Aug 05, 2016

Are you a content creator whose work has been stolen? Here’s how you can fight back

"Is the aggregator providing more value to the original creator than it is taking away?"

BYArchana Doshi

After being a victim of content theft and copyright infringement for many years, I felt it was about time we started learning how to deal with it and talk about it. In the recent past, content created by me has been lifted by apps like Cookbook Recipes and The Frying Pan, as well as lifestyle website Polka Cafe.
But first, who am I? I am the founder of Archana’s Kitchen, one of India’s leading recipe and food platforms. We have built a community of over 200 bloggers, recipe creators and home chefs who put in a lot of hard work to share their recipes on our platform.
We put in a lot of thought into our content. We study the search data, the analytics data and listen to the requests made by our users. We have not built automated engines to write recipes for us; instead we do the real work of creating valuable content.
That’s why it feels awful when someone steals our content and publishes/reuses it without permission — and sometimes even without attribution.
Cookbook Recipes, an app developed by an Indian company Riafy Technologies, has been promoted by Google (it recently got an Editor’s Choice badge on Google Play Store) and it is the No.1 App on Play Store in the Health & Fitness category with over 5 million installs. But here’s the deal: They have scraped content from Archana’s Kitchen and hundreds of similar blogs and food websites from around the world. They have created a collection of over 1 million recipes by copying them verbatim from these sites without any attribution or explicit permission.
Little does Google know they have been running an illegal business on stolen content with no credit given to original content creators!
Both Cookbook Recipes and Frying Pan have now removed the content that they lifted wholesale from my website, but they continue to live and thrive. The past few months have been nothing less than stressful, in having to deal with them.
Then there’s lifestyle website Polka Cafe. They took an entire recipe verbatim and published it on their website. They did give credit, but did not take explicit permission from us to use the entire recipe. According to the copyright handbook, they have violated copyright laws and our terms and conditions by taking our content for promoting it on their business platform.
Content syndication is an old business and was around even before the internet. Large media houses like Yahoo, AOL, UC News, Times Group, etc. do show syndicated content but they sign partnership agreements and take explicit permissions before doing so. They don’t just lift content like Cookbook, Frying Pan or Polka Cafe and use it to earn revenue.
This happens to many of us in the content business. Our hard work gets copied, monetized and the plagiarists make a soaring business out of it.
That’s why I decided to speak out on behalf of all bloggers and original content creators.

How do you identify your content has been stolen

Hyperlinking and attributing each other’s content is the foundation on which the internet is built. However, several sites/apps have extended the concept to copying and made a fun and easy business out of it. It is ironical to see that inspiration and plagiarism are interchangeably used. Let me illustrate the various ways in which content can be used/infringed.
Example 1: Fair Use of Content
If a photograph or content snippet is taken and is given due credit (with links) – the way Buzzfeed/ Scoopwhoop/ HuffingtonPost do, then the content comes under fair use policy and I believe there is no copyright infringement. In fact, Google is built on the basis of this fair use policy. They show the title, a small snippet and upon clicking redirect the user to the creators’ webpage.
Example 2: Content Aggregators
With digital content distribution becoming easier, mashing up content is becoming rampant, easy and very inexpensive. As all you need is a good editing tool/ software to create mashed content, which supposedly does not violate copyright. As per many copyright experts, this is in the grey area.
Example 3: Content copied verbatim, often with images
When the content, photo and everything else is taken verbatim and no link or credit is given – then that is true copyright infringement according to law. This is similar to stealing, and yes, you have the option of sending a legal notice or sue the website/business for doing so.
At Archana’s Kitchen, we are constantly fighting a battle to prevent no. 3 from happening.

What is the legal procedure for fighting copyright infringement?

If you’re a blogger and this has happened with you, there are ways to fight and take a legal recourse. India has a very detailed copyright law handbook, which can be found here and here. I strongly urge every content creator to read it.
Before you choose to take up a legal case, these important points should be noted:

  • Hire a good lawyer who is an expert at Intellectual Property (IP) rights
  • Ensure you have detailed Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy on the site.
  • Collect all the evidence and back it up in multiple formats.
  • Ensure you have images, screen shots and videos of the misused content.
  • Ensure you have a secure copy of all the correspondence via email, comments on the app, website, social media etc.

When you fight a legal case, you will need enough evidence to prove that all your work was used without permission.
A few ways to deal with it legally:
1. Send a legal notice.
The simplest option is to send a Cease and Desist Letter (aka Copyright Infringement Notice) to the violating company directly and wait for them to respond. If the violating company does not respond on time to a legal notice, then you can possibly take them to court and sue them. It’s always good to use a lawyer who is experienced in IP and draft a good notice. If you do it yourself you might miss the legal language and a lot of points as well.
Legal notice is a good option if you prefer an out-of-court settlement to come to a mutual agreement.
2. File an injunction
Filing an injunction is a slightly more involved and complicated process, but can be effective. You can obtain injunctions to prohibit the content copier from all future activities and seek financial damages. A good lawyer will be able to guide you and recommend the steps for filing an injunction.
3. Send a DMCA takedown notice
DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act is adhered by all intermediaries such as App Stores, hosting companies, etc. Many of them have a web form where they accept takedown letters. The format of the takedown letters is similar to the Copyright Infringement Notice. You can do this yourself or do it with the help of a lawyer. Once the intermediary receives the letter, they will review it and may remove the app or website from their servers.
I hope the above points will give you an idea of the options available. I felt it was important that every content creator and aspiring creators should know the implications of infringing content and how to deal with it.
As for our case, despite sending a takedown notice, these apps and businesses still continue to flourish.

“Is the aggregator providing more value to the original creator than it is taking away?” I strongly urge every aggregator to ask this question before starting an aggregation business. If the answer to the question is yes, every content creator will embrace you just like we’ve embraced Pinterest and Facebook.

We must understand that the aggregation business model is large and a valuable business on the Internet, but there is a fine line between ethical aggregation and stealing.
My favorite quote from a beautifully explained article on ethical aggregation is:
“Is the aggregator providing more value to the original creator than it is taking away?”
I strongly urge every aggregator to ask this question before starting an aggregation business. If the answer to the question is yes, every content creator will embrace you just like we’ve embraced Pinterest and Facebook.
(The views expressed here are the writer’s own). 

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Archana Doshi is a writer of FactorDaily.