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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. and 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):

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

Shakespeare Wrote For Money Too

If you are a fan of the bard, like many writers are, you probably know a bit about his life. Most of the plays he wrote, he wrote for money. That is why he appealed to the poor, the working class, and the nobles with each play all in one go; he had to in order to make money.

I don’t doubt that he loved the art, but that doesn’t get rid of the fact that he was pimping his work out for cash. He wasn’t some gentried noble that just tossed off a play in between hunts when he was bored; brother had to work it.

If you are ever getting discouraged and feel that you won’t write that novel or that script one day because you are spending too much time “writing for money”, don’t worry; some of your best pieces will be ones that you write for money. Just like good old Shakespeare. Every day you spend writing is another day that you spend working out those literary muscles and getting yourself in shape for “the big one”, whatever that may be. In the final summation, your “big one” may just be your life’s work, and that is good enough.

Don’t worry about the subtext, the metaphors, the grammar use, the word substitutions, or any of that within reason. If it is good enough to get paid for, it is still your art.

If you happen to be in the Stratford, Ontario region this summer, Christopher Plummer will be playing Prospero in The Tempest. Which really, you can’t miss if you’re a Shakespeare fan. It may actually be illegal in some alternate dimension to miss that performance. So don’t.

Reputation Management – A More Nuanced Game Than it Used to Be

In the golden days of the dawn of the internet, marketers were looking down the barrel of a giant gun at something called “transparency” and quaking a little. Since those heady days, an entire industry has grown up around maintaining the image of a company on the internet, and they are doing it in ever-increasingly nuanced ways.

Recently, a colleague of mine asked fellow writers to have a look at his post and to tell him why nobody was reading it; I came back with the fact that “This article is sponsored by” was highlighted so prominently at the top of the article that most people wouldn’t even bother reading it. In order to get it read, his employer would have had to ask the site that was hosting it to remove the graphic and just express the “Sponsored By” in a less apparent line of text.

Too frequently, we don’t even get the courtesy of seeing “sponsored by”. We have to conclude from the content of the post or article that it was sponsored by a company, and this happens all the time.

As writers, we are essentially reputation management agents, so we can’t exactly throw stones at our own glass house. However, we should always keep in mind that comments and articles may be paid for by a third party, and we should always base our own articles on solid research with proper sources rather than taking the internet’s word for it.

Wikipedia is especially bad for this. Whenever you are dealing with Wikipedia as a source, use their source articles listed at the bottom and the article itself as a launching point only. It is unfortunate that the very thing that makes Wikipedia so accurate – open-source editing – is also responsible for Wikipedia entries that make a company seem much more glowing than it probably should be. You will save yourself a lot of headaches if you follow this simple, yet necessary step to improve the calibre of your research.

When you are doing your own research on a company or person, look at both negative and positive things that have been posted about them, even if positive things seem to be the overwhelming majority. Eventually, you will learn to spot reputation management; the glowing, positive things will lack the substance of the negative comments, and they will outweigh the negative comments 2:1.

That isn’t to say that complete idiots don’t write negative comments about a company because they didn’t use a product for the purpose it was sold for, or similar circumstances. However, these are usually pretty easy to sort out for yourself just by reading the story and drawing your own conclusions.

A reputation management agent will also be smart about it; they won’t simply write an advertorial piece. They will include references to 2-3 other companies to make the piece seem genuine.

Do I have a problem with a reputation management agent? Depends if they are reputation managing one of my sacred cows or not, but in the end we are all reputation management agents as writers. The only objectionable circumstance for reputation management is where someone is paid to take a certain viewpoint and represent it as their own; you’ll frequently see this in comments on “hot topic” items with a lot of money at stake (i.e. oilsands, political commentary, larger internet businesses) where you can trace commenters back to think tanks and similar organizations. Also remember that if someone has “reputation management” listed in their list of business offerings, they may not be making a heartfelt comment on your blog, but a paid one.

In the end, if a product, service, or website looks like a bad deal, it probably is, regardless of whatever else you see on the internet about it.

Corporate Writing vs. Writing for Magazines

If you are a freelancer that has been used to writing for magazines, you’ve no doubt noticed diminishing returns on your efforts, unless you are in extremely tight with a well-paying consumer publication or are so legendary in the profession that you can command whatever rates you want. This article is not for you, nor would I expect you to be actually reading my blog.

At a seminar last night put on by PWAC Toronto, it was struck home to me that corporate writing was the clear financial winner over writing for magazines for anyone looking to break into the profession. Magazines have slashed budgets for freelancers and won’t pay a cent more than they’ve budgeted for, as a rule. They are also paying the same rates, for the most part, that they paid twenty years ago.

Corporate writing, on the other hand, is on the increase. Businesses need web copy, letters, video scripts, and just all kinds of writing more than ever. Writers that can produce these well are scarce enough that they enjoy virtually unlimited employment, as long as they know how to market themselves.

Magazine writers, on the other hand, must spend a good amount of time on crafting individual queries, landing interviews with busy executives, meeting with publishers, meeting with editors, and all kinds of things that do not justify the paltry wage that they are paying. Even if you are lucky enough to land a $500.00 story, the amount of work you do from query to final edited copy is epic. $500.00 in the corporate writing world, on the other hand, is about ten hours worth of work.

While the seminar wasn’t presented this way, the lessons were clear in the subtext. How do you feel about the changing landscape of the freelance profession?

Five Tips for Applying for Listed Writing Jobs

Writing jobs that have been posted to Craigslist or any other public venue require a bit of finesse when you are applying to them. Here are some things that I have learned:

1. Take The Time

An editor or business owner can spot a form letter a mile away. Take time to research the publication before composing your application, unless of course they provide very little information. If they don’t provide much information, send in what they ask for and ask them if you can have more information on the project so that you can send more relevant examples of your work.

2. Rework Your Resume
Many writing positions that are freelance are starting to ask for resumes. I used to respond to these with a “see my portfolio”. Problem is, they don’t want to see your portfolio. They want to see a resume, structured like a resume. Do it and you’ll notice an uptick on your response rate. Structure it so that it lists any relevant work experience but focuses on your writing. Update the resume once every six months with your most recent works.

3. Be Up Front
If a job ad isn’t listing a critical piece of information, such as how much it is paying authors, ask. Reputable companies and publications will tell you, others won’t even get back to you since you are obviously a “troublemaker”. This is a huge time saver to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

4. Follow Your Instincts

While we can’t all be Jedi mind readers, we do all have instincts about people, publications, and potential clients. If you get a bad feeling about something, there is likely something fishy going on. Just make sure your bad feeling is based on something you can give a concrete example of, such as a potential client making odd statements or taking too long to get back to you.

5. Stand Out
You have to stand out from a sea of about one hundred to one thousand applicants to land any writing job that is listed online. If that intimidates you, you’re in the wrong business. Use humour, cleverness, and wit to get your application to the top of the pile. You’re a copywriter; figure out something “zingy” to write to get your prospect’s attention.