eZineArticles.com

Could be hazardous to your good name.

A few months ago, I read a blog post by some A-list pro blogger that briefly discussed eZineArticles.com as a place to publish articles and generate hits for your site. The idea was that the articles contained a byline with links and people who read them would come back to your site to read more. The result: more hits.

I dug deeply into my well of content and found a handful of articles I didn’t mind republishing. I formatted them as required and submitted them to eZineArticles.com, after setting up an account as an author. A bunch of the articles were bounced back because they read like blog posts. But I successfully argued that they did provide useful information in my somewhat conversational and bloggish writing style. All five articles were published on the eZine Articles site.

First Surprise: Anyone Can Republish!

What I didn’t realize at first was that anyone who sets up a publisher relationship with eZineArticles.com could republish my work, as long as it was republished exactly as written and included my byline, bio, and links. I discovered this when an article I wrote about flying at sunrise was picked up by a Web site with content about cruising.

After a few e-mails went back and forth between me and the site owner and eZineArticles support staff, I realized what I’d missed by not reading the fine print — I was basically granting a very broad set of rights to eZineArticles.com. But the site that had used the piece was a high quality site and I didn’t mind my recycled work appearing there. And the eZineArticles folks assured me that publishers had to meet certain requirements to use the work.

Second Surprise: Hot Sex?

But I wasn’t very happy when I traced a link to one of my Antelope Canyon photos article to a Blogger blog with the words “hot-sex” in its domain name. Although the site didn’t appear to contain any porn, I didn’t want my content — or name! — associated with it. So I wrote to eZineArticles support to complain.

Today, I found the same article used on a site with “nurse-fetish” in the domain name. Now I was pissed. I wrote again to the eZineArticles staff.

eZineArticles.com Responds

My new message crossed their response to the first one in the ether. In their response, they told me that if I didn’t want my work on a specific site, it was my responsibility to contact the owner of that site and ask him to remove it.

Ever try to contact the owner of a Blogger blog? It’s not possible if they don’t want to make it possible.

I replied that their response was completely unsatisfactory and that I would be deleting all of my articles from their site.

And then I did.

Lessons Learned

I am certainly not desperate enough to be published or to get hits by releasing my work on a site that allows distribution without prior approval by the author. Frankly, I don’t think any author should be that desperate.

eZineArticles.com obviously doesn’t give a damn about its authors if it won’t work to prevent this kind of activity with an author’s work. Any author who publishes with them deserves whatever shit he gets — including his name spread around on sites of questionable quality and purpose.

From now on, I will publish my work electronically in only three places:

  • Here, on this site, where my work is covered by a copyright notice that helps protect my work from misuse.
  • On the sites of publishers who pay me for my efforts and protect our copyrights.
  • On the sites of other bloggers who have asked me to guest author for them and will protect our copyrights.

I’m angry about this, but I know it’s my own fault. I was conned, first by the pro blogger who pushed eZineArticles.com and then by eZineArticles.com itself. I don’t understand why anyone would allow their work to be reproduced in a way that they cannot control. Could they all be as stupid as I was when I signed up?

As for the “hot-sex” and “nurse-fetish” sites, I wonder how the other female eZineArticles authors feel about their work — and their names — appearing there.

Could it be? Piracy site shut down?

To early to be sure, but not too early to hope.

Last night, before shutting down for the night, I decided to check a pirate Web site I’ve been monitoring to see if any new ebooks had arrived. I’ve been finding my books — and the books of author friends — on a number of pirate Web sites, but one of them was especially blatant and offensive. It listed literally hundreds of ebooks and complete training DVDs by dozens of publishers and scores of authors. If you can’t figure out why this bothers me, read this.

After a long wait, an error message appeared in place of the site’s home page:

ERROR
The requested URL could not be retrieved
While trying to retrieve the URL: http://[omitted]/
The following error was encountered:
* Connection to [omitted] Failed
The system returned:
(111) Connection refused
The remote host or network may be down. Please try the request again.

