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Stealing Text is Illegal, Too

Stealing Text is Illegal, Too

July 25, 2008
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" Some hear the word 'content' and immediately think it refers only to video or pictures. "

With so much discussion of piracy, copyright protection and the rights of content producers swirling around the adult online industry these days, it is both surprising and annoying to some producers that their content rights are often completely ignored by both the pirates at large and their own comrades in arms.

Some hear the word "content" and immediately think it refers only to video or pictures. There is a growing awareness among some, however, that quality, exclusive text written by professional industry writers can take longer to create and requires just as much ingenuity to produce as other forms of adult content.

There are additional problems associated with text piracy that in some ways make it far worse than video or image piracy. It's time for the rest of the online adult industry to take a more enlightened approach to all forms of content piracy, and that includes making sure writers and text owners are being properly protected, as well.

As one of the first adult review site owners, Monica of MonicasReviews.com has seen this problem heading toward critical mass for quite some time. "There are a lot of people that are new to the online adult business that feel setting up a large review site is as easy as cutting and pasting," said Monica. "What they don't realize is that it is against the law to copy text content found on other websites. I've put years of effort into my website and a lot of money; to have someone out there potentially harming my site's rankings in the search engines, stealing my content, and reducing my profits is maddening."

Roald Riepen of Freeones echoed Monica's sentiment.

"With all the talk about the illegal use of copyrighted content, I noticed that the illegal use of copyrighted text hardly ever gets mentioned," Riepen said. "At Freeones.com, we spend a good amount of money every month on writers, especially for our review and link sections, and the stealing of our copyrighted content is just as bad as the stealing of video and or picture content. The biggest problem is that a video is easier to recognize than a piece of text, which makes it harder for the rightful owners to track it down. This doesn't mean the problem isn't there, though; it is just a bit harder to find, and we should certainly not turn a blind eye to it."

Detecting text piracy can sometimes be more difficult, because unlike a snippet from a video clip, which is instantly recognizable to its original producer, one paragraph taken from the middle of a six hundred word review and inserted into another webpage may not be as easy to spot with just a glance. That said, with the cost of quality text work rising and the amount of writers being employed to do online work exploding, site owners are constantly finding new and better ways to track their text and find illegal usages of it on other sites.

"Every year there's at least two or three new review sites that get caught stealing reviews from other sites. Many people don't realize that this type of theft is even worse than photo- and movie-content theft," RabbitsReviews.com owner Mantas M said. "Most text-based sites depend on search engine rankings for their traffic, and duplicating the same text content elsewhere can hurt the site that published the review. On the same hand though, Google will also penalize or even ban a site that has duplicate text content, so by stealing, the thief is also shooting at his own feet."

While most industry veterans will tell you that traffic and visual content are the keys to building a successful adult online business, search engine traffic is almost entirely dependent on text links and text content. Beyond the 'alt-tag' image text, search engines have no idea what visual content is on most websites. From an SEO perspective the text of a site is truly essential, and maintaining its exclusivity is a much more serious matter than many people may think.

"On VideosZ we have paid many thousands of dollars to have custom exclusive professional quality text written for each of more than 15,000 scenes on our tour," said Clement, owner of VideosZ.com. "That's thousands of hours of labor and a considerable financial expense, but one that has proven to be well worth the effort. We see piracy of movies, images or text from our site as being equally serious offenses. Suing someone for stealing copyrighted text is no different than suing them for stealing copyrighted videos."

While text piracy does exist, it usually seems to be performed more out of ignorance than anything else. Some choose to forget that text is content and stealing it is illegal, while others are under the belief that text is not worth suing someone over. In a lot of instances where only one paragraph is taken or a few sentences are "lifted" from a site for use somewhere else, calling in lawyers is most likely not going to happen — but that isn't the only remedy available to text owners.

"No one wins by stealing reviews," said Vegas Ken, director of marketing for TheBestPorn.com and its user-generated cousin, PornUsers.com "They are often easier for us to catch than stolen images. You will most likely be called out publicly, blacklisted by the other review sites or sued."

In most instances when a review site, blog owner or other text owner identifies text on a site that has been stolen from one of their own exclusive sites, the action taken follows a pattern similar to other visual media piracy defenses.

The text owner first contacts the "pirate" and asks to have it removed, or if it seems like a blatantly intentional theft, they may take action without any polite warning. Often, it's as simple as contacting the sponsors being promoted on the text piracy site. Having made some of those requests for help myself, I can assure you that the vast majority of affiliate program owners are exceedingly helpful when it comes to assisting writers or owners who are seeking to protect their exclusive text.

As Colin Rowntree, the owner of the well-respected BDSM site Wasteland.com and its affiliate program SpiceCash.com remarked, "Nefarious thieves are doing wholesale stealing of text content, and when we are alerted to this, we verify and then kick the dirty dogs out of our program. We at Wasteland.com take text piracy very seriously when it involves our own exclusive text, and we take all remedies within the law to enforce our copyright on our own material. We do our best to extend that same level of protection to our hard-working affiliates and their text ownership interests, as well."

As if being warned by the rightful owner and removed from affiliate programs of sponsor sites were not enough of a deterrent, repeat offenders may find themselves blacklisted by many affiliate sites if they push the envelope far enough. A recent thread on the industry message-board AskDamageX.com involved a text thief ignorantly asking others to critique his new review site as a quality check. Within a matter of only a few hours, several review site owners and independent writers had replied with disgust, pointing out examples of stolen text published on the new site. Sponsor programs of the new site were contacted by several review site owners and asked to terminate his accounts. Put simply, anyone who wanted to do business with them was asked to steer clear of the pirate site until all of the stolen text was removed. A few days later, the owner posted an apology, and the URL of the pirate site is not active to date.

The gay website community is equally adamant when asked for their views on text piracy issues. GayDemon.com site owner Bjorn explained, "I have always taken stolen work — copies of reviews or any other content for that matter — very seriously. Written content is what I do — it creates revenue. Of course, written work also costs me money. Nothing is for free and to have reviews, stories or anything else written does cost a lot of money. Whenever I discover someone has copied anything from GayDemon, I will always go after them at any cost, through legal means and through business contacts. It does also help that GayDemon is trademarked. It doesn't matter if it's only a single review or a copy of the whole site, I treat every instance the same."

From a legal standpoint, Bjorn is absolutely correct. Copying a few reviews, a few paragraphs or the entire site is essentially the same thing, legally. Along with the remedies mentioned earlier, Bjorn also stated that in the past that, when necessary, he has contacted the pirate's hosting company and had their entire URL taken down at its source.

With so much attention being focused on content piracy, tube sites, lawsuits and anti-piracy consortiums being formed by video producers, the significant impact of text piracy is all too often overlooked. As reviews, blogs, scene descriptions and other original text work continue to multiply online, the number of companies who need a good writer rival the number who need an SEO guru or other qualified industry professional to enhance the value of their web properties. It's time for text to be viewed on an equal footing with any other form of content.

At the end of the day, we are all trying to make a living through a large amount of personal effort and the expense of significant business capital. Someone seeking an easier path by attempting to earn on the backs of others is no less of a thief for stealing text than they are for stealing video or images — and from all the people I spoke with in researching this article, there is no doubt that text piracy will bring a world of hardship on thieves that will rival anything they'd expect from stealing other content from adult industry webmasters.


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