Here’s How I Suspended a Website and Stopped Digital Copyright Infringement
I got this website suspended for inappropriately taking my work published on Medium. Here’s how you can stop your digital copyright infringement too.
Digital Copyright Infringement is a Real Problem:
Imagine my surprise when shortly after publishing my article “Berlin’s Got Talent: 5 Startups to Watch in 2018” on Medium when it unexpectedly resurfaced republished without my permission as a copy/paste job by a website named startupanz.com claiming to be based in Auckland, New Zealand.
Of course I contacted them straight away via their website but I never heard back. Months passed. I wrote again. They did not reply. Then I decided I’d had enough when I clicked around their site and saw that most of the articles being used to drive traffic to their business appear to be copy/paste jobs of articles written mostly by authors on Medium.
Popular Medium authors including Steve Blank, Reid Hoffman, Larry Kim, Nicolas Cole, Benjamin P. Hardy and Elle Kaplan all have their articles republished on startupanz.com. Not one article I came across stated that this had been done with permission from the original author. As a reasonable person, I had the feeling that I wasn’t the only person who’s rights were being infringed. This really needed to stop.
I had emailed startupanz.com about the infringement and requested my article to be removed multiple times. I wrote several comments on the article telling them they did not seek or get permission and I wanted the article removed. And in the end, I even sent tweets which went ignored.
It’s not like I didn’t try to contact them and remedy this situation with a full frontal assault before taking the next big step. I even warned them a complaint that would lead to their suspension was incoming via tweets!
How To Stop Articles From Being Republished Without Permission:
- First, directly contact the party that is infringing your rights and explain that they have taken your work without permission and that you want it removed from their site. They should immediately remove it and apologize but if they don’t, then you’ll need to keep going down this list until you get a satisfactory resolution.
- Contact the publication or platform where you originally published your work. This is because its likely they will have useful guidance for what you need to do next, and might even be in a position to help support you — at least with moral support. In my case this was Medium. Here’s some of the reply they sent about my concern regarding copyright infringement:
Sorry you are experiencing that.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything Medium can do to prevent people from copy and pasting, and in essence “stealing”, the text from the Medium post page. We are actively working to identify and stop these sites right now.
As good citizens of the internet, Medium completely honors the DMCA, and all takedowns we receive. So when we are alerted to copyright infringement that occurs on Medium, we remove it until the matter can be resolved legally. We offer a public form to initiate this process.
This site that has taken your work does not appear to have that in place, nor any contact information even, and embrace anonymity above all else. That’s troubling.
So what can you do?
As the copyright owner, you need to make a claim against them for copying your work. If there is no contact information on the site, you can do a Whois lookup to find any other information on the site: https://www.whois.com
You may need to start higher up the food chain, possibly by contacting their DNS registrar, as copyright violation should be against their terms.
Again, we are working to identify and stop this behavior. However you, as the copyright owner, have much more power than us as an interested third-party, but non-copyright holder.
If you have any further questions let me know.
3. Lookup who the hosting company is in the Whois database and contact their registrar. In many countries registrars are required to follow copyright laws and they will be required by these laws to suspend the infringing account until they resolve the problem. In the United States the legislation that protects authors from online infringement is called the ‘Digital Millennium Copyright Act’ (DMCA) and its been the law since 1996.
4. Contact the hosting company and report the violation as per the regulation outlined for that specific country. For example, in my case the registrar of startupanz.com is GoDaddy and since GoDaddy is an American company, they are held to the United States DMCA. GoDaddy has a form people must fill out that complies with the regulation. Once received, GoDaddy takes these issues very seriously. I sent my DMCA form in on 13 June 2018 and startupanz.com had their service suspended for infringing my copyright two days later on 15 June 2018. As this happened later on a Friday evening, they remained offline until the morning of Monday June 18th.
Don’t be Afraid to call BULLSHIT:
Medium takes copyright infringement very seriously if it happens on this platform. I read their guidelines and saw that Medium submits complaints they receive to a database created by American attorney Wendy Seltzer, a Harvard Law graduate and Fellow with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and others, originally called ‘Chilling Effects’ but is now known as ‘Lumen’.
This site acts as a database for complaints filed to some internet bodies. It exists to collect and analyze legal complaints and requests for removal of online materials. Internet bodies opt to submit complaints received and they do notify people in advance that they will do so, as Medium does. Therefore, it does not contain every complaint ever made, but it does contain some complaint history. I decided to search it for any possible previous complaints against startupanz.com — and I did not like what I found.
Just two months before my complaint was filed to GoDaddy, it appears another Medium author raised the alarm and also had startupanz.com suspended for copyright infringement. The article they took from Jacob Peterson is titled “This is what its like to fail your interviews at Google” — a brave piece that is the essence of Medium — authors sharing personal experiences and tips to help others in the community. All the more worrying was the fact I saw so many stories originally published on Medium republished by startupanz.com before they were suspended for infringing my copyright.
I decided to put this to startupanz.com because as a reasonable person, I can’t understand why if they have already been disciplined in this very same manner, they were still infringing rights. And it was only just two months ago. Note: I know of this complaint by a fellow Medium author because it is the in the database, I don’t know if there are more that aren’t in the database. GoDaddy doesn’t appear to submit to Lumen. I got this reply from startupanz.com — this is a copy/paste of the reply — typos are theirs:
“Indeed, writing is hard and we only promote those authors who like their work to be marketed on our online platform and get socialled in return — as we are a content marketing platform.