I tried a few more times and got the same result.

Then my normal state of paranoia set in and I thought that the site’s owner may have blocked my IP address. I’d been checking the site with an alias user ID that pointed to a domain name I never use for personal stuff. But I didn’t mask my IP address. So I asked Jonathan at Plagiarism Today to try. He got the same result (and taught me a trick for checking for IP blocking another way).

About the Site

The site was hosted somewhere in Asia or the Pacific, although the guy who ran it wrote in perfect English. So there wasn’t much to be done as far as DMCA notices to the guy’s site hosting ISP.

Most of the pirated files were being hosted on a Germany-based free file hosting site. That site’s gimmick is that people can download one file at a time unless they pay for a “premium account.” So I think one could make a good argument that the hosting company was selling access to our files.

To the hosting company’s credit, they made it pretty easy to get the files taken down. All I had to do is get the complete URL to the file and send it to them via an online form. Within 24 hours, the link simply stopped working. So even though the pirate site still listed my ebooks, none of the download links would work. To me, that was almost as good as taking the whole site down.

Take Down!

Join us in our fight to stop ebook piracy! Authors Against Piracy is a private Yahoo Group dedicated to educating authors on how they can find illegal copies of their books online and get them off. We can make a difference!

But I do have reason to hope that the site may have been taken down. When I saw the extend of the copyright infringement there, I was outraged. I spent almost two full days contacting authors and publishers to tell them about what I’d seen. Among the publishers I contacted were Pearson, McGraw-Hill, O’Reilly, Symantec, Lynda.com, and Total Training. I thought that if I got some big guns out against this guy, he’d get taken down.

And maybe it did work. Maybe one of them threw a big enough legal staff at either the site owner, his ISP, or the file hosting sites to get the whole thing taken offline. Or maybe just having all those publishers and authors going at him with e-mail and other communications made him realize that his efforts to earn a few dollars by setting up illegal downloads just wasn’t worth the hassle of fighting all these people.

Whacking Moles

I don’t care what the reason might be. I just rejoice in the possibility that we may have succeeded in “whacking this mole.”

Because as one of my publishers pointed out: “Trying to stop these guys is a game of whack-a-mole. You hit one and another one pops up.”

I agree. But there are more people and resources on our team than on theirs. If we work together, we can keep those moles in their holes.

Copyright for Writers and Bloggers – Part III: Fair Use and Public Domain

What’s fair? Use common sense.

In the first article of this series (Part I: Why Copyright is Important), I discussed the importance of copyrights to authors. In the second article (Part II: Creative Commons), I tell you about the Creative Commons license I use to protect the work on this site.

In this last article of the series, I explain the concept of fair use — or attempt to, anyway — and how it enables you to quote copyrighted works for certain purposes.

CopyrightFair Use

Now here’s a good question. What if you want to use one of my articles on your AdSense-supported Web site? Obviously, that’s in violation of my Creative Commons license. But what if you’re satisfied using only a part of it?

That’s where Fair Use comes into play. Fair use allows you to take a portion of copyright-protected material and use it provided the use meets the definition of “fair” as set forth by the Copyright Act of 1976:

…the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

You can read more about this on Wikipedia.

Fair Use is Common Sense

Fair use, of course, is ruled upon by judges when copyright infringement cases get to court. But you can keep yourself out of court — and be a good member of the blogging community — by using common sense and thinking through the use you have in mind.

For example, suppose you want to use portions of this article as part of a college course you’re teaching about copyright in the Internet age. You could print the article and share it as a handout with your students. Of course, you should also credit me as the author. That’s common courtesy in the writing world.

Or suppose you want to blog about this article as part of your own opinion piece about copyright. You could take a quote from my article and use it to make one of your points — or to present one of my points that you want to argue. (Be gentle, please.) For fair use, you’d have to limit the amount of material you used so it’s only a portion of the entire piece. You should also include my byline and a link back to my article — that’s common courtesy in the blogging world.

