Do-it-yourself copyright protection online

One of the frustrating annoyances for online journalists comes after you’ve published some great content, seen other websites link to it, made better-than-average income off it… then discovered it duped on someone else’s website, without your permission.

Copyright theft online isn’t just a problem for the music and software industries. Dupes of your content can hurt you not only in lost traffic and revenue… if you don’t take care to protect your content, you might even find the thieves’ versions ranking above your original content in search engine results.

That doesn’t happen often, but why risk letting thieves build a publishing history, and inbound links, with your content? Not when finding them is so easy.

The simplest way to check for duped content online is to plug your URLs into Copyscape. It’s a free search engine that takes the URL you supply it and does a nifty little content analysis to find duped pages on the Web. (If you want to pay a few bucks a month, they’ll check your pages for you, on a regular schedule, or let you construct automated searches via an API.)

I’ve used Copyscape to bust folks duping math tutorials I wrote a decade ago. Some academic colleagues have used TurnItIn, another service that checks for duped content online. TurnItIn is designed for use by teachers and professors, and aims to identify student work that’s been copied from the Web. Instead of starting with an original page and looking for dupes, TurnItIn takes a student paper then looks for similar work online.

Unlike Copyscape, TurnItIn doesn’t offer a free option, and requires a license to use. If you teach journalism, either as your full-time job or as a part-time gig, your school might have a license already, so it’s worth asking.

You can also use Google to track snippets of content from your website. Just find a unique phrase from a page, then search for it on Google, and see what turns up. This can help you find scrapers that are pulling excerpts from your site. If you have a handful of high-value webpages that you want to track against copying, for free, just set up Google Alerts for key phrases from those pages, and let Google inform you via e-mail when it finds other webpages that match them.

Let’s say you find some hits, either dupes of entire pages, or excerpts that take far more than could be considered fair use. What then?

The nicest response is to e-mail a note to the site, either using a contact form on the infringing website or a WHOIS search to find an address for the owner of the domain. Politely, but firmly, inform them of the violation and ask that they remove the content.

If you’re dealing with an eager reader or clueless novice publisher, this is by far the most effective approach and can provide what educators like to call a “teaching moment” about copyright law. Why bring out the legal guns against your fans? Just show ’em how to hyperlink to the content they want to show others.

But if you are dealing with a professional scraper, the folks who are building businesses on stolen content online, then you’ll likely need to skip to the next step — filing a copyright infringement notice. Google explains how to do this on its website. It’s a relatively simple cut-and-paste job to create the complain letter, which will be need to be faxed or snail-mailed.

You might also file infringement notices with the offending publisher and its Internet host. But if you’re not in the mood to do the sleuthing necessary to find the name and mailing address of the publisher’s host, or if the host is located outside the U.S., filing with Google, and other search engines, will do the trick. After all, if no one can find the offending website via search engines, it’s as good as gone from the Web anyway.

Even if you are among the publishers using Creative Commons to allow others to republish your content online, you might still wish to use Copyscape or other methods to ensure that the people who are republishing your content are doing so under the Creative Commons conditions you requested.

Finally, don’t overlook the importance of publishing your e-mail address or a contact form on your site. What does this have to do with copyright protection? First, making it easy for readers to contact you can help prevent copyright infringement, as readers who are interested in passing your content along to others can get in touch with you to ask permission beforehand. I’ve found that this is a great way to thank readers for their interest, while steering them away from simply duplicating my content.

Second, a contact form or e-mail allows readers a way to alert you to infringements that they find. I’ve had this happen to me, too. Several readers, over the years, have let me know about websites that were duplicating the articles I’d written. These readers were fans, and were as outraged about someone else profiting from my work, as I was.

So social networks online can work for you, even as there is a risk that the informal tone many readers perceive online leads some of those readers to rip off and dupe up your content. Make tech tools work for you, though, and you can help ensure that your content is going out on the Web in the way you want it, and not in ways that you do not.

Is there a YouTube for audio?

If you are going to make money as an independent news publisher on the Web, you’re going to have to be ruthless about keeping your production and publishing costs low. As the major publishers have discovered, its tough to lay out big bucks in your newsroom and stay in the black in the hypercompetitive publishing market online.

