Oh, Irony: Leaving Huffington Post Chicago over Copyright Infringement

An alternate version of this post appears on my Chicagosphere byline.

I’ve decided to call it quits as a Huffington Post Chicago blogger. A charter blogger at that–I was among those personally invited to scribe for HuffPost shortly before their debut in the Windy City in August 2008.

It was a good fit while it lasted. HuffPost bloggers aren’t compensated, but retain the copyright to their work which can be used in other places. So for the past 14 months, I’ve used my HuffPost byline to cross-post stories of civic interest that simultaneously appeared here in the pages of Chicago Carless. The large audience of the national content network gave those stories a wider reach than would have been possible on Carless, alone.

However, for the past several months, almost all content that I have published on Huffington Post Chicago–content that originated here on my personal blog–has been stolen and reposted on domestic and off-shore spam sites. From time to time that has happened with Chicago Carless, and in most cases I have been able to have the stolen content removed, usually by filing DMCA complaints with the relevant web hosts. It has happened rarely enough that I don’t find it too much of a nuisance.

However, in the past few months every single entry I have published on HuffPost Chicago has been stolen and reposted. I take my copyright very seriously and defend it vigorously–but I don’t have the time or the patience to follow up every HuffPost entry I publish with a DMCA complaint and the research required to file one. And, frankly, I’m tired of watching my copyrighted Chicago Carless posts infringed solely because I allow HuffPost to use them.

This would be made easier if Huffington Post Chicago defended the copyright of its bloggers in some way. However, the content network places the onus of copyright defense squarely with its scribes–even though my content is being stolen–and consistently so–from their servers, not my own. Given the longstanding controversy that continues to surround HuffPost’s practice of posting questionably long excerpts from third-party news articles–a form of content scraping–I don’t expect them to damn the irony and rush to defend the copyright of their own bloggers.

But they should. And while you can still manage to benefit from infringing scraper sites (see good recommendations here and here), I’d rather beat them than join them, thanks.

I wish the Huffington Post Chicago editors and bloggers my best, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to borrow their pulpit for awhile. However, I can only wonder how large a problem this is. I can’t be the only Huffington Post Chicago blogger being infringed on a post-by-post basis. Hopefully, HuffPost will look into the issue and offer its bloggers a better defense against infringement in the future.

It’s worth noting that in guidance given to its own copyright-holding bloggers, the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow blog network, where I have my online-media byline, Chicagosphere, also places the onus of infringement defense on bloggers. It remains to be seen whether this will pose a problem in the future for me or my fellow ChicagoNow scribes.

What does seem obvious is that copyright infringement (as in: cut-and-paste theft of entire blog posts) will only get worse as content networks like HuffPost, ChicagoNow, and their ilk continue to forge virtual publications from the work of modestly paid (or unpaid) online writers. Letting bloggers keep their copyright is cold comfort if a content network won’t to step in when their words are stolen–especially for bloggers who are monetizing those words in other venues.

I’d bet money on copyright defense for resident bloggers to become a touchstone issue in the not-so-distant future. That is, if content-network bloggers are actually paying attention to theft in the first place. Word to the wise content blogger: Google yourself. You may discover bylines out there you never knew you had.

Or wanted.

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