Both of these uses would be considered fair. What’s not fair is using a work in a way that would reduce demand or marketability for it — like reproducing it in whole on your Web site without a link back to the original. Or using it to make money by providing content on a site that exists primarily to generate advertising revenue.

Public Domain

There’s one more thing I want to mention here.

If you don’t care about how people use your work, you can release it into the public domain. This essentially means that you’re giving up all rights to it and people can do with it what they want.

If you find a work that’s in the public domain — including classic novels that are out-of-copyright — you can use them pretty much anyway you like. But let your conscience be your guide. Do you really want to claim that that passage from Mark Twain’s Roughing It was really penned by you?

Just remember, there’s nothing in this blog — or in most others — that’s in the public domain. Respect the author’s copyrights, whether they’re a standard copyright “All Rights Reserved” notice, a Creative Common’s license, or something less formal. It’s not just courtesy. It’s the law.

What Do You Think?

Got something to say about this? Use the Comments link or form for this post to get it off your chest.

Copyright for Writers and Bloggers – Part II: Creative Commons

Providing a solution for protecting creative works on the Internet.

In the first article of this three-part series (Part I: Why Copyright is Important), I discussed the importance of copyrights to an author like me. But is an “all rights reserved” copyright appropriate for work published on the Web? I don’t think so.

In this article, I tell you a little about Creative Commons and how I use it to license my work.

CopyrightCreative Commons

What I write on my Web site is available here for free to anyone who wants to come read it. (Don’t get me wrong — if I can sell an article for real money, I do — and then link back to it from this site so my readers can still find it for free online.) But just because this material is available for free to read and link to doesn’t mean it’s not copyrighted. It is.

Many blogger and Web content creators use a Creative Commons licenses to set down the rules for using or reusing their work. The Creative Commons Web site makes this easy with its License page. As the page states:

With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work provided they give you credit — and only on the conditions you specify here.

Creative Commons LicenseYou fill out a form like the one shown here by selecting options. You can click a link to display optional fields to provide more information for the licensee about the work you are licensing.

When you click Create License, the site generates some HTML code that you can copy and paste into your blog or site. The box to the right shows the example for my site. As you can see, the code includes a Creative Commons logo and the name of the license you chose as a link to a page with the full text of the license. (Follow the link in the box to see the license I use on my site.) If you go to the © page of this site, you’ll see the same logo and link.

What It All Means

Here’s what my Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License means.

You are free to share, copy, distribute and transmit the material on my Web site under the following conditions only:

  • Attribution. This means you must attribute the work to me. In other words, you must make it clear that I wrote or prepared the material you’re sharing. Not you. Not someone else. Not an unknown being. (So imagine my surprise recently when I found the full texts of one of my articles on someone else’s Web site under his byline!)
  • Noncommercial. This means you cannot use my work for commercial purposes. In case you’re wondering, if your Web site or blog or publication is sold, subscribed to for a fee, or even earns revenue from Google AdSense or some other advertising program, you cannot use my work. In other words, you can’t make money by sharing my content. Period. End of statement. (And people who haven’t understood this have had their Google AdSense accounts shut down when I complained about their violation of my copyright, which is also a violation of Google’s Terms of Service.)
  • No Derivative Works. This means you can’t take part of my work and use it as the basis for another work. You like my discussion of Creative Commons. Well, thank you. But don’t think of using it as Part 1 of a series of posts you want to do about copyright without firs talking to me. This license does not allow it.

The license goes on to state:

  • For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.
  • Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
  • Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author’s moral rights.

What does this mean to you? It means that you can only reproduce or share my work if you give me credit, don’t make any money on it in any way, don’t use it as the basis of another work, and include my Creative Commons licensing terms. If you want to make other arrangements, you need to make them directly with me.

That’s My License. Yours Could Be Different.

I’m very restrictive in my license. You might not want to be.

For example, you may not mind commercial use of your work as long as you are cited as author. Or perhaps you don’t mind allowing others to build on your work — as many open source software developers allow. This can all be stated in your Creative Commons license. Just choose the options that matter to you and let the Web site generate the Creative Commons license you want to use.

