Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
The dreaded red C circle made its presence known. I knew exactly what it meant; and I was not happy to see it. The symbol, which followed the title of my Hub (the name given to articles posted on Hubpages), was an indication that somebody out there in the Internet universe really liked my story...so much so that he decided to plagiarize it and make it a part of his blog.
This wasn’t the first time, and most likely, will not be the last. Still, there’s no getting used to it. And this was a prime example of that.
I was in a quandary; what was I going to do about it? And, did I really have the patience to battle the plagiarist ? The process was -- and still is -- not easy. There’s no guarantee that matters would be resolved (which has happened in the past) But, it was something that had to be done, especially when my creation -- my baby -- was at stake.
Targets of Plagiarism
Often, the Hubs stolen from me have the following traits:
- Popular with readers, in terms of views;
- Were focused on non-creative writing subjects (such as special education, history, and folklore/ mythologies); and
- Were not poems or short-stories
Additionally, many had been previously published at the defunct site Helium and (still active) Wikinut. In addition, there were at least two that were exclusively written for Hubpages that were stolen.
The perpetrator claimed the stolen work as his own creation.
The plagiarists followed several patterns:
- They copied-and-pasted the articles to an Internet forum or chat room;
- Lifted portions of the article and placed them in a slide program site such as Prezi, not realizing that these online programs can be seen by everyone outside the intended college audiences (or that the material has a copyright).
- Foreign bloggers who lifted the article, not realizing (or caring) that there are international plagiarism laws;
- Bloggers who lifted thousands of articles from defunct sites to fill their pages (such as the creators of pitlanemagazine and WH-Magazine).
The Hub that will be the focus of this article, on the other hand, didn’t fit the norm. First, it was a short story. Second, it was not a big money maker. And third, it didn’t garner large viewership on the sites (including Hubpages). In fact, it was the least likely article/story to be lifted by anyone.
Finally, the plagiarism went beyond the theft of a few written words. The perpetrator claimed the stolen work as his own creation.
You read correctly! Whereas most plagiarists just copy-and-pasted my articles and deleted my name, this one took the time to create the illusion that he concocted something “original”. This included a bio and an introduction describing his love for post-apocalyptic literature, and his “inspiration” for writing (stealing) the story.
What’s So Special About this Story?
The flash fiction story in question was (and still is) entitled, “A Cat in a Cradle”. It was a play on the old saying; however, this story involved, a cat, a cradle, a boy and a girl...living in a post-apocalyptic world.
The gist of the story is as follows:
- A cat meanders through the ruins of a house;
- Something pierces it; it struggles, gasps and dies;
- A soot-covered boy emerges from hiding with a BB gun, gleeful at his kill. He picks up the cat and carries it across the street to a fairly damaged (but standing) home.
- A pre-teen girl emerges, overjoyed to see her brother’s latest prize.
- She places the cat in a cradle, and eludes that she will be cooking it for the day’s meal.
- In the final scene, the boy realizes they need to get inside when he sees black, radioactive clouds from a previous nuclear war is blowing in.
Although the story was originally published in 2010, it was written 12 years prior to that. To add to its creation, it reflected a time further back (mid 80s) when there was so much fear and uncertainty pertaining to the reality that a nuclear war can happen at any time.
Why the Delay?
In the 90s, at the time “A Cat in the Cradle” was written, the idea of a story set in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian world was not popular. The Cold War ended, relations with Russia improved, and many ICBM missiles and silos that stored them were decommissioned. It was a time of hope -- something “A Cat in the Cradle” didn’t have.
In addition, the only outlet available for the story were literary journals that were few and far between. Getting published in these outlets proved to be difficult. Submission required snail mail of a physical manuscript, a lengthy wait time, and the scant possibility of being published.
In addition, I didn’t know of any publication catering to flash fiction (which is an extremely short story). Thus, I stored it on a hard disk (that’s how old the story is) until I felt the time -- and the proper platform-- was suitable.
