A Copyright Infringement Primer

by Adam on October 9, 2012

**This post originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of WORDS, the newsletter of the Food Writers, Editors & Publishers Interest Section of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The original article can be found here.

As more and more content gets published on blogs and websites, the growing problem of copyright infringement is having a substantial impact on food writers’, bloggers’ and authors’ abilities to make a living. But the world of copyright infringement—and a particularly malicious kind of infringement, called content scraping—is rife with misunderstanding and gray areas. What does it mean to have your content scraped? What are the implications? And what can you do about it?

In its simplest form, copyright infringement is the use of someone else’s content—for example, text, photo, video, or audio—without their permission. Many instances of copyright infringement are benign, the work of people who don’t know any better. Unfortunately, copyright infringement can also be done broadly and maliciously with the intent to drive traffic and ad revenue to a website by using content that the website owner didn’t create.

Let’s say you’re a cookbook author and you’ve decided to put 100 of your best baking recipes on your blog. In doing so, you open up the possibility that someone will discover those recipes, copy them from your site, and paste those recipes into their own site. If done on large scale, this is called “scraping.” Aside from the obvious issue that someone stole your content, that person is now using it to drive traffic to their website, potentially building an audience that can earn the thief ad revenue. You could say that 100 recipes hardly make a difference, but multiply this instance by 10 or 100, and the broader scale of this issue becomes evident. Many of these scraping sites use software programs (often called “robots,” “bots,” or “spiders”) to scan hundreds of websites and copy content, making the process of stealing even easier.

So what can you do about it? Here’s where we run into a gray area. Recipe content is an especially tricky form of content to protect from copyright infringement. While you can copyright the creative text, such as headnotes and sidebars that go along with recipes, you cannot copyright the ingredients and instructions. If a scraping site were to strip out everything except your ingredients and instructions, it would weaken your claim of copyright infringement. Nonetheless, it’s worth pursuing.

If you find yourself a victim of copyright infringement, here are some actions you can take:

Know your rights and research the issues surrounding the pursuit of copyright infringement. Here’s a great post by Lorelle VanFossen on what to do when you discover your content has been scraped.

The best thing to do is to contact the author of the offending website to figure out whether the infringement is an honest mistake or something else. If the website you are trying to reach does not have contact information, you can find out who owns a particular domain and gather contact information with a Whois domain lookup.

File a DMCA violation notification with each of the major search engines: Google, Yahoo! and Bing. In some cases, your domain provider will file this for you for a small fee. Here’s a sample of a DCMA violation notification.

Contact Google directly with a specific request to remove the content.

Use your network. Make others aware of the copyright infringement via Twitter, Facebook, and other sites. Ask for help from the community and seek out others who have experienced the same issue.

Protect your content. This is difficult with text, which can be easily copied, but watermarking your photos can help with copyright issues. Within your text, link to other posts on your site so that even if the content is scraped, readers can be directed back to you.

Be clear about your content usage policies on your About page. Adding credit information and clearly stating that content can only be used with permission can help stop issues of benign content scraping.

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