Remember you can always learn more about Creative Commons licensing on their Web site. The Creative Commons Licenses page provides detailed descriptions of all licenses.

But Wait! There’s More!

While my creative commons license may seem very restrictive, there are ways you may be able to use a writer’s work — even my work — without violating any law or license. The third and last part of this series explains the basics of fair use and public domain.

Do you use a Creative Commons license on your Web site? If so, which one? And why did you make that choice? Use the Comments link or form for this post to share your thoughts.

eBooks

Some thoughts from a writer (and reader).

Earlier this month, I wrote a post that briefly touched upon my experience as an author finding my copyrighted books freely distributable on a pirate Web site. (Refer to “Copyright for Writers and Bloggers – Part I: Why Copyright is Important.”) The post generated some comments that made me think more about the electronic versions of my books that my publishers sell: eBooks.

About eBooks

An eBook is an electronic book. While some eBooks are published in electronic format only, others are published in print and then are followed up with eBook versions of the same book.

Sometimes both print and eBook versions of a book are put out by the same publisher. This is common with modern-day titles. But there are also a number of eBook publishers out there who take older titles that are still in copyright and make arrangements with the publisher or author to create and sell eBook versions. And, of course, anyone can take an out-of-copyright book, like the works of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe — the list goes on and on — and publish them anyway they like: in print, electronically, or even tattooed on someone’s leg. Project Gutenberg came into existence by making out-of-copyright works available to the world and that’s what you’ll find among its thousands of titles.

eBooks are available in a wide variety of formats, from plain text to PDF to Windows Help Viewer format. They can include or exclude illustrations. They can contain hyperlinks to make it easy to move from one topic to another. They can be printable as a single document or by pages or sections.

My first involvement with eBooks was way back in the 1990s when I used a program called DocMaker on the Mac to create my monthly, freely distributable newsletter, Macintosh Tips & Tricks. I later moved to PDF format. 10 Quick Steps, one of my publishers, publishes all of its books as PDFs optimized for onscreen reading. I later published some of my own eBooks in the same format.

eBooks and Copyright

eBooks are usually sold with the same licensing used for software. One copy, one user. This is pretty basic stuff. Although I admit that I’ve never read an EULA for an eBook, I assume that if an buyer is finished with it and wants to give his/her only copy to someone else, he can. After all, that’s how books work. And, as someone who has legally transferred ownership of software by selling it (after removing the original from my computer), I’m pretty sure eBooks have a legal second hand market.

Unfortunately, due to their portable nature — pop them on a CD or compress them and send them in email or leave them on an FTP server for others to download — they are often the victim of piracy and copyright infringement. People put eBooks — whether they obtained them from legal means or not — on pirate Web sites, FTP servers, or other file sharing systems for free or paid download to anyone who wants them.

As this problem becomes more and more widespread, readers begin to think that there’s nothing wrong with downloading and sharing illegally distributed eBooks. They begin looking to illegal sources of eBooks rather than legal sources, hoping to save $10 or $15 or $20. They justify their participation in this illegal activity by saying that “knowledge should be free” or that the publisher makes enough money or that eBooks cost nothing to produce. And soon this affects the sale of both printed and electronically published books.

Who Suffers?

Are you an author concerned about illegal distribution of your eBooks? You may be interested in the new Authors Against Piracy group I’ve started to discuss the issue and share solutions. It’s a private group, so you’ll need an invitation to join. Contact me to introduce yourself. Be sure to identify your most recent published work; the group is open to published authors only.

The real victim of this is the author, who often makes less than a dollar for every book sold.

Most authors these days can’t afford to just write for a living. Some of them have regular day jobs. Others are consultants or speakers or programmers or some combination of those things.

About 95% of my net income comes from writing books and articles. My helicopter charter business, which is still in its infancy, eats up all the cash it brings in. (Helicopters are extremely costly to own and operate.) And between writing and flying, I simply don’t have time to do anything else to earn money.