In 2010, nukes were spreading to other countries (some hostile to the US) and the relationship between Russia and the USA started to sour. Ironically, the time was right for a story such as “A Cat in a Cradle”.
Moreover, other opportunities emerged by this time. Content writing sites such as Hubpages, WikiNut and Helium made publishing flash fiction much easier and quicker than before.
It saw light on Helium. Later, before Google imposed a policy against publishing the same articles on two or more sites, I published it on Wikinut.
The story stayed on Helium until the day the site folded. It remained on Wikinut at least a year after Helium’s demise. I removed it from Wikinut when the owners of the British content site announced they couldn’t pay their writers anymore.
De-indexing and Removal of Story from Original Sites
The last Helium editorial board provided a software tool to help writers remove their stories. Supposedly, the tool’s other function was to “de-index” the story from search engine listings (mostly at the behest of Google). This would make it easier for me to republish the article and avoid any violations of having multiple postings -- which Google has been targeting for several years.
I republished it at Hubpages (where it resides to this day), confident that the deletion tool from the previous sites (Wikinut also supplied similar software) did its job and protected the writer’s work. I didn’t realize how wrong I was.
The Dreaded “C”
It didn’t happen immediately. In many cases, the dreaded C (a symbol indicating that an article may have been copied) emerged, on average, two to three years after initial publication on Hubpages.
In the beginning, the red-circle C appeared after the title of a special education Hub listed in the “My Account” page for the site. The violation, however, was minor, and could’ve been interpreted as an overstep by Hubpages editors.
Supposedly, the tool’s other function was to “de-index” the story from search engine listings (mostly at the behest of Google)
While it appeared at first glance that the blogger lifted the Hub and had removed my name, the blogger attached a link to the original story. Later, he contacted me, apologized and removed the article altogether.
The next set of C’s to emerge wasn’t so benign. For several days, the dreaded C appeared next to several articles. These, unlike the first one, were not an overreaction. It was a direct theft of my intellectual property!
When Helium Died, the Thieves Came to Life
In the beginning, stories that were lifted pertained to special education issues. In one case, A foreign blogger stole a “how-to” article centered on teaching autistic students math. In another case, a blogger who claimed he took certain articles from the Internet and posted to his blog (without permission, links or the name of the author) because he “liked the topic about education” stole thousands of articles, including nearly 20 of mine (possibly more).
This particular blogger was one of several who stole articles from defunct sites (mainly Helium) and waited years before publishing them. Of the thirty or more articles identified and branded with the dreaded C, a majority were taken by this individual and another using the same tactic.
I perused the violators’ blogs and soon discovered that the matter was worse than I thought; they had published articles I had yet to republish. In fact, on at least two occasions, I had articles removed from Hubpages because a copy of it had been discovered within an hour after I attempted to publish them (they were marked by the skull icon). These two bloggers had pulled off a caper and were looking like they were getting away with it.
The theft got so bad, that nearly every article I attempted to republish ended up being entirely rewritten, especially after I discovered a stolen article by googling the title or first paragraph of my original copy.
The two bloggers mentioned weren’t the only ones, as I soon discovered. There were other unscrupulous individuals that waited for the right time to republish the articles they stole.
This included the individual who attempted to make “A Cat in the Cradle” his very own.
Somebody Eyes the “Cat”
“A Cat in the Cradle” had a journey to get where it is now. It’s one of the few stories that have been published on three sites. And, for several years, it was on a fourth site, unbeknownst to me. The “C” and its link revealed this.
For its part, Hubpages editorial staff provided a link to the suspicious site. I did not like what I saw. For starters, it was amateurish; it contained a few pictures that had nothing to do with the blog’s overall topic. There were blocks and blocks of text divided into two columns.
But the most brutal part was his introduction/ bio page. This was where he blabbed on and on about his “interest” in the matter.
“I always had an interest in this topic,” he wrote. “ I wrote a lot of stories about this matter and still find it interesting.”
He continued, writing, “This story captures the fear of what this world would be like after the bomb.”
He stamped the date of November 2014.I wouldn’t discover this article until 2016.
Supplying the DMCA Link
Hubpages offered a button entitled “File DMCA Complaint”. Upon clicking it, the link revealed some information on how to report this article using the DMCA.
DMCA stands for “Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” It is a legal tool meant to protect copyrighted work on the Internet and impose penalties upon those who engage in copyright infringement. In other words, it’s something that can be used against plagiarists. That is, if the plagiarist has been recognized as a repeat violator.
If this article was stolen by a plagiarist known by Hubpages officials, reporting the person was a simple click of a link and an email (with a sample letter to use as a model). If not, one had to go through many hoops (and various websites and pages) to find the appropriate information that can be used to file a DMCA complaint. This is not an easy matter because many blogs tend to have various addresses or owned for foreign entities that operate outside of US or International laws.
Sometimes, it’s a guess that one link or address will lead to the host site. And once the appropriate link to the host site is found, it still takes luck for the site administrators to respond to it in a timely manner (if at all).
This person behind the theft of “A Cat in the Cradle” was not a repeat violator (or most likely, never been caught). Thus, my work was cut out for me.
Taking the Steps Toward Contact
Over the years, many fellow Hubbers, Heliumites and other writers mentioned that there’s a protocol to dealing plagiarizers.
The steps are:
- Contact the violator and demand the article to be removed from the site;
- If the violator doesn’t respond, seek their host sites (often, this can be found through US Copyright Office site and Who is Record (whoisdomaintools.com and whoishostingthis.com) and contact them about the plagiarism.
- Reach out to advertisers on their sites such as Google Adsense.
- When all else fails (or the person is a repeat offender) file the DMCA complaint.
In reality, the situation rarely gets to the point that a DMCA complaint is needed. Evidently, the DMCA can spell doom for these sites and their hosts.
Contacting the Plagiarist
The person had a comment section at the bottom of his blog. It stated: “If you like the author’s story or have any questions about it, please let him know.”
I definitely let him know by writing the following:
“ I am the original author of this [A Cat in the Cradle]. I did not give you permission to publish this story on your site. Please remove it immediately or future actions will be taken. Thank you!”
The violator never responded. And, by the look of things, his site wasn’t showing any activity. No updates are viewer counts were present. I wondered if he abandoned his site.
Finding the Host
After no response, the next step was taken. I found the host site and its email address. The formal letter I composed mentioned the site, the blogger and the violation. After word, I waited for a response.
Several days passed, and I prepared to move to the final phase. However, just as I was about to execute this, I received an email. It came from the host site, indicating that “the matter had been resolved.”
I clicked on the link to the offending site. And, sure enough an Error 404 emerged. The site had been taken down.
What Was Learned?
Once an article is placed anywhere on the Internet, it’s not going to vanish. It doesn’t matter if you delete it or use a software program to remove it. Simply put, there are unscrupulous individuals who are more than happy to copy-and-paste it for their own glory.
The wild world of the Internet is no place for the timid, for it is a place you must take heed if you are a writer and care about your craft. There’s always some no-talent hack waiting for the right moment and steal your precious words.
There are several ways to protect yourself:
- Make sure your material has a copyright;
- Always keep a hard copy and store it on a disk or flash-drive;
- Once you remove an article from a content writing site or blog, consider doing a total rewrite if you want to reprint it somewhere;
- And before you republish anything on the Internet, make sure to Google the title, first sentence, or paragraph of the article to ensure that it has been fully de-indexed from the search engines.
In this little adventure, the bad guy lost. His “writing” career and possibly his reputation met a similar fate as the cat in the post-apocalyptic tale he attempted to steal. But that was only one success story and sometimes, other incidents don’t end this well.
Always protect your baby. And if need be, go forth and fight for it as hard as you can, even in the presence of doom.
© 2019 Dean Traylor