At heart, we at Colibri Digital Marketing have always been writers. There’s something about the feeling of a favorite pen in your hand and just the right kind of paper that makes the words flow. Put us in front of a keyboard, even, and we simply can’t help ourselves. We’re prolific content producers, and we never want to change.
But lately we’ve been thinking about the complexities of trying to produce content for an online audience, as the digital age moves further and further from the print era in terms of authorship. We all agree that a content creator or author has certain rights of attribution and ownership over their content, but now we’re into an age when social sharing has become the norm.
There’s a very real competing pressure to treat a given piece of content as an artefact with a life of its own, more in keeping with the post-modern treatment of cultural transmission. Now don’t get us wrong: we like sharing. But we want to be sure that attribution is treated fairly, too. So we’ve put together this simple guide for our fellow writers to help you all protect your writing online.
When it comes to protecting your writing online, it’s natural to think of it as a security issue. Having said that, most cybersecurity issues won’t really come into play, since your content will be freely accessible. It’s not like you’re trying to keep it secret, right?
But on the other hand, there are a few types of, shall we say unfriendly competition, that would definitely fall under the cybersecurity umbrella that any content creator would need to be aware of.
Spamming is rarely considered a cybersecurity issue, but it can sometimes be leveraged to taint one’s rankings by association. A competitor might try to sabotage your content by systematically linking to it from a number of sockpuppet spam sites, for instance. The good news is that this is rarely if ever a practical concern, since the rankings algorithms are generally clever enough to recognize that a surge in links like this is both out of character and probably not your own doing.
Next up is spoofing, where a competitor might masquerade as your site (sometimes even impersonating your own branding and layout, in a particularly dedicated act of professional sabotage.) Unless your site is extraordinarily high-profile, this probably won’t happen to you either.
Depending on the kind of content you offer, a competitor might try to suppress your content with something like a DDoS attack. That stands for Directed Denial of Service. In an attack like that, a competitor overloads your servers with so many simultaneous nonsense requests that they can’t handle the usual traffic and so your site goes off the grid for real users. There are a number of ways to get around this, but the easiest approach is to redirect your site’s normal traffic to a different IP address.
The last cybersecurity issue you may have to deal with is more in line with most typical hacking: social engineering. If you’re creating content online, odds are you’re also maintaining a variety of social media accounts. Those accounts might be vulnerable to invasion, and you might see your social presence getting tarnished by an intruder. If your account were to start suddenly posting stuff without your say-so, it could cause a great deal of damage to your reputation and your web presence in a very short period of time. The best way to prevent that is to use multi-step authentication, and to keep your passwords unique and private.
Now, with that, let’s get into the content itself.
A Quick Note about Copyright and Creative Commons
Copyright describes the right of a content creator to exercise control over how that content is published, reproduced, distributed, shared, and so on. It’s a guarantee of control over one’s intellectual property. If you create an original work, that work is entirely yours and may not be used by another person who hasn’t solicited your permission. That’s why Batman (a DC property) never teams up with the Avengers (owned by Marvel).
In the information age, copyright gets a little fuzzier. Content creation is so much broader than it was a few decades ago. And, in most casual cases, intellectual property doesn’t need to be guarded with quite the same fervor. Exposure is often more welcome than exclusivity. To that end, a number of non-profit organizations, including the Creative Commons organization, have developed much simpler, looser licenses which allow a content creator to retain the benefits of a full copyright while still waiving certain specific rights. These licenses to allow content to be shared or built upon more widely than the more constrictive, conventional copyrights. Wikipedia, for instance, licenses its content under Creative Commons, as do a number of other content distribution sites.
Under Creative Commons licenses a licensee (a person who wishes to use someone else’s content legitimately) will have a much simpler, lower-cost (usually free), and more streamlined way to access that content, and the content holder will be able to retain general ownership with far fewer legal complexities than would be brought be a full licensing process.
We want to make it clear that this guide isn’t intended as legal advice. If you’re pursuing any kind of litigation for plagiarism, you’re already beyond the scope of this guide. Still, we did want to touch on copyright.
Whether you’ve registered your work for a legal copyright, with the writer’s guild, or with some other governing body, or not, your work is your own from the moment you put pen to paper. If you write it, it’s yours. There may be other factors in a legal case, but that’s going to be the clear starting point. That brings us to our first tip:
Keep the Drafts
As we’ve said, your content is your own from the moment you write it. Your claim to authorship in a dispute is going to depend on proving that you came up with an idea or a piece of content first, and the easiest way to do that is with a paper trail. Be sure you’re keeping all your emails, drafts, outlines, and any other parts of your creative process. Not many projects jump onto the page in their final form. Whether your drafting process is days, weeks, or even hours, sometimes even a few minutes can mean the difference when it comes to determining attribution.
You’ve got all those social media accounts, so put them to use! As soon as you’ve got something to post, share it far and share it wide. Not only is that digital marketing best practice for any strong bit of content, but it will help to ensure that no one else can take credit for your work. So long as your version is spreading through your networks, it will be that much harder for any copycats to gain traction of their own. Besides that, it helps to flesh out your paper trail with corroborating date stamps.
Anyone most likely to plagiarize your content is going to be in your own industry, right? Well, if you’ve taken the time to cultivate a robust network of industry partnerships, then you’ll have solved two problems at once. First, you’ll have developed a wider sharing network to help proliferate your content. That ties right in with the tip about sharing.
Second, those industry partners will recognize your personal stamp when a piece of your content crosses their desk. It will be less rewarding for a would-be plagiarist to nick your content if their potential audience will already recognize your style, or if they might have already seen the same content posted to your own circles.
Don’t Panic over Superficial Similarity
Now, we’ve referenced plagiarism, which is certainly the biggest worry when it comes to protecting your writing online, but that’s not to be confused with innocent overlap. If you’re keeping current, maybe commenting on a recent news story or tech innovation, it’s perfectly natural that you’ll see many similar ideas coming from other places without theirs necessarily having copied yours.
Remember, in the twenty-first century, there are a lot of writers. Anyone can keep a blog or publish to Medium or contribute to a content aggregator. If you see something that looks like it’s in line with yours, don’t jump the gun. Unless insights or phrases have been lifted directly, it’s probably just a case of great minds thinking alike.
And if that’s the case, why not reach out for a cross-linking partnership, and the chance at expanding your own audience?
Grow Your Brand through Leveraging Strong Content
At the end of the day, it’s more important that you keep publishing ideas that are worth sharing than that you sweat the little details about protecting your writing online. If you keep publishing, and developing your brand as an authority source or industry juggernaut, you’ll not only see your content getting shared more widely but you’ll have tighter control over authorship attribution as well.
As we’re fond of saying, Content is Queen. Make sure yours is worth sharing, so it leaves a footprint. That’s the single best action you can take to ensure that your writing stays protected online.
Colibri Digital Marketing
As we said at the outset, we’ve always been writers at heart. If you’re ready to grow your brand through great content, give us a shout and set up a free digital marketing strategy session! And if you like what you see, find us on Facebook and Twitter for more great content just like this.