One of the big unexpected expenses that slams many new Web publishers is bandwidth. When you’re publishing on a freebie blogging service, you probably don’t need to worry about how many MB, or GB, of data your site is sending out to readers each day. But when you move up to your own Web domain, heavy traffic can mean expensive bandwidth charges.

Audio and video files hog bandwidth at exponentially greater rates than even the most image-laden static webpages. In my experience, one minute of a decent-quality interview in MP3 format runs up to about 1 MB. So if you have 200 listeners for a five-minute audio feature posted on your site, you are looking at an extra 1 GB of bandwidth just for that feature alone.

That adds up quickly, and can easily put you over your hosting account’s monthly data transfer limit. Even the Big Boys worry about bandwidth. Major online news publishers routinely look for hosting solutions that allow them to better distribute both the load and expense of multimedia content.

Indie publishers, just starting in multimedia, are not likely to move straight into an Akamai or a Brightcove account. But that doesn’t mean indies do not have options to offload the expense of hosting online video or audio.

The obvious solution for online video is YouTube. But is there a YouTube-style solution for audio files?

One that I’ve found, and been happy with, is Houndbite. It’s a hosting site and social network community that encourages people to “listen to and share the audio clips from your life.”

Hey, you are a journalist, so the “audio clips from your life” include interviews, right?

Much like with YouTube, you sign up, upload files, then get HTML code with which you can embed the audio clip on your website. The Houndbite front page features most popular clips measured in hundreds of listens, not the hundreds of thousands of views that one finds on YouTube’s front page. And the top clips on Houndbite tend to be prank calls, and not, uh, NPR-quality interviews. So, to date, there’s no grassroots-marketing value in posting to Houndbite, as there can be in posting your site’s video to the community on YouTube.

But they’re picking up the bandwidth cost, so the value to the news publisher is in holding down publishing expenses, as well as the ability to embed audio in standard blog or discussion forum content management systems, with having to install additional extensions.

The catch? Size. Houndbite currently limits each uploaded clip to 8MB in size and 15 minutes in length, so this isn’t the place to stash super-long-form narrative audio. But for a few audio clips to enliven a blog post, Houndbite provides a quick and handy solution. I used the service last week to add audio clips to blog posts I filed after a couple of interviews for another website.

I slapped a Belkin TuneTalk to the bottom of my iPod, recorded the interviews, downloaded them to my MacBook Pro with iTunes, clipped them down to size with Audacity, then saved them as MP3s for upload to Houndbite. (The service currently accepts only MP3 files.) Copy the embed code, paste it into the blog entry, and it’s done.

I know that some online journalists are concerned about the reliability of third-party hosting. (For what it is worth, I would never suggest uploading content to a third-party service without maintaining the original in your own possession — preferably, backed up at multiple locations, such as on a local machine and on a remote drive or DVD.) Some publishers also do not like the look of a third-party embed within their webpages. But that asset and design control comes at a cost.

If you are just starting out, that cost might be one worth cutting in an attempt to get your online publishing efforts into the black as soon as possible. Perhaps, some day, if you’ve got the revenue rolling in, you can revisit this decision and look for a more integrated hosting solution. But, for now, Houndbite might be worth a look by independent online news publishers looking to keep their bandwidth costs to a minimum.

Five steps to encourage readers to blog on your website

How can you encourage readers to blog on your news website?

Anyone can start a blog, for free and in minutes, using established and popular services such as Blogger and What would entice a reader to avoid those options in favor of maintaining their blog on your website?

The answer is one word: community.

Most readers, like professional writers, want an audience for their work. Putting a blog online isn’t like putting a magazine on the rack at Borders. Starting a blog on Blogger, while technically simple, does little to put a writer’s word in front of a potential audience. Promoting the new blog remains the writer’s responsibility, and many fall short of the challenge.

Launching a new blog within an established website community, however, gives a new blogger a head start on promoting his or her work. Within the community, bloggers become the audience for their fellow bloggers’ work. And if the blogging community is part of a larger content-driven website, such as an online newspaper, non-writing readers can more easily find and become fans of a new blog.

Newspapers are embracing reader blogging as a way to both attract user-generated content (and increased page views) for a website, as well as to build loyalty among readers. USA Today has built ambitious social media initiative within its website, and other Gannett papers now are inviting their readers to blog with them.

