Google Yourself; Your Content is Always At Risk

The following is a shining example of why you should always be Googling yourself and your stories.

Yahoo.ca and MSN.ca feature Rogers stories without signoff from authors

Last week, I came across a post by Derek Finkle, head of the Canadian Writers Group, on an e-mail list that I had subscribed to. This is what was said (reprinted with Derek’s permission):

“I recently discovered an article that a writer with the Canadian Writers Group had published in Chatelaine three or four months ago had been syndicated on Yahoo’s “Lifestyle” site. I was a bit surprised by this as we had not ticked the box on the Rogers contract that gave the company the right to publish the work “on the Web sites of third parties” (we never tick that box).

I then searched for another Chatelaine story by another of our writers, and it, too, popped up on the Yahoo site. What was even more surprising was that Chatelaine had only been permitted to publish this particular story on its web site for 45 days according to our agreement. It had been removed from Chatelaine’s site for many months, so I was curious how it came to be resurrected on Yahoo.

When I spoke to the handling editor for both stories, she was also surprised – no one had ever told her that Chatelaine was syndicating content with Yahoo.

Finally, I was put in touch with the online editor responsible for syndication at Chatelaine. She told me that “legal” had come in and told her and her online colleagues they could syndicate whatever stories they liked. When I pointed out to her that the contracts related to these stories didn’t permit such usage, she had the Editor of Syndicated Content, Robyn Shanks, pull them from Yahoo.

Around the same time, I queried the person with whom the agency has been having discussions related to the new Rogers contract, and he mentioned somewhat sheepishly that this usage might be covered under the “promotions” clause in the contract. So I asked Robyn Shanks, the editor of syndicated content, what the point of syndicating Rogers content on Yahoo was. She told me that it was meant to drive traffic back to web sites owned by Rogers and presumably, therefore, increase ad revenue. Not exactly promotional use as most people would define it.

I then discovered more stories by our writers from other Rogers publications on Yahoo. Here is an example of a story that first appeared in Flare and is now on Yahoo (it may not be there much longer):

http://ca.lifestyle.yahoo.com/family-relationships/articles/dating/rogers-flare/why-men-and-women-cheat-2010-07-26

Shanks told me that she is responsible for syndicating content from eight Rogers publications with both Yahoo and MSN: Flare, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent, Lulu, Moneysense, Canadian Business, Maclean’s, and Canadian Parent.

I’m posting about this because:

1) The freelancers I’ve been in touch have no idea that this is happening. Come to think of it, the editors I’ve spoken to at Rogers don’t seem to know it’s happening, either.
2 If you’ve written for any of these publications, you might want to do a quick search to see if any of your work has been syndicated.
3) If it has, you should consult your contract. If the “web sites of third parties” box has not been ticked, you can contact your handling editor about a) getting the story removed from Yahoo/MSN and/or b) getting compensated for this usage.
4) Some stories are compressed by Yahoo/MSN, and some of the writers involved weren’t terribly thrilled that this had also happened without their permission.

I should also point out that the new Rogers contract, in use since July, seems to cover for this type usage in clause 4 under Basic Rights: “…the right to make the archived Work available to the public for an access fee or otherwise, either directly by us or through third parties…”

Writers may want to obtain clarification on this type of syndication when presented with the new Rogers contract, so one can decide whether or not to strike that particular clause.”

Wait, What?

As of this writing, Derek is under negotiations with Rogers to arrange payment, and they have removed the pieces that he has asked them to remove. However, his diligence in searching for his client’s stories is what is leading to this payment, should it happen. It is likely that the above happened due to a mistake, but regardless of how it happened in the first place, it still happened and the author is owed if they did not sign their rights away.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have super-agents like Derek. For those just starting out in the industry, it makes a good load of sense to take some time and Google sentences from your articles to make sure you aren’t ending up on a website or blog without your permission. The same thing just happened to another writer I know when she found her story reprinted on a popular women’s blog without her permission. The owner of the site eventually took down the story, but only after a slightly heated e-mail exchange, and not upon receiving the first note.

Content Theft is Common

If more reputable blogs want people to write for free, they will offer bylines and links to the work. This is hardly an option for freelance writers, but may be viable for those who want to link-build and publicize their blogs or websites due to the fact that they are making money off of another product or service.

Less reputable sites will steal content outright from magazines or online sources. If you have a magazine story lifted, you should notify your editor immediately, as the magazine is also due payment for these items in most cases, and likely have more of a legal team at their disposal than you do. If you have an online story lifted, notify your online editor and they will send a DMCA takedown notice to Google. If they are not inclined to do so, you certainly can submit it yourself. Google pays attention to these and will insist that the owner of the site remove the infringing material.

In the case of Rogers, we have an example of something that was likely a human error in submitting stories that didn’t have a box ticked where they should have, but as we know those happen all the time.

What to Do?

If you see your content on a website where it doesn’t belong, contact your editor first if you have one. There may be something in your rights contract that allows them to resell your story that you don’t know about. Going forward, pay careful attention to those contracts as you should be getting paid every time your story is republished somewhere, since the media company that purchased your story is, indeed, getting paid for it.

If it comes down to contacting the infringing party yourself, be cordial in your initial e-mail as it is a fact-finding mission. They may honestly have felt that they had rights to republish the material, and this could even lead to them paying you, so you don’t want to start out with guns blazing. If you don’t get a good explanation and they don’t remove the infringing material, follow that up with a less cordial invitation for the site owner to be the recipient of a DMCA notice from Google within 24 hours of the time your e-mail is sent if the infringing material is not removed. Then send it.

If you have a story of having your content ripped off, kindly leave it in our comments section, or if it is longer than a typical comment send it into us for posting on the site for other writers to learn from your experience at info@freelancewritingjobs.ca.

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