It’s a scene that’s been played out thousands of times before. A writer, by one means or another, discovers that their work is being stolen, reused on another Web site underneath another’s name.
However, what makes this travel writer particularly interesting is that, rather than starting a flame war or even filing a traditional cease and desist letter, she did something a little bit different. She sent them a bill and made $500 in the process.
It’s a different kind of plagiarism fighting where cease and desist letters are replaced by invoices and many are finding it profitable to be plagiarized.
Put it On My Bill
The notion of billing plagiarists is not new. Stock photographers have long since been invoicing those who use their images without licensing them and many stock article writers as well as Web template designers have been doing the same thing. In those industries, it’s a common practice.
However, it’s only recently that writers and artists who don’t actively sell their work have gotten in on the idea. Some have begun writing a feed structure into their copyright policy and others have been sending out invoices, not cease and desist letters, when plagiarism has been discovered.
The hope is that plagiarists will be actively discouraged from stealing again and that, perhaps, the copyright holder can be reimbursed some for both their troubles and the damage to their work. It seems to be the perfect solution, however, it comes with some built in problems.
I Didn’t Order This
The first challenge incurred when trying to bill plagiarists is deciding how much one should actually charge. While we have no indication as to how the travel writer involved in the article above reached the $250 per article total, it’s obvious that there are a lot of variables involved.
First, one has to consider the actual worth of the articles, both economically and personally. Then one has to look at the person or entity doing the plagiarizing and make sure that the amount is both high enough to discourage plagiarism but low enough to actually be paid. In that regard, invoicing a plagiarist is a lot like determining the fine for a speeding ticket. To high, the speeding ticket goes unpaid, things escalate and no one wins, too low and there’s no deterrent from speeding.
The second challenge is getting the plagiarist to actually pay up. Given the ways plagiarists respond to cease and desist letters, most are likely to simply pull up stakes and disappear. Others, as in the article, are likely to try and haggle for a better price or for better terms.
On that note, Angela Hoy, the editor of Writer’s Weekly , says "Don’t fall for it and don’t let them involve you in an emotional argument. Keep demanding the fee and don’t hesitate to report the copyright infringement to the ISP."
Nonetheless, the actual recourse available against an nonpaying plagiarist is rather scant. His site can be shut down, which is often done anyway, but the expense and energy invested into a lawsuit will almost certainly overshadow the potential gain from it. There’s little to stop a plagiarist, especially one with a small site and no economic ties to the Web from just disappearing.
However, that doesn’t mean that many plagiarists won’t pay out, if nothing else than to avoid the potential threat of a lawsuit. Theoretically, even if only a handful do pay, it can be a very profitable venture leaving both the plagiarist wiser and the copyright holder richer. Even those who disappear will, likely, have gotten more of a scare than if they had just received a vague cease and desist letter.
Something about seeing a dollar amount has that effect.
As a writer, I’m both excited and skeptical about this method of handling plagiarism. The possibilities for profit and deterrent are too great to just ignore. Besides, most writers, even those that never charge for their work, do dream of being paid for it.This might be one way, though an admittedly unusual one, of making that happen.
Still, it remains to be seen just how effective this method is and, when dealing with dozens of cases of plagiarism, effectiveness is the ultimate bar of how useful a system is. Making money off of being plagiarized is nice, but if it doesn’t resolve the incident quickly and effectively, it’s not much good. That is, unless you can make chasing plagiarists your full time job.
However, what writer/artist/musician wants to do that? The reason we write is not so that we can chase plagiarists, but so what we can create. Time spent chasing plagiarists, though often necessary, is still time away from the chosen craft.
Nonetheless, I’m considering experimenting some with using invoices to see what happens. Though, admittedly, my cases aren’t likely to benefit much from this method, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, comes of it.
In the meantime though, this definitely provides a new method for handling plagiarism that is worth considering.
Tips and Suggestions
If you are considering using this method, here are some tips and thoughts to consider.
- Though having a visible copyright policy is always a good idea. If you are going to start sending invoices to plagiarists, it might be a good idea to put the penalties in the policy itself. That way, when a plagiarist wonders where the numbers are coming from, you can simply point to your policy.
- Considering using Paypal or a similar service to send out your invoices. Not only does it provide an easy way to keep track of who has paid, but it also offers them an easy method from which to send you the money.
- Don’t forget to make it clear that the work needs to be removed. Otherwise, the plagiarist might see the fee as a license the work under their name. Make it clear that it’s to repay for the damages incurred not for continued use.
- According to Hoy, relentlessness pays off. The chances of success improve drastically if you don’t give up. However, the amount of time ad energy you’re willing to spend on a single case will vary not only by personal preference but also the incident itself.
- Be sure to keep a visual record of a site before you send the invoice. Take screenshots and consider using a program like Scrapbook or NetSnippets to further preserve the evidence. This way, if the plagiarist alters the site without offering to pay, you have proof of what happened.
- Never assume that everyone is going to pay up. Remember, if your invoice serves as an effective cease and desist letter, that’s not an altogether bad thing.
Just a few thoughts and ideas to help make the process a little easier.
[tags]Plagiarism, content theft, copyright, copyright infringement, copyright law, cease and desist, plagiary[/tags]