A few weeks ago, sewing blogger Irene Valle was browsing Pinterest when she stumbled upon an image for a serger threading article that looked familiar. The table in the image looked just like her custom-made kitchen table. She clicked on it and realized it was her image, as in fact were all the other images in the article. The authors had just cropped her watermark off the bottom of each of them.
The article was a guest post on British sewing site The Sewing Directory. It was written by someone who ran a website selling sergers, promoting his website with no mention or credit to her. I run The Sewing Directory, and I was shocked and devastated to get an email from Valle saying that we had breached her copyright.
Many blogs and websites today accept contributions from other people, and we’ve always been very conscious of the fact that we do not support sub-par or stolen content on our site. Our contributor guidelines very clearly state that the contributor must respect other creators’ copyright. Most of the time we commission people we already know, and if someone approaches us we often check their website to respect the quality of their writing and images.
Still, this happened. I explained the situation to Valle and we were able to connect online and talk about it. We both spoke to the contributor who admitted he paid someone via the freelance website Fivver to write it for him.
We apologized profusely to Valle, and immediately removed the offending article from the Sewing Directory. In its place, we put a temporary message saying we were working on a new version and directed visitors in the meantime to Serger Pepper for excellent tutorials. Then we reshot the images and rewrote the article ourselves a few days later, recommending Valle’s site in it for further serger-related content. We also commissioned her to write a paid feature for us in the future.
Despite the horrible circumstances, it has led to a new friendship between us, as well as a new working relationship. We were able to resolve the situation amicably, but it easily could have ended a different way. The question remains: how can other blog owners keep the same thing from happening to them?
I spoke to Craft Industry Alliance co-founder Kristin Link, who also runs popular multi-contributor blog Sew Mama Sew, to see if she had any similar experiences.
Link had someone provide a tutorial for Sew Mama Sew which was live for a few months before another blogger contacted her to say it was in fact a copy of a tutorial from her website. It was removed immediately but had been pinned a lot, which led to Link receiving many queries from people wanting to know where it had gone. (This was one of the reasons why we left the page live on The Sewing Directory, and then overwrote it with new content. It can also potentially harm your SEO to take a page fully offline as Google does not like dead links on your site.)
Following these incidents, both Link and I have now changed our contributor agreements and policies. Link added tips on searching for similar tutorials to her agreement; we have added something to say the contributor must be writing the content themselves, not outsourcing it.
One of the biggest multi-contributor craft blogs is the Craftsy blog. I spoke to content editor Kristin Doherty to ask how the company avoids copyright breaches. She says that they tend to work with a small and loyal group of knowledgeable, reputable bloggers including Valle. Working with a small group of people on a regular basis means she gets to know their writing and photography style well, making it easier to spot any inconsistencies.
Craftsy contributors are also required to sign a contract confirming that their content (both images and text) are original or that any images from outside websites are shared with the owner’s permission and attribution. Craftsy rarely accepts one-time contributors because it is harder to tell if their work is original.
Since this incident, I have researched ways of making sure this never happens again on The Sewing Directory. Here are some helpful ideas below to help those of you who also run multi-contributor blogs:
- Make sure you have a contract in place which stresses the importance of copyright and how the contributor must make sure their content does not breach anyone else’s copyright.
- Research the contributor, their website, and anything else they have written. Google their name and company name, and then ask them for links to previously published work.
- Do a reverse image search to make sure images are not already being use elsewhere. Valle uses a browser plugin which makes this process quick and easy.
- Try using Copyscape, a site that allows you to check the net for duplicate content of any of your web pages. You can also get a paid account where you can set it up to alert you as soon as any content from your site appears elsewhere on the net.
- Google random sentences or paragraphs from the article to make sure it is unique.
- Google the project/tutorial name and then hop over to the image tab to visually check that it is not already online.
- Sticking with a small pool of contributors you know and trust can reduce the risk.
- Where possible, commission content (approaching people you trust to write for you) rather than waiting for people to submit content to you.
- Go with your gut instinct. SEO marketers are getting smarter with their approaches and it can be quite hard to tell them apart from genuine contributors. If something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t risk it. It is your business reputation that will take the biggest hit, not theirs.
Have you ever been the victim of copyright violation (or inadvertently hosted a copyright breach)? If so, how did you deal with it? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments!