One of the most irritating things about publishing online is people who think that if it’s online, it’s free — and they can copy it. Wrong! Copyright infringement is stealing.
This week, a reader on True‘s free distribution is getting a check from me. Why? He was reading a well-known national magazine with a circulation in the millions, and saw a bunch of stories. Bizarre but true stories. “These are reminiscent of TRUE” he said in a note attached to the magazine, which he mailed me.
I looked at the stories, and found that indeed, they were reminiscent of my work. Six of them, in fact, were verbatim (or nearly so) This is True stories. They had stripped off my slugs (lead-in headlines), and my tagline comments, but they undeniably were my stories. (You do know I write all the content in True, I hope; while the facts are taken from newspaper stories, I do a lot of work to condense the news articles down to 75ish words of coherent storytelling, and to put them into my own style.)
When my lawyer confronted the magazine’s editor with a side-by-side comparison of the stories they published and the stories as seen in True last year, the magazine very quickly offered to settle to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit. Want to know why I guard my copyright so carefully? That settlement was for $2,000. For six stories — a little less than you get in one issue! And because John of Washington, D.C., brought the infringement to my attention, I’m sending him a check for 10% of the net settlement (i.e., 10% of $2,000 minus attorneys fees and expenses), as well as an autographed copy of the latest True book, This is True: Glow-in-Dark Plants Could Help Farmers, which came out two months ago. He’s planning to take his wife on a weekend trip with the cash (don’t forget to take the book with you, John!)
So keep your eyes open. If you see True stories in a publication and suspect a copyright infringement, check with me. If you’re the first to report it, and we collect damages, you could get a check too.