Searching for and Rewarding Legitimate Reuses

the $500 cat
Creative Commons License photo credit: 1suisse

As one might expect, I spend a lot of time on this site talking about ways to track down infringements and plagiarisms of your work. I also talk at great length about how to stop such misuses of content.

However, one thing I haven’t spent much time on is tracking down legitimate use of your content, including use permitted under Creative Commons or other licensing schemes.

Casey Fleser, on the other hand, did cover this issue recently on his site and did so by highlighting just some of the sites that had legitimately used his photographs, including Plagiarism Today.

His method was brain-dead simple, though somewhat incomplete, and is something almost any Webmaster can do to look for their content.

With that in mind, there is little reason to not do a quick check and see how others are using your work.

Why Check for Legitimate Use

Most people. even those who actively check for infringement of their content, do not actually seek out legitimate uses of their content.

There are several reasons for this, the first being that many copyright holders already find legitimate uses in their existing infringement dragnet and simply ignore them. This is especially common when using Google Alerts or FairShare to track down infringing material.

The second is that there is no action to take on legitimate uses, other than a possible “thank you” letter, so they are often ignored. No takedown notices, no cease and desist letters, no reason to look. Finally, some feel they already know about all or the bulk of the legitimate uses of their content, especially since many are asked permission even when it is freely given.

However, as Fleser’s post illustrates, you may not know about a lot of the uses of your content. After all, most of the uses he listed were done without explicit permission, instead relying on his CC-license, exactly as intended.

And while there might be no action you have to take, searching for legitimate uses lets you know what content of yours is most popular and connect with an audience that may not be on your site. This is a chance to reach out to new readers and understand what works of yours this audience wants, helping you grow your site and your brand.

That alone makes investigating worthwhile.

How To Do It

Fleser’s method for searching for his images was extremely simple, he just used Google to look for links to his Flickr account.

In Google, this can easily be done by using a “link:” query. For example, “link:” returns links to this site. You don’t truly need the https:// either, but most leave it in as they are pasting the URL.

Another alternative would have been to search for his username, “somegeekintn” but that search produces mostly links to his profiles on other sites, which use the same name. However, that method may work well for others.

Finally, the same techniques that one uses to find misuse of their work also works, in most cases, to find legitimate uses. The only thing you have to do is make a concerted effort to look for those cases and you can help remember to do that by taking other action with them, even if it is as simple as sending of a stock “thank you” letter.

On that front, I really like what Fleser did with his post. Going beyond seeking legitimate uses of his work and actively thanking those who did. This not only encourages further legitimate reuse, but also helps him network with sites interested in his content.

Saying Thanks

Changing behavior is as much about reenforcing good behavior as it is punishing bad. Encouraging legitimate use, especially in a public manner, can help encourage others who read your site to follow the rules and use your content in a way that you approve of.

It also serves as a showcase of the types of uses you approve of, letting others see how it’s done and avoiding any potential misunderstandings, which can happen, even with Creative Commons.

In short, I think it would be a good idea for other sites to do something similar from time to time, reward and say thanks to those who do use your correctly. Not only is it a nice respite from shutting down spammers and plagiarists, but helps others understand your expectations and follow them accordingly.

Bottom Line

If you don’t allow any reuse of your content, clearly this is not for you. This approach is not right for everyone and whether it fits you or not will depend on your model as a creative and your views on copyright.

However, if you do allow and wish to encourage some reuse, you should definitely not focus solely on punishing bad uses of your work, but also focus on rewarding positive. What Felser did is a great example of how to do just that.

In the end, this kind of behavior not only goes a long way to encouraging cooperation on matters of copyright, but makes the climate a bit less hostile.

That, in turn, makes the Web a better place for all of us.

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