On May 1st, I published an article titled “Changes Implemented After MO Auditor Finds ‘Serious Shortcomings’ In Holt County Sheriff’s Department.” It was significant to me in that it was the first article I wrote utilizing training I received at BlogConCLT and it was very local.

I pushed this article out to my friends who live in Holt County and to fellow bloggers who were at BlogConCLT so they could see how I was using what was taught. One of my friends who lives in Oregon, Missouri, the county seat for Holt County, told me at work last week the local paper finally covered the story.

This was ten days later.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Can I see it?”

“Yep. I brought it in.”

Here’s a scan of the front page:

Here’s a screen capture of my article, on my blog, and the date it was posted. Compare the two:

Nearly identical.

The only differences I see is the removal of “MO” from the headline and someone added a paragraph to the end of the article, blaming the sheriff for the downgrading of the county’s rating.

Other than that, the scraping of the article was so complete, it included my sub-heading and my typos.

I was stunned, and quite angry. I asked @AskACyberLawyer on Twitter what I should do.

So that’s what I set out to do. Only thing was, I had no idea how to write a letter asserting copyright over my article.

After a little Googling, I found this article, which was a big help:

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s material and passing it off as your own. As well as pertaining to the written word, plagiarism covers concepts and ideas. Issues of plagiarism often arise in the academic world, where it may carry heavy penalties including expulsion from college.

The Relation Between Plagiarism and Copyright Violation

If a writer’s work is lifted, copied and reproduced by someone else, without the writer’s express permission, this sort of plagiarism constitutes a copyright violation. A copyright violation is a matter of law, and writers have every right to take action against the person who has stolen their work.

Plagiarism and copyright violation are effectively theft of the creative output of another person, but it is important to note that although:

  1. all copyright violations involve acts of plagiarism
  2. all forms of plagiarism do not involve copyright violation

Copyright only covers the actual form of words. Copyright does not cover:

  • concepts
  • story ideas
  • titles (though they can be registered as Trademarks)

It is important that writers have a clear understanding of plagiarism, copyright violation, and their rights in order to protect their interests.

What Can Writers Do To Protect Their Rights?

  • Assert copyright
  • Use Google Alerts
  • Use plagiarism detection sites
  • Take action swiftly

Assert Copyright

The first step for all writers is to protect themselves by asserting their right to ownership of their work. Freelance writers are increasingly at risk of having their material stolen on the internet, therefore it is advisable to mark all web pages and E-mails with the following statement at the bottom of each page:

  • Copyright [dates] by [your name]

Although not legally required, it does no harm to remind readers that the work must not be reproduced without the author’s permission.

That article also led me to this article, which helped me craft my letter.

I started by stating what the letter was, followed by my claim on the copyright, how the paper had violated the copyright and finished with what needed to happen in order to make the situation right.

I showed it to my online friends, made a few amendments and printed it out. Here’s what the final copy looked like:

I printed out the letter, the invoice and a copy of my blog post, grabbed a copy of the most recent Oregon Times Observer and drove to Oregon, Missouri to talk with Bob Ripley, Publisher and Managing Editor of The Oregon Times Observer.

Here’s how it went down:

Bob was clearly not happy to have to pay for the work, but he did.

I have been asked why I’m writing this article. Some think it might be an “IN YOUR FACE!” kind of article.

It isn’t.

It’s to demonstrate the importance of standing up for yourself and your rights, regardless. It’s to show how to protect your work from those who would steal it.

It’s not hard when you are right.

Consult with others, get your ducks in a row and demand respect for your work.

If you don’t, who will?

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Recommended reading: The Copyright Handbook: What Every Writer Needs to Know

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Update:

Linked up at America’s Right, PJ Media Lifestyle, The Blaze, Jim Romensko, The Daily Beast and BoingBoing.

By the way, David Frum, I live in Missouri. The paper was in Oregon, Missouri.

Still no Instalanche. Waiting is the hardest part…

Update 2:

Gizmodo calls Bob “evil.”  I don’t know about that one.  He just seemed mad.

Update 3:

Still no Instalanche.  But, Marathon Pundit linked.  So did In the Agora, who said I’m the Internet’s New Folk Hero.  American Power linked also, which showed me a link to Five Feet of Fury.  Oh, and This Kicks Ass!  Thanks!

Update 4:

Batesline links.  Thanks, buddy!  Plus, How Not to Repent!

Update 5:

Gawker has linked us now, as well as Yid with Lid