But… if you are launching a new blog community, how do you get the bloggers you need to make that community an alluring place for would-be bloggers to launch?

Chicken, meet egg.

Here are five steps that your news website can take to avoid that classic dilemma, and to build an active and engaging online blogging community among your readers.

1. Make it easy

I don’t want to make this article an analysis of individual software tools that could power your blogging service, but it is important that whatever tool you choose, it be easy for readers to set-up and to use. You will find it difficult to build a critical mass of bloggers if readers must wait for your staff to manually approve each new account, for example.

Registration and initial set-up must be as swift and automatic as setting up an account on one of the other free services, such as Blogger and (If you are worried about abuse, make sure your tools includes a way for staff to close accounts and delete improper content easily.)

Readers should have an easy-to-remember, search-engine friendly URL for the home pages of their blogs, too. No one wants to tell their friends about their new blog at when they could opt for instead.

Your tool ought to support automated services to promote your readers’ blogs, as well, including automatic RSS feeds, as well as pings to Technorati and Google Blogs when readers post.

2. Don’t hide your bloggers

Readers’ blogs should be easy to find on the website, and not hidden deep within a subsection of some subsection. Follow a basic search engine optimization rule and link your reader blog home page from your site’s home page. Link individual reader bloggers (or, at least the best ones – see point below) from that page, so that they will not be more than two links from your home page. That will provide them a powerful PageRank boost in Google, as well as the ability to be found and indexed quickly in other search engines.

3. Reward readers for blogging well

Reward them with prominence. Create a process through which either your staff or readers themselves can designate outstanding posts for the blog front page, or even the front page of the parent website. Once you get to the point where you have too many bloggers to link individually on your blog front page, reward your best bloggers with those links (and their search engine value).

4. Establish topic-driven communities

With the first three steps taken, you have established a strong framework for your blogging community. But you still need readers to move in. For that, you need to inspire their muse by asking them to write about something that animates their daily lives.

The problem with inviting readers to “blog here” is the same one that confronts diners opening a 20-page menu. What to choose? Too many choices can inspire mental gridlock.

And if you want high-quality content, you need bloggers who are writing uninformed opinion, but about the rich detail of something interesting in their personal lives. Certain topics, therefore, better lend themselves to robust blogging communities.

A personal example: The blogging section on my wife’s violin website has attracted several dozen regular bloggers, while blogs on my theme park website drew few writers. (We used the same publishing tool on both sites.) Playing the violin is a daily activity, one that becomes a significant part of people’s identity. Most people visit a theme park just once or twice a year. It isn’t something that defines most people interested in the topic. So it wasn’t as attractive a topic for personal blogging as the violin site provided. That’s why we shuttered the blogs on the theme park site and the violin blogs continue to prosper.

There’s nothing keeping a general interest site, such as an online newspaper, from creating multiple blog communities around several different topics. Just because your site covers multiple beats does not mean that you must stick with a single, generic reader blog community.

5. Provide an example

We’ve written this many times before on OJR, but we’ll say it again: You cannot just build a user-generated content tool, and expect that people will come and provide great content. You must provide leadership. You must provide an example that readers can model. So you must have someone on staff blogging, using the same tool as readers, in the same content community.

Staff bloggers using a separate platform won’t have the same leadership effect on their site’s reader blogs as they would if they used the same tool as readers. That’ll just send readers the message that they are second-class citizens, and even being disrespected somewhat.

Of course staff writers ought to be producing better quality content, and ought to be given more prominence within the blogging community as a result. (One suggestion: Staffers get automatic promotion to the higher prominence slots described in step 2.) If a community is to prosper, readers need to a see connection between themselves and their community’s leaders. Writing on the same platform can do that simply and effectively.

Leadership also should include clear and consistent posted guidelines that can help prevent misunderstandings about what is fair game in the blogs, including rules about appropriate language and conduct. Don’t make all the guidelines negative, either. Guidelines can also suggest tips and tricks to help readers improve their observation skills, enable basic reporting and enliven their writing.

Reader bloggers can help deepen a publication’s coverage, with additional personal vignettes and original perspectives that staff writers wouldn’t be able to collect using traditional reporting methods and the same number of hours in the day. But a few moments of advance thought can help determine whether a new blogging tool will enable a vibrant community, or open yet another empty forum.