What I Learned from Having My Writing Stolen
And what you need to know — because your writing was probably stolen, too
It was just another Tuesday. I was clattering away at my keyboard, working on an article. I pasted it to Medium. I formatted it.
The final step before I schedule an article is to add two other related links to the end of it. I usually open my Excel spreadsheet on which I have painstakingly organized all my work, links and all, so I can copy and paste what I need. But sometimes, I’m too lazy to do that and I’ll just google “Yael Wolfe [key words from article title].”
So there on that fateful Tuesday, I clicked on the first link that popped up and found myself not on Medium but on another website entirely (ichi.pro) that had printed the full text of my article. Without permission.
I’m always on the lookout for this kind of thing, so it wasn’t necessarily surprising until I took a deeper dive and discovered just how much of my work they had reprinted — dozens and dozens of articles.
I noticed they had also copied dozens of Medium publications and hundreds of articles written by my colleagues.
In short, it’s as if they lifted about half of Medium’s structure and content and copied it all onto their site.
I honestly didn’t know what to do at first. I expect to occasionally find my copyright violated as I’m sure all writers, artists, musicians, and photographers do. In fact, almost anyone who works with digital content can expect that.
I started by alerted the amazing team at Sexography, since most of the initial articles of mine I found were poached from their publication — as well as dozens of others from other Sexography writers.
Then I posted a tweet about it. There’s always some part of me wondering if I’m misinterpreting things, if I’m misunderstanding what’s happening, if I’m overreacting. (In other words, I’m a woman and used to being told I don’t understand the situation, am being too sensitive, and no one actually did anything wrong.) So I figured maybe a tentative tweet would help set me straight.
But no, I had correctly interpreted that this site stole the content of dozens (if not hundreds) of other Medium writers. They stole original photography. And they are illegally reprinting licensed stock photography.
Life lessons in the digital world
This has been like an advanced class in what I can only call Life Lessons (because I need a term general enough to cover everything from dealing with copyright infringement to emotional damage). But here’s what I’ve learned in the past roller coaster of a day:
Be realistic and keep yourself in check
This is the first time my work has been stolen on this level. Mostly, it’s just been unattributed quotes or an article or half an article reprinted without my permission. It has been a jarring experience that my first true violation was one of this magnitude.
Thankfully, having been a content creator for more than ten years, I’ve always known how common this type of thing is. Usually on a much smaller scale, but yes — it happens and it happens all the time. There is some peace in knowing — and even expecting — this.
The hard part is holding your emotional ground when it does happen. If you’ve prepared yourself well, you won’t be emotionally devastated when your work is stolen. But I often forget that the physical and emotional labor of correcting the issue is a whole other bag of worms.
I spent more than four hours dealing with the aftermath of this on Tuesday, the day my father finally moved into assisted living (in other words, an already very stressful day). It was overwhelming. Exhausting. Upsetting.
I am happy to say that I’ve mostly stood my emotional ground — even as I continue to find that they stole much more of my work than I originally discovered, even as I learn that correction of this violation is not going to be as quick as I had assumed. I keep reminding myself that there is no point in losing my shit over this. It will happen again. And life is too short to let this pull me under.
But that leads me to my next lesson…
Create a plan
I wish I had had a plan in place for this kind of thing. I don’t have a lawyer. I don’t even have an assistant. My business is a one-woman show. (No wonder I’m so exhausted.)
But knowing how common an issue this is, I wish I had created a series of templates for myself that I can use to address copyright violations.
It wouldn’t hurt to brush up on my knowledge of copyright laws, either, or to start scheduling time into each month to perform plagiarism searches that will alert me to other violations. This is especially important to me now that I’m selling fine art photography and will soon be selling my paintings, as well.
A lovely reader also sent me this information about filing a DMCA takedown notice — something essential to this process. (Thank you, J!)
I’ve even considered the idea of an email tree for myself and my colleagues to help us spread the word about issues like this. Any thoughts, fellow writers?
Credit your own work
After a few months on Medium, I learned a little trick from one of the amazing leaders at The Bad Influence: include a copyright note at the end of every article.
I started doing this, even though several people criticized the practice, saying it was redundant (everything is already tagged with our names on Medium and protected by copyright laws) and only created visual clutter.
I kept doing it until late June, when I finally decided maybe the critics were right.
Well guess what? The only reason I found out that my work was being copied without permission by ichi.pro is because of that copyright tag.
Any writer here who doesn’t use one or include a little blurb about themselves at the end of each article has been completely erased. There are dozens (or more) of articles on that site that don’t even credit the author — full-on plagiarism.
When sites like these come in and auto-copy-and-paste our work, it removes the text from our author tags. But if we include our name in the text, itself (at the bottom of each article), then their copy-and-paste espionage will also copy-and-paste our names, thus keeping our work attributed to us. (Suck it, ichi.pro!)
So…add a copyright note or author blurb at the end of every damn thing you publish!! (Hold down the ALT button and then type 0169 to create this little guy: ©.)
If you are a writer here, considering the scope of ichi.pro’s violation, it’s entirely likely that your work has been stolen, too. Do some searches and if you find that you are in this unfortunate situation, here’s what you can do:
File abuse reports
Early investigations into this indicated that this company has gone to great lengths to hide their identity. They are protected by whoisguard.com and the ISP is through NameCheap.
You can email them, explaining this situation, and file an abuse report using the following addresses:
So far, my emails have gone unanswered.
(Thank you to Joe Duncan for finding and sharing this information.)
I’d also suggest that you write to Medium support about this. They do know about it and many of us have written to them (I haven’t received a response yet), but it’s worth letting them know how many people this has affected.
Reuben Salsa has received a response from them in which they indicated this company is owned by hivelocity.net. They suggested writers who have been affected by this file abuse reports through this email address: email@example.com. (Thanks for sharing that, Reuben!)
Alert your colleagues
I spent a few hours last night reaching out to individual writers I discovered whose work had been stolen — even people I do not already know. At some point, I realized the futility of this. There are so many writers whose work has been stolen, it would take me days to individually contact them all.
So please, spread the word to your writer friends and on social media!
In a way, we are lucky that someone made a grab this audacious. It’s like trying to steal the Eiffel Tower — a bit of an overreach! If they had stolen a handful of articles from a handful of writers, it probably would’ve been easy for them to get away with it. Who among us has a lawyer on retainer that we can send out to correct a few minor violations?
But they took on dozens, if not hundreds of us, and copied dozens of publications. I can’t imagine that a violation of this magnitude won’t be corrected.
Stick together, take a deep breath, lean on your friends here, file abuse reports, and trust that this will be righted. Don’t let it steal your joy today.
Prepare for the future
That said, this will happen again. Our work will be stolen many times — that’s just a fact of digital life.
Get your plan together. Read up on copyright laws. Add your name to the text of everything you post here and on your personal blog. Write yourself some cease-and-desist-type templates so you can casually shoot them off to whatever digital pirate lurks in your future.
We got this.
Update 8/20/20: It appears that this website has been taken down. Hallelujah. However, remember that this is not an uncommon occurrence. Add your author blurb or copyright tag within the text of your articles and blog posts and regularly do a plagiarism scan to keep watch over your intellectual property.
© Yael Wolfe 2020