So when I find my books being illegally distributed on pirate Web sites, I get angry. Can you blame me?

Is It Worth It?

In the comments for my “Copyright is Important” post, reader Nathanael Holt asked this question: “Do your digital sales warrant the increased risk posed by piracy?”

This is a really good question — one I had to go to my royalty statements to answer. And, after a quick glance at that most recent 60-page document, I’d have to say no.

For example, one of my recent titles sold more than 2,600 printed copies in the quarter ending March 31, 2007. That same title sold only 2 electronic “subscriptions.” Another title, which is older and which I have found online on pirate sites, had 9 copies of the PDF sold during the same quarter, earning me less than $15.

My conclusion from this: eBook versions of my books aren’t selling very well. And apparently the ones that get out there are going to pirate Web sites.

I’ve e-mailed my publisher’s royalty department to get lifetime figures for all of my in-print titles. I’m hoping the numbers they deliver will paint a more rosy picture. But I doubt it.

I’m an eBook Reader, Too

This is disappointing for me. You see, I’m an eBook reader.

A while back, I was looking for a book about .htaccess. That’s a normally invisible configuration file found on servers. I wanted to modify the .htaccess file for my Web site so it would do certain things for me.

This is an extremely technical topic and one I didn’t expect to find a book about. But I did: The Definitive Guide to Apache mod_rewrite by Rich Bowen. And after a bit of research, I learned that I could either buy the book from Amazon.com for $40 and wait a week to get it or buy it as an eBook in PDF format from the publisher’s Web site for $20 and download it immediately. I admit that the deciding factor was the length of the book: 160 pages. Since I like to be able to look at a computer-related book (rather than switch back and forth between a book and an application onscreen), I could print it for reference.

And that’s what I did: I downloaded the book as a DRM-protected PDF and sent it to my printer. Within an hour, I had the whole thing in a binder and was editing my .htaccess file to my heart’s content, with all kinds of notes jotted in the margins of my new reference book. (That’s another thing: I’m far more likely to mark up a printed eBook than a printed and bound traditionally-published book.)

I also read eBooks on my Treo (when I’m trapped somewhere with nothing to do).

The only reason I don’t buy and read more eBooks to read onscreen is because I think I spend enough time in front of a computer without using one to read, too.

What Does All this Mean?

Well, first I need some solid information from my publisher regarding lifetime eBook sales. Then I need to sit down with my editor (figuratively, of course — we never see each other in person) and decide whether eBook editions of my work are something we want to continue to publish. If we decide to go forward, we need to come up with a solution that will protect eBooks from piracy.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever bought an eBook? Why did you buy that version instead of a traditional print version? Did you like it? What do you think about eBooks in general: pricing, formats, licensing, etc?

Don’t keep it all to yourself! Use the Comments link or form to share your thoughts with me and other readers.

Copyright for Writers and Bloggers – Part I: Why Copyright is Important

Copyright basics for the Internet age.

Too often the debate over creative control tends to the extremes. At one pole is a vision of total control –€” a world in which every last use of a work is regulated and in which “€œall rights reserved”€ (and then some) is the norm. At the other end is a vision of anarchy –€” a world in which creators enjoy a wide range of freedom but are left vulnerable to exploitation. Balance, compromise, and moderation –€” once the driving forces of a copyright system that valued innovation and protection equally –€” have become endangered species.

Creative Commons is working to revive them. We use private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses. Like the free software and open-source movements, our ends are cooperative and community-minded, but our means are voluntary and libertarian. We work to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them –€” to declare “some rights reserved.”€

This is the text you can find on the History page of the Creative Commons Web site. It explains, in part, why Creative Commons was formed and what it is trying to do.

In this three-article series, I’ll explain what copyright means to me and how I use Creative Commons on my Web site and blog to protect my work.