As you have noticed we also give a link back to the author — thus clearly stating that the work completely belongs to them — to remove any ambiguity, and gives them the page views.
We publish original articles from companies who wish to get marketed online.
In your case, the process of taking your consent was not followed by our staffer and we duly apologize for the same.
We assure you that we won’t dissapoint you again.
Just to be clear, I put this to Medium — while I did not give permission for my work to be republished, I asked Medium if they gave the ‘okay’ for my work to be redistributed to startupanz. In a written statement Medium replied:
“Medium does not have any deal with that website to distribute user content. From our Terms:
‘We will never sell your content to third parties without your explicit permission.’
Again, as a reasonable person, startupanz.com’s reply didn’t make sense to me. If you read startupanz.com’s social platforms they call themselves a ‘Home for all startups in New Zealand and Australia’. It actually sounded like they were a community builder to me, not an online marketing platform, and I had assumed when I filed my complaint that they were a community hub.
Their text above was the first time I’d seen they were, by their own definition above, a for-profit content marketing company. And they are taking writing by authors on Medium and using it, at least in some cases, without permission to drive traffic to their own website for their personal benefit.
So I replied to startupanz.com further stating:
“Putting the link to the author does NOT give them the page views. What
you’re doing is driving traffic to your website and keeping the views for
yourself — not the original author. It’s wrong and your explanation is
either complete spin or you have no idea how online marketing really
works. As you say you are an online marketing business, then as a
reasonable person I find it hard to believe you have that little knowledge
of online marketing. Don’t send people bullshit explanations that don’t
— Tricia Levasseur to Startupanz.com on 19 June 2018
Startupanz.com’s Back Online with Medium Links:
Earlier today, startupanz.com returned online with a newly re-launched website. However, as I click around the site appears to still be heavily populated by articles written by Medium authors. In fact articles by Steve Blank, Reid Hoffman, Larry Kim, Nicolas Cole, Benjamin P. Hardy and Elle Kaplan all remain republished on startupanz.com. While these stories might be used with permission, there is no indication of this anywhere on any of the articles — or at least the many I clicked on.
Further, startupanz.com says it is based in Auckland, New Zealand but there are no company registration details on its website. As a result, I searched the New Zealand company registration database and found nothing under the name of ‘startupanz’ in there — I also spelled the company’s potential full name out and the search came back with no matches. Finally, I asked startupanz.com directly for their company registration details but they have not replied. I don’t know if the company is ‘doing business as startupanz’ or if it is registered in another jurisdiction but this lack of transparency is concerning.
Examples of Medium Links:
The image I have used at the top of this article is in fact one of the header images and stories being used on the startupanz.com website right now. The article is by Kenneth Roman, former Chariman and CEO at Oglivy & Mather but it was first published on Medium on May 21, 2018 and then it was republished by Startupanz.com on 5 June 2018. In addition to his long and prestigious career on Madison Avenue, Kenneth Roman is also known for writing a popular biography of David Ogilvy — the guy known as the original 'Mad Man’. There’s no citation that this republication of Kenneth’s Medium article on startupanz.com was done with his permission. To be clear: the version published on startupanz.com does not state anywhere that they have done this with the author’s permission.
Here’s another example: LinkedIn Founder and Greylock Partners’, Reid Hoffman frequently writes very useful articles for his business and entrepreneurship audience on Medium. Although, I have found TWO of his recent stories originally published on Medium republished startupanz.com.
Both times they have been copy/paste jobs from the Medium story, however, neither state anywhere on the startupanz.com version that they have used Reid’s work with his permission.
While I could keep listing examples, its better if you look for yourself and see if you’ve been republished without permission. Experts who have knowledge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will tell you that copy/pasting articles on a number of different sites without repurposing them will drive down your own website’s SEO and also you won’t get the credit (clicks!) for your work. They’ll be diluted by the party that has republished you if they’ve done it without permission.
Fight for your Copyright:
Like everyone writing here on Medium, I work damn hard. I got into journalism at the age of 14. Back in those days internships weren’t paid and you had to earn your spot through what felt like blood, sweat and tears. Definitely, long hours. I worked as a journalist until my MBA studies at the University of Cambridge were half finished. I was at Bloomberg News in London at the point when I made the pivot to marketing.
Sometimes I think I made it to the top of my field, as a network television News Editor and Program Editor for national and international broadcasts, simply because I was the last person standing. I have met so many smart and talented journalists along the way.
Nobody wins with the hard work of creatives is taken or used inappropriately. Medium has done a wonderful job of creating a nice community of creatives/writers/contributors and it is sad when this trust they’ve fostered gets violated.
If your articles are being used without your consent, don’t worry. You don’t have to be a lawyer to stand-up for your digital copyright — you just need to be able to find any infringing party’s contact details or website registrar. In most cases, in any country, you can raise complaints that will get answered.
I’m not a lawyer, but I have worked as an international journalist overseeing newsgathering teams on every single continent, and while copyright law is a complex and deep legal area — the basic principle of ‘don’t take without permission’ is pretty much a universal anywhere in the world. (I have lawyers in my family and I did this entirely on my own.)
I hope this article helps others on Medium (and beyond!) standup against any possible infringement they may face, whether it is accidental or more calculated.
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