Content note: I use ‘me’ and ‘my’ in this post, but there are a lot of social justice writers who feel the same. I could just as easily say, for example, Snarky’s Machine and Tasha Fierce’s. Cara and Chally’s. Etc. These are just some examples of people who have had problems with copyright infringement, not a complete list; I am not speaking on their behalf, but simply pointing out that this post is about more than me and my work, even though those are the pronouns I’m using in it.
I feel completely ridiculous having to write a post about this, but it’s a problem, and it’s one that doesn’t seem to be going away, so I’d like to get this out here so that there can be no possible confusion:
Do not infringe my copyright.
This site has a copyright notice. It’s displayed at the bottom of every page and it’s in the sidebar. I think that makes it abundantly clear that all of the material on this site is copyrighted by me. Just like all the material on FWD/Forward is copyright by its respective authors. And just like the material on most social justice sites is copyrighted. This is hardly earthshattering news.
Copyright infringement is a huge problem on the Internet and it’s an infuriating one. I cannot tell you how much of my time is eaten up by dealing with infringements on my copyrights and I am tired of it. I’ve been tired of it for a very long time. So are a lot of other social justice bloggers. I’ve gotten to the point where I send a DMCA takedown notice without even bothering to attempt to contact the infringer, because I do not have the time or energy to ask people, often the same people, to not violate my copyright.
This is not complicated, people. It should not be difficult to respect copyright, especially when a site carries copyright notices and especially if a site owner has contacted you personally before about infringing on copyright. It’s never ok, no matter who you are, and no matter what the cause. Period.
What constitutes copyright infringement?
Well, there’s actually a bit of a debate about this. As a general rule, reprinting more than 50% of a post would be considered infringement in most cases. Whether or not there is a link back to the source. Let me say this again: If you reprint more than 50% of anything on this website, you are infringing my copyright. That is illegal. No matter who you are, no matter whether or not there is a backlink to the source, no matter what site you are reproducing it on, it is an infringement of my copyright. I would personally prefer that people reprint less than 50% of my work, choosing two or three paragraphs for excerpt.
Why should you not infringe?
Well, there are a lot of reasons aside from the fact that it is illegal.
In my case, and in the case of some other social justice writers, I am a writer. I count on paid work to make my living. My work here and at FWD is not paid, but it does indirectly lead to paid work for me, because people read it, and they like it, and they contact me to commission more work from me or to ask permission to reprint in a paid venue. When you infringe my copyright, you are actively hurting me and my livelihood. Given that some of the worst repeat offenders in terms of copyright infringement are sites that are supposedly organised to promote social justice causes…well. I find it odd that ‘feminists’ think that it’s ok to do this, let’s leave it at that, ok?
Every time my work is reprinted in another venue without permission, it doesn’t just hurt me moneywise. It hurts my reputation. And it directly benefits the site that is posting my material. Other sites profit by reprinting my work. Both in the literal sense of getting ad revenue from things they post, and in the abstract sense that they gain reputation and credibility by posting high quality work. A casual browser may not recognise that the work wasn’t written by a contributor to that site, let alone that it infringes on copyright, and that casual browser will also not end up at my site and read more of my work.
When you reprint my work without permission? It’s not a compliment. It’s not flattery. It is directly hurting me. I lose every time you do that and yes I am talking to you.
Infringement also takes work out of context and in that sense, it is a form of social control. Infringement of work by queer folks, nonwhite people, people with disabilities, and other people in marginalised groups is an ongoing problem that is especially harmful when it is being perpetrated by the mainstream. This doesn’t mean that it would be ok for, say, another disabled writer to repost something of mine on disability without permission, but the dynamic in that case would be very different. Appropriation in general of the work of people in marginalised classes is a major ongoing social justice issue that is currently being very poorly addressed. Copyright infringement contributes to and perpetuates that problem.
I think it’s terrific that people read good work and want to share it. That’s why I have a link roundup on the weekdays. Like FWD does. Like Racialicious does. Like numerous other websites do. Link roundups are put together both for the benefit of readers who might enjoy seeing stuff they might not otherwise spot, and for the benefit of the people being linked; I like to send traffic to people I like, and I appreciate the traffic other people send me.
Note that link roundups include a fair use excerpt and a link. Allowing people who want to read that material to click the link, visit the site in question, and read the material in situ. For sites like mine that do not allow comments, link roundups also provide a valuable space for discussion about the work being linked to. As do standalone posts with links to pieces that people think are particularly important and would like to discuss in their spaces.
Link roundups, standalone posts with fair use excerpts, these are good things. They benefit the social justice community as a whole in addition to the original author by promoting the exchange of ideas and information and holding discussions in safe spaces. I benefit directly from link roundups because I get introduced to people I wouldn’t otherwise be reading, and that’s awesome.
Copyright infringement is a bad and harmful thing, and it needs to stop. I have no idea why sites that repeatedly infringe content are not being ostracised by the community, because what they do is unacceptable. It would be very easy to convert such sites to host fair use excerpts, links, and discussions, yet none of them seem to be inclined to do so. In no small part, this is because not nearly enough people are telling them to stop it.
My writing about the copyright infringement problem is not going to make it go away, but I do hope that it adds to the discussion, and that, as a community, maybe we can find a way to resolve this problem.
What can you, personally, do? Well, if you are republishing material in full without permission, stop it. I don’t care why you were doing it and whether or not you knew it wasn’t ok (seriously, though, how could you think it was ok to republish material from sites with copyright notices). Stop. It would also be tremendously beneficial if you would go through old posts and convert them to fair use excerpts although I realise this takes time.
If you are out and about on the Internet and you see something you suspect is infringing, say something. Contact the original author of the piece to alert ou to the fact that republishing is happening and provide a link. That person will appreciate it, trust me. And, leave a comment on the infringing material asking why copyrighted material is being reproduced without permission. Worst case scenario, the work was reprinted with permission (the original author explicitly granted permission and no note was made or the material was published under a Creative Commons License and you didn’t realise it), and a clarification will be added to the post to make it clear that it’s being printed with permission.
And, if you want to reproduce copyrighted material? Ask. Many social justice writers are just fine with being reprinted and would be delighted to oblige.
If you’re a social justice writer and don’t mind your work being reprinted? Stick a notice at the bottom to indicate this. Get people in the habit of thinking about copyright and permissions by explicitly stating that it’s ok to reproduce your work, and under which circumstances reproduction is ok. Perhaps this will remind people that when they don’t see such a notice, or when a site explicitly has a copyright notice, they shouldn’t reprint material from it without permission.