The Never-Ending Threat of IP Theft
By JEB BOHN
You’re a creator.
You love what you do.
Maybe it’s what you do for a living; maybe it’s not.
Then, one day you’re browsing the internet. Perhaps you got curious and Googled yourself. You see the usual results: your website, social media accounts, a few interviews.
Then you see it: someone has ripped off your work.
You’re a victim of IP theft.
In my case, a content thief was offering one of my novels for free. The site was trash, riddled with ads, but the implication was clear. Someone had taken my work, without permission, and was giving it away. The amount of ads clustering their site showed they were trying hard to turn a profit and using the works of many authors to do so.
If you guessed that none of those authors consented to this, you’ve earned a gold star.
Sadly, the further we go into the Internet Age, the more people try to get ahead with as little work as possible, meaning IP (intellectual property) theft is growing in all directions.
IP Theft Running Wild
A little over a year ago, I visited a website containing a section where people can share creepy encounters. These range from being followed along a lonely highway for miles to burglars trying to break into occupied homes.
I shared a story from my teenage years, a story that was well received. I was soon contacted by several YouTube creators, all seeking permission to use my story in a future video. Now, I have no issue with this, since these particular creators actually reached out for permission.
However, I soon found out that many people didn’t receive such courtesy.
Take NoSleep, a community of nearly 15 million members on Reddit. This group invites its members to share original stories, specifically stating that all stories are the property of the author. The rules also allow for material to be utilized in different mediums as long as the author is contacted and grants permission.
Despite this, dozens of stories from this—any many other—subreddits have found their way to other places.
The biggest offender? YouTube.
Channels with a focus on scary stories have been popping up with great rapidity. Naturally, these channels need actual stories to exist. If you’re an optimist, you may think that these channels proceed only after receiving permission.
You would be wrong.
A visit to SleeplessWatchdogs, a subreddit dedicated to taking down illegally-sourced content, confirms this. As of this blog entry, SleeplessWatchdogs has a black list of around 300 offenders, all of whom have stolen content.
Of that number, around 40% are monetized. IP theft is their career.
No, these thieves do not use material in a way that falls under Fair Use. I won’t go into details (the specifics of the law are easy to find) but reading a story and producing a video is not transformative and does not make these actions any more legal or ethical.
Beyond YouTube, thieves have been found selling stolen intellectual property on Amazon. Perhaps the most egregious case is an “author” who stole online stories and compiled them into an ebook. This “author” did not seek permission nor did they properly credit any of the actual authors, you know, the people who actually did the work.
No One is Safe From IP Theft
That heading isn’t meant to be alarmist, at least not in the typical sense. Instead, every creator should be aware of the threat.
So far, I have focused on the written word. That’s what I do, so you can understand my concern. The truth is, no artist is free from this if their work is available online and—let’s be honest—in this day and age, most artists have at least some of their work online.
I have friends who are musicians, photographers, digital artists, and everything in between. Several of them have been victims of content pirates, some to extreme degrees.
It’s disheartening to spend time creating something, something that you want to share with the world, only to have it taken by someone with no consideration.
Actually, scratch that. It’s infuriating.
We take steps to protect physical and digital copies of our work safe. We keep backups; we use secure storage. The sad truth is, despite this, once something is on the internet, it’s out there, and you can believe that people who want clout and money but are too damn lazy to do any work will scour the web for victims.
Yes, that sounds dark—perhaps it even sounds like hyperbole—but I have no reservation calling these people out for what they are: thieves.
We all understand the drive to be better, to gain renown, and to make a living off of what we create. We believe that our success is driven by the quality of our output, hard work, and dedication. The thieves see us all as marks, ripe to be bled dry for their own gains.
Protecting Yourself From IP Theft
This, unfortunately, is a mixed bag.
It’s important to note here that simply holding a copyright (or any other protection) doesn’t mean that you can’t—or won’t—be victimized. Truthfully, it comes down to exactly how your work is exploited.
The scenario I explained in the opening—finding my book used as revenue bait—can be a difficult one to rectify. In that situation, I used the contact link to e-mail the responsible party. Of course, some sites may not even have that option.
When weeks passed with no response and no removal, I sought out the site’s host and contacted them. Again, this isn’t always an easy feat but, in this instance, I got lucky. Within a few days I received a reply and the site was shut down. Unfortunately, it’s rarely that easy with such sites.
Social media platforms are typically much easier. You can contact the responsible party (I can’t bring myself to call them a creator) directly and, if they refuse to comply, you can submit a complaint (or a copyright claim on sites such as Youtube).
It’s not a perfect situation and seriously pursuing such theft can be both time-consuming and expensive. I wish I could tell you that I have all the answers; I do not. I can, however, provide you with some links that may be of assistance:
- Fair Use (copyright.gov)
- Digital Millennium Copyright Act (copyright.gov)
- DMCA Protection and Takedown (DMCA.com)
- Submit Copyright Takedown Request (YouTube)
- Report Infringement (Amazon)
- Report Copyright Infringement (TikTok)
- Copyrights & Trademarks (Barnes & Noble)
- Music Copyright Guide For Indie Musicians (DIY Musician)