Member Rara Avis
Intellectual property theft on the Internet is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. It is rampant, and obviously doesn't just center around poetry. I have great (and I'll admit somewhat ideological) hope for what the Internet can do, and feel there's a real threat to that hope if we allow the Internet to become a cesspool of lower standards. People need to be aware. And, yes, I think people need to be a little afraid of being caught.
The new Trouble Report feature at the main site is a very "rough draft" of what I hope will become a much more extensive system down the road. The side that has raised your concerns, Tim, is meant to serve two purposes. First, I want to make people aware, even before they submit to the main site, that their submission is under scrutiny. Your analogy of the sign in the store is a good one. "We take theft seriously," or "We prosecute shoplifters" are not uncommon signs in brick-and-mortar stores. Clearly I think, you don't have a problem with that.
The second purpose of the Trouble Report, and this appears to be where you do have concerns, is to make it as EASY as possible to report suspected plagiarism. The vast number of people, sadly, are not very proactive. In spite of getting well over a million visitors a month, I've had plagiarized poems sit on the main site for as much as six months before someone finally wrote me with a complaint. I've seen incidents in these forums that were even worse, frighteningly worse. I don't want to force people to hunt down my email address (even though it's on every page), so the Trouble Reports make it easier.
I think both of those goals are important. But I also think I understand your concerns and the stigma that can be perceived with the current implementation. I'm certainly open to suggestions on a better way to accomplish those goals. Let's brainstorm and see if we can get it right.
To add fuel to that fire, I'd like to address two other points, too.
FWIW, in the two weeks since the new software was installed, I've received exactly three Trouble Reports. As of midnight last night, we've had 778,264 unique visitors during that same period. That works out to something like less than four one-thousands of one percent? Of course, it's far too early to reach real conclusions (I'd like to think I've already removed all plagiarized poems, so people have nothing to report until I add new poetry). Of those three reports, one was totally bogus and two gave me links to where someone was stealing from the author, rather than a theft by the author. And, yea, I DID investigate each report thoroughly, Phaedrus, and will continue to do so. I think I also catch most plagiarism before it's ever posted at the main site (comparing the description they write with the poem they submit makes a good early warning system), but "most" isn't good enough. And I obviously have much less control here in the forums. (Over the past three years, my poetry collection has grown tremendously because I end up buying books I wouldn't otherwise buy when someone writes and tells me a poem on the main site was originally published there. I might not have all the Chicken Soup books, but I'll bet I have most of them.)
The second thing I'd like to add as fuel is my vision of where I hope to see this first draft of the Trouble Report evolve.
Obviously I'd like to discourage people from submitting plagiarized poems to the main site and the forums, but the bigger problem is having people come into our home and steal from us. I envision a system where you can click one button, tied directly to your poem, and get back a search engine report of other sites where the poem is being used, divided into three sections corresponding to those with your permission, those without permission, and those where the author name isn't yours or isn't present. This part of the software is already partially written. The system will also provide template letters you, as the author, can send to sites using your poetry, organized into a hierarchy of escalation if the issue isn't immediately resolved. There will be tools available to help you track down who owns the site, as well as who hosts the site. There will be articles and suggestions on the proper way to comport yourself and the best way to reach your goals, as well as a listing of lawyers for various geographic regions. I hope we can also help people get their work officially copyrighted as "collections."
Finally, and I'm well aware this is a potentially controversial issue, all of the correspondence between the author and the webmaster/host will become part of a PUBLIC log. A very public log, I hope, since I have a little skill getting our pages listed in search engines. Search for somesite.com at Google and you'll not only get a link to their site but also a link to our page, with their infractions and details on how the issue was resolved. Sites that make no effort to resolve copyright issues will get some bad publicity, while sites that work with the authors will get good PR. And, yea, I know this is fraught with potential abuse. I'll need a LOT of help to make it work and still protect the innocent.
When I feel comfortable the system is working, I hope to make it freely available to ANY site on the Internet, whether they publish poetry, fiction, or articles. Register a copy of your copyrighted material, provide a "Trouble Report" button next to the material, and all the tools we've put together become available. I know this won't stop intellectual theft, but I hope it will put a definite crimp in it.
Stealing is simply