A couple of my columns for the Free Press over the last month or so have made their way to the greater social consciousness, specifically one about Nader and another one about Generation X. The latter was especially popular on a news aggregator site and generated a decent amount of comments and feedback, not all of them good. Still, it was great to get the publicity, and any freelance writer at the beginning of her career can tell you that even bad publicity can be good for your business, as long as the publicity is focused on your content and not on your person.
In any case, the Gen-X one prompted me to do a quick Google search on the article. Lo and behold, I found several blogs and other aggregators that had picked up the column and had cut-and-pasted it in its entirety onto their sites. Now, technically, this would be considered violation of copyright, even with the attribution or links to the original article on the Free Press Web site. However, as I’m fairly unknown and am still working this whole freelance writing thing like mad, I don’t generally spend too much time worrying about it. I have written to a couple of the sites and asked that they at least link to my Web site or blog. It’s the least they can do considering that they’ve basically scraped my content. I’m a pretty easy-going person, though, and won’t worry about it too much until I get all J.K. Rowling-rich-and-famous and can hire a team of attorneys who’ll do all the copyright infringement fighting for me.
However, one little neat trick I learned while doing all this Googling is to sign up for Google Alerts of my name. I already do this with subjects I’m especially interested in for work or research or even just for fun, such as comfort women, Flight of the Conchords, Singapore World War II, and others, but this particular Alert just pops up when my name gets mentioned elsewhere on the Web.
Check out this addictive feature sometime, especially if you’re beginning to create a name for yourself and want to know what people are thinking/writing about you. Sure, it’s a bit of a vanity exercise, but you’d be surprised at where your content ends up. Most of the time, it’s all harmless, and people just want to continue the discussion you generated with your original article/blog post/column. It’s always good to know what others are saying about you and your work. And yes, it’s a great way to keep track of scrapers*, on whom you should definitely keep an eye in the future.
*Scrapers: People who “scrape,” i.e., steal your content, from your blog or Web site and post it on their own. This gets more worrisome if your content only gets partially scraped so that, say, your outbound links are eliminated, including to your site or the original article. It can also be of concern if the scrapers are posting your content to pornographic or otherwise illegal sites. If you have the time to monitor this, you might consider doing more comprehensive Google Alerts so that you catch violators as they accomplish the dirty deeds. Once you’ve found evidence of copyright infringement, don’t hesitate to contact the blog host (i.e., the administrators for Blogger.com, WordPress.com, LiveJournal.com, etc.) and let them know that one of their members is violating their terms of agreement.