Copyright Is Important

CopyrightAs a professional freelance writer, I live in the first world: one where every last use of a work is regulated. Sure, I write computer books for a living. But did you know that some of my book contracts lay out the movie rights for my work? Movie rights for a computer how-to book? Are they kidding?

Sadly, they’re not. They really do take into consideration every last possible use of a work — even if that use is not very likely.

Copyright is important not only to me but to my publishers. Each book contract I sign lays down the rules of who owns the work and who has the right to market, promote, and sell it. We work together to come up with a contract that both parties are happy with, then work together to produce and sell the work so we can both make money. In general, this works pretty well. I write, my books appear in stores, and I get paid. My publisher produces my work, puts it in stores, and gets paid. We’re happy.

How Copyright Infringement Hurts Everyone

When things go wrong is when people take our work — because it really is both mine and my publisher’s together — and illegally reproduce it, either by hard-copy or digital means, and share it with others. This reduces the potential paying market for our product. How many copies of a book do you think we could sell if someone else was giving them away for free to anyone who wanted them?

And when copyright infringement like that exists and becomes widespread, books don’t sell well enough to be worthwhile to produce. Publishers don’t make enough money on certain titles, so they publisher fewer books or, worse yet, go out of business and stop publishing books altogether. Writers find it harder and harder to get book contracts, so they don’t write as much — or they stop writing.

The result: there are fewer resources out there for people who want to learn new things with the assistance of a knowledgeable author and a book they can read and refer to over and over.

All because enough people thought that our work should be distributed for free.

This hit home recently when I discovered a Web site that was distributing, free of charge, two of my books in electronic format. But it wasn’t just my books they were distributing. It was over 300 different computer how-to books — some of which were only a few months old — and tutorial DVDs and even software. The site’s slogan was “Because knowledge should be free.”

What they don’t understand is that their actions are taking away the livelihood of professional writers who work hard to write those books. Authors are people who rely on the income from books sold to survive and thrive and care for their families. Every book illegally distributed rather than sold is money from a writer’s pocket.

You’ve heard the phrase “starving writers,” haven’t you? (I never did like the idea, myself.) Think about that the next time you illegally download a pirated eBook or photocopy pages of a library book to share with your friends.

What’s Next

In the next part of this series, I’ll explain how Creative Commons helps writers and bloggers license their Internet work for use by others.

In the meantime, let’s get a discussion going. Got some thoughts about copyright protection and piracy? Use the Comments link or form for this post to share them.

Who Really Wrote the Blog Posts You Read?

Copyright infringement is far more prevalent than I thought.

This morning, while going through my weekly routine of checking out who’s been visiting my site, I found myself on another site that featured an article I’d written under another blogger’s byline.

My article, written back in March, can be found here: http://www.aneclecticmind.com/2007/03/29/how-many-sites-link-to-yours/. It’s a relatively short piece that includes a screenshot. The content thief not only stole every single word of the article, but he also stole the screenshot, which clearly shows my domain name in the Google results. Yet he didn’t even have the courtesy to mention that I’d written the article or link back to my site.

And the article included his byline, as if he’d written it.

I’m sure you can understand my anger at this. As stated in my © page:

The contents of this site are copyright ©1997-2007 by Maria Langer (except where otherwise indicated).

This Web site’s content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

I have sent a takedown notice to him via e-mail. I copied the folks at Plagiarism Today, Google AdSense (since he is violating their terms of service), MyBlogLog (which he is a member of), his ISP, and my lawyer.

But this got me wondering: how much of the other content on his site is stolen? And how much of the content on sites we all read is stolen from someone else’s site?

Has your work been stolen and passed off as someone else’s? If so, please use the Comments link or form to tell us about it. Please don’t include the Web URL of the offending party — I don’t think thieves deserve free publicity.

8:30 AM Update: I received an apology from the thief. He claims he didn’t know it was copyrighted. (That still doesn’t explain why he copied it word-for-word and put his byline on it. I wonder if he went through school like that, too.) I sent him links to Plagiarism Today and Creative Commons, hoping to educate him.