then. Right now, I need hits!” Till one finds out someone has hijacked their writings, called it theirs, and has been profiting by it. (as in collecting actual legal tender)

All the while – you’re waiting around, checking, and double checking every 3 1/2 minutes for someone to “like” you as if some “like” would help pay your internet bill. Trust me – the banks don’t accept “likes” as legal tender.

This is why diligence is important because – this form of thievery and more are not isolated events. They are rampant across the web. You need to be diligent on where your work is showing up before you waste time diligently checking your “status.”

You don’t need to be a lawyer. However, you do need to have a basic understanding of what copyright law, infringement, fair use, and a few other terms actually mean to both you as well as what others may do with your work. With or without you needing to be notified.

You might find objection to it. Yet, that doesn’t mean it isn’t legal. Remember the old sage: “Just because it’s not right, doesn’t mean it’s not legal.” You have a responsibility to not only take action if needed, but rather, know if you shouldn’t, along with what you would say or state is your claim.

“You POS! You stole my work! I’ll sue you!” means nothing. Articulating your position with the reasons why and proof is all that matters. i.e., “Fair use of this work is available only if the criteria of a link back to the original source along with proper attribution being prominently displayed which you have clearly not done, while simultaneously misrepresenting the articles intention and original authors position…”

If you ever needed to bring legal action (and if money is involved they just might call your bluff on suing) the first line would be meaningless. The second? You be the judge. Because a judge is going to ask specifically “What was said and done?”

So here’s what prompted this dissertation…

As many of you know I’ll post articles occasionally where my work has shown up. (I still get a kick out of it) My writings frequently appear, or are referenced around the globe by some of the largest or well-known publications across the web. (many are crossed referenced from my contributions on SlopeOfHope.com. By the way, one of the best financial trading blogs on the web today by far.)

I do this not to brag. Rather, it comes from diligence on exactly what of mine is being used, referenced, published, or republished. Is it being used properly? Or shared properly? etc. etc.

I have readers that have heard me speak or read something of mine on this subject and sometimes will send me a screenshot with a comment, i.e., “Was searching for an article and you showed up in the results. In an Ireland newspaper!”

I also periodically search, as well as V.V. at StreetCry using criteria that produces results that are meaningful as to use for real analysis. (i.e., I, as well as you, can do a search on oneself and, come up with nearly a billion references or “hits” depending on how “loose” we made the criteria. But, we’d only be fooling ourselves.)

So the other day I noticed some strange traffic to my site which prompted me to initiate a search based on criteria I use. (For this example what I use is irrelevant. It’s the results that matter.) I retrieved the following:

Where normally I would find anywhere from 500K to a million or so search results, (No, I’m not insinuation they’d all be about me. However, as I’ve stated many times, when one can go 8 to 10 pages deep with few repeating links, the rest are near meaningless.) the results came back showing – 5.

No, not 5K or even 500. Just – 5. Below is a screen shot.

Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 6.39.05 PM

This set off alarm bells for me. Google® changes search criteria all the time however, this seemed wrong. It was. Along with the possibility of something nefarious in play was also correct.

A website known as “broken controllers” had seemingly hijacked my article from my WordPress® blog and somehow sucked all the search results out from the search engines as to direct traffic to their site. (How this is done I have no idea. I also know I am not the only one this happens or happened to.)

The issue for many at first blush might be the search results. Although that may be a concern, it might be legal. What I had more concern with was: Exactly what was happening with my material?

What I found seemed at first blush that my article had landed in some form of news aggregate site. The closer I looked the more deceptive things appeared.

Although there seemed to be the requisite link backs, and attribution details one looks for. It seemed as if you needed to “click” as to “download” something to view my work. This is intentional misuse, and misrepresentation of my material. Using my work as to entice someone to “click” on something where the potential of viruses or scams maybe present is unacceptable. I have a duty to both my work as well as readers that may trust my name to defend against such actions. If that means court – so be it. If you write or have intellectual property on the web. You too have the same responsibility.

Immediately V.V. sent out a cease and desist notification. You might not have legal representation at the ready however, you need to know when you need it and, when to use it if warranted. And that comes from diligence in learning what’s yours legally. And, what others can and can not do with what’s yours – legally.

Just like in taxes: “Ignorance is not a defense.” If you put your heart and soul into your writing. Make sure you now how to keep both your heart and soul. The penalty for not knowing how to keep and protect them can be down right costly if far too many ways. Both monetarily as well as repute.

Fortunately (and yes, if you’ve ever dealt with these types of issues, fortunate is exactly how you feel if it’s resolved rather quickly) the site honored our demands and broke all ties with my material. Below is a screen shot after allowing time for the search engines to get back up to speed as in refreshing their cache’s using the exact same criteria used for the previous example.

Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 6.38.23 PM

Diligence is not just some catch word to be thrown around. It’s a state of mind as in a way to move or act when needed. Being diligent in knowing what is yours and how to keep it yours is not something to be taken lightly.

Diligence is just good business. Large or small. For profit or not. Period.

© 2013 Mark St.Cyr