When Content Theft Gets Personal

Sorrow ImageEvery content creator, whether they are creating poetry, photography, artwork, music or even just marketing material, puts a piece of themselves into their work. That’s part of the beauty of the creative process, transforming something of you into a tangible product that other people can relate to.

But despite that, most content theft and copyright infringement is more of a business matter. A pirated song may upset the artist and a plagiarized blog posts may anger the writer, but the primary concerns are more practical in nature. Artists that earn a living from their work worry about how infringement impacts their career and even casual bloggers have to worry about SEO when they find their work elsewhere online.

But sometimes, copyright infringement gets far more personal. One such case has been highlighted by Nichole Smith At The Guilty Parent, who wrote about how Nickmom, a site created by the Nickelodeon TV network, has been taking pictures of at least some bloggers’ kids and reusing them on their site without permission. A story backed up by other reports from other blogging parents with similar concerns.

In these cases, the infringement can hit really close to home and that can create a very different type of case, one that’s tougher on everyone involved.

So what are some of the cases where content theft gets personal and how can you handle them? Here’s a short list of scenarios to consider.

Example 1: Pictures of Families

As discussed in the Nickmom case above, one of the most personal things that people have is their family. With the rise of social networking, blogging and community sites aimed at parents, people are sharing more and more about their families including images, video and audio.

However, others often have a use for that content. Whether they’re looking for content to fill up a site or even put on a billboard halfway around the world. Copyright infringement becomes very different when it is you, your spouse or your kids that are being repurposed illegally.

Example 2: Sensitive Images/Video

In the digital age almost everyone has photos of themselves they’d rather the rest of the world not see. Whether its sexual images that they took for a private audience, embarrassing photos from a night out with friends or just video taken at a bad moment in one’s life.

However, these photos often times do get out because there is both interest and a market for them. Unfortunately, the person in the image or video is often not the copyright holder (copyright goes to the photographer, not the subject) but often times even the copyright holder doesn’t wish it to be leaked either.

With these cases, the desire to keep private information private is more important than any commercial issue and it can be a very emotional one.

Example 3: Deeply Personal Works

While all creative work is an expression of the author, some content holds deeper than normal meanings. Whether it’s eulogies written for deceased loved ones, paintings made to express feelings toward a spouse or something else that was created for a very personal and very private use.

However, part of that personal use often means sharing it with friends and that, in turn, often means posting it on the Web. But it’s there that the work often spreads farther, even being used for commercial purposes.

It can be very difficult to see a heartfelt poem written for a funeral of a loved one in a book of poetry under someone else’s name. But it can happen and it’s a reality that you have to be prepared for.

How to Respond

Responding to these types of violations can be very difficult. The main reason is that there is a desire to do “Whatever it takes” to solve the issue though the required steps may be illegal or, equally bad, there may be no way to really bring about any closure.

Where creators can easily walk away from a purely business concern if no reasonable resolution can be found, when content theft becomes personal it becomes almost impossible. The damage isn’t just financial, but emotional as well.

Still, it’s important to separate the emotional and the practical and try to treat this case as if it were any other.

That includes the following steps:

  1. Keep Calm: It’s easy to let your emotions get the better of you. It’s best to take a few deep breaths and walk away some before doing anything. Too many people, when impacted personally by infringement, do stupid things when they are emotional that hurt their chances of getting resolution or, even worse, get them in trouble.
  2. Evaluate the Situation: Take a moment to evaluate what is going on and understand what your options are. Is the infringement you found the only one? Where is it hosted? How serious is it really?
  3. Keep the Law in Mind: Remember, just because you don’t like a use doesn’t make it an infringement. Weigh factors such as fair use. Also, don’t forget to consider other areas of the law that might be relevant such as defamation, privacy, etc. to see if there might be issues there as well. If you have questions, seek out an attorney.
  4. Take Action: Once you’ve done the above steps, take action and make sure that it’s appropriate based on the law and the severity of the misuse. However, don’t use emotions to plead your case. The facts of the case should speak for themselves without emotional prodding.
  5. Follow Up: Once you’ve take action, follow up and ensure that the situation is resolved and that there is nothing else you need to do.

If you can do that, odds are you can resolve most cases with a minimal amount of headache. While the temptation to shout and scream is understandable, doing so actually can make things worse and that temporary release can lead to a lifetime of regret.

Bottom Line

In the end, there are two great truths you need to remember.

First, if you absolutely can’t stand if something gets stolen, don’t post it online. This includes Facebook, Twitter and even email/text messages as any digital medium can quickly wind up on the Internet.

Second, if you decide the risk of putting something valuable personally online is worth the benefit, you should take precautions to protect it before posting it. Never upload any non-watermarked images (though keep the watermarks subtle) and use Google Alerts to keep an eye on any text works you share. Likewise, have clear attribution with everything you post, so, hopefully, it won’t be removed if it is copied.

But, in the end, anything you post digitally can and likely will be copied. We all have to decide what copying/sharing/reuse we are comfortable with and where to draw the line. When you’re dealing with economic issues, that’s often a strategic decision that’s made in a very calculated way.

But with personal works, it’s an emotional issue and that can be much more difficult to make rational decisions about. How much time is a good night’s rest worth? How much sleep will you really lose? There’s no easy solution here and everyone has to evaluate these questions for themselves.

But while it’s important to acknowledge the feelings, it’s crucial to not act on them. If you do, you are likely only going to make things worse for yourself and create a bigger problem with a lot more emotional baggage.

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