How DMCA (Safe Harbor) Is Strangling internet Content (Part 3 SOPA and Copyright)

In part one and two we provided an overview of current copyright laws, and provided examples of how current legislation is having an adverse effect on business, and those that produce intellectual property. In this part, we’ll look at the hidden effects of weak copyright enforcement on both Internet “readers” and users, and the millions of bloggers, website owners and small businesses that produce the majority of what you read on the Internet.

You’ll be surprised!

Understanding How Websites Work

To understand the adverse effects of current copyright legislation, you need to understand just a bit about how websites actually work. It may seem basic, but many people don’t get to see the “inside” of the process.

You create a website. Or a free blog on Blogger, or WordPress. Cool. Whether you do so for business reasons, or for personal reasons, as a form of self-expression, the process is the same. You write some stuff and put it up for others to read. But of course, the problem is this: How do people find you on the Internet amongst the billions of world wide web pages?

If you are a business, you need traffic to your website. If you are someone expressing him or herself, you really do want people to find you, and read what you’ve written. After all, if nobody reads what you write, it’s basically like writing a private diary. It’s no fun, and for businesses, getting the right kind of Internet traffic is essential.

The answer for most is through search engines, and primarily that means Google since it has the largest market share.

How Search Engines Work – Google et al

Google uses a “robot” (bot) to search the Internet for pages. Once it finds you, it decides when to show your page or site in the search results, based on hundreds of factors, with the goal of providing the best possible search results for a specific search (the keywords typed in for your search). Google wants to provide the most relevant and useful results so searchers will continue to use Google. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it, but the system is never perfect, and there is a constant race as people do things to try to get to the top of the rankings “illegally” and Google tries to combat them.

Duplicate and Scraped Content

One of the methods nasty people use to try and cheat to get better traffic and rankings is to steal content from other sites, and post it on their own sites, either giving attribution or not (it doesn’t really matter for our purposes. When the same content appears in a number of places, Google tries to decide who it should show in the search engine results, since Google doesn’t want to show 100 sites with exactly the same content or article. The problem is Google isn’t terribly good at it. In case you haven’t figured it out, people who take your content and republish it on their sites without permission are violating your copyright. It’s not legal.

Not only can people steal your online content, but there are programs to do this automatically and on a massive scale. There are also programs that will “spin” the content. They take an article and rewrite it so it’s different from the original, hoping to fool the search engines. It’s all about getting traffic by manipulating the search engine results.

If someone steals your content, and republishes it, and is GOOD at manipulating the search engines, it is quite possible that that version of YOUR article will show up IN PLACE of your legal and original version. The result? You wrote it, but someone else is getting the traffic, because Google isn’t perfect.

That’s not good. Those who might be interested in visiting your site, potential customers, or just people interested in the topics you cover, won’t find you. They’ll be sent somewhere else.

So, What Do You Do? The Law

Under the current law, the DMCA, your sole recourse is to file a “takedown” request to have the content removed. There are different ways to do that, but you have to prove you own the copyright, and “sign” a legal affidavit, then send it to where the content is hosted. If that stolen content is on Blogger, you send the request to Blogger. If on WordPress, then you send to them. Then, at their leisure, they decide whether to remove the offending material. It’s worth noting that most of the stolen material republished can’t be tracked. It’s often not possible to identify the culprits, and typically, companies don’t ban the user stealing your content. So while your article may be taken down (or not), the user can still repost it, or steal other articles from you. That is your ONLY recourse.

Now imagine you have a popular site on a popular topic, and you have several hundreds thieves republishing, let’s say, fifty of your articles. You have to file a separate DMCA takedown notice for each instance. 50×100? It can’t be done. You’d be doing that for the rest of your life, swatting flies, and they’d just keep coming.

So, keeping in mind that your original content competes for traffic with the stolen content, you may have a very serious problem.

The Chilling Effect

Whether you are a business, or just a private person, the current laws not only may prevent you from getting traffic for your content, but they end up DISCOURAGING people from spending time to create really good, informative, thought-provoking articles. If you’ve ever written or created something, made it available free, only to find that three pirate sites are getting the traffic and readership YOU deserve, what’s your reaction?

Your incentives, whether money, or attention, or fun, are lost. Why create more? Nobody reads.

For Readers and Visitors

Even if you aren’t producing content, you are affected in a number of ways. First of all, the results you get when you do a search may contain a lot of junk. You may find stolen articles are often plastered with ads, some of them objectionable and offensive and having nothing to do with what you are looking for. That’s because many of the infringers are doing so to try to make money. If search engines can’t filter them all out (and they can’t), it affects YOUR ability to find what you need.

But what about quality? If you are looking for expert advice, or people who really know what they are talking about, consider whether experts in a field will continue to write content, particularly for free, if other sites steal their material, profit from it, and replace the original. Or simply if their own sites can’t be found and nobody gets to read the original.

Finally, consider that because the stolen content you find is often presented along with offensive material, you won’t explore the site on which the stolen material resides (that’s a good thing), BUT neither will you have found any of the other material that particular content producer may have that could be exactly what you are looking for.

Everyone loses. All because there is no practical recourse for people who have had their content republished without permission. The thieves are mostly anonymous and can’t be tracked down, and the publishers (the hosts of the material) are immune via the safe harbor provision of the DMCA law.

Are some content providers — writers, for example, stopping production of free material on the Internet? Yes. I know of a number who have given up. It IS going on.

It Gets Worse…

Believe it or not, it actually gets worse. In the next related post, we’ll look at how Google’s efforts to combat duplicate, stolen content, have resulted in bankrupting some businesses, mostly small ones, and created layoffs. All because of weak, almost useless copyright laws that affect the LITTLE guy.


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