Shutting Down in the Face of Infringement

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It’s something I see all-too-often. A creator learns that their work is being widely infringed or plagiarized and, in response, shut their site down and effectively go out of business.

When I can, I try to talk the creator out of making this, hoping to work with them to find a more productive solution. Though sometimes the infringement is merely a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment that prompted the closing of a site already on its way out, too often creators overreact to infringement an walk way from something that, otherwise, was very good and doing well for itself.

While I recognize that this is an emotional decision made in the heat of intense anger, hurt and frustation, such long-lasting decisions are best made with a more logical mind and, unfortunately, there is little logic to be found in this move.

This, to me, is one of the worst, if not the worst, response a creator can have to plagiarism, piracy and other forms of infringement. It’s an extreme overreaction that actually does more to help and encourage infringement than to stop it or mitigate it.

But to understand why it is such a bad idea, we first have to understand why people do it and what they are trying to gain.

Why People Shut Down

Many content creators are very invested personally in their works, having spent a great deal of time, energy and effort into creating them, not to mention how personal many of those works often are.

Understandably, when one discovers either widespread or egregious infringement of their work, there’s a very real emotional pain there. It can feel like much more than an infringement or a plagiarism, but a personal attack and a great disrespect to that effort.

In that moment, many want nothing more than to simply make sure that they never feel that way again and feel that the best way to ensure that is to simply close down and walk away. Essentially, shutting down their site is a way of saying “never again” and walking away.

This is compounded by the fact that, usually, the actual infringer is unknown and it’s easy to blame the Web or the Web culture itself for the infringement. This happens without realizing all the good readers and customers that have enjoyed your work legitimately over the months and years. In short, it can feel as if the Internet hurt you and not just one or two infringers.

But while the reaction is understandable, it’s a response that does no good whatsoever. Not only does it destroy the site and potential of the creator online, but it does nothing to stop the infringement and, in fact, will encourage it and empower infringers in the future.

How to Strengthen Infringers and Destroy Your Career

To put it mildly, shutting down your site in the face of infringement is an extreme overreaction to the problem. By doing this, you are trading in your entire presence online, your legitimate fans/customers and everything you’ve worked on to spite a handful of infringers, who have likely already taken all that they want.

That being said, even if there is widespread infringement and/or plagiarism, it may not even be hurting you. Every copyright holder and every creation is in a different position. Some actually are able to use infringement to increase interest and sales, others see no effect at all and others still can trace a measurable decline to when infringements began to appear. No two situations are the same.

But even if it is hurting you, there are simple and effective ways to mitigate these problems. Takedown notices, search engine removals and other tactics can greatly limit the damage that infringers can do to legitimate traffic. If you need any help, the Stopping Internet Plagiarism section on this site can help.

However, even if you can’t mitigate the infringement at all, which is extremely unlikely, having your site and your presence means that, at the very least, you are getting a share of the traffic, attention and revenue from your work online. Even if your sites only account for 10% of the people who view or obtain your work, that is still 10% more than you will have if you shut down.

And that, in turn, is the biggest problem with closing your doors. If you shut down because of infringement, you virtually guarantee that every use of your work from then on will be an infringement. If you are worried about plagiarism, by shutting down you’re giving up on your legitimate claim to your work and making it so that there is no way to effectively refute the plagiarists.

But more than just giving plagiarists and infringers the whole of the stage, it also has legal consequences as well. First, it can be very difficult to prove ownership of the work or show damages you have taken from the infringement if you shutter your site. If you do decide to sue later, this can hurt your arguments greatly. Also, many hosts won’t accept DMCA takedown notices without a link to the original content, even though it isn’t an explicit requirement of the law itself.

In short, shutting down and walking away isn’t spiting the plagiarists and infringers, but rather, giving in to them. It’s not giving them a thumb to the eye, but surrendering and walking away.

Bottom Line

As someone who has been through the emotion of finding their work plagiarized, I certainly understand this temptation and I don’t think less of anyone who has gone down this route. In the end, every creator has to make the decision for themselves as to what they want to do and if continuing to post online is worth it in the face of infringement.

That being said, one has to make this choice with open eyes and realize what it actually means. This isn’t an act that spites plagiarists or other infringers nor does it hurt them in any meaningful way. Instead, it’s a surrender to them, a means of giving up and walking away. While it frees you from the fight, it frees them as well and it also frees them from the competition of your legitimate offerings.

That, in turn, is why I try to discourage content creators from giving up when faced with plagiarism and taking a more reasoned, measured approach to it by looking at how it is really impacting them and responding proportionally to the problem.

It’s not easy to do with so many emotions, but those who can are usually much happier and, in the long run, do far better than those who take their metaphorical ball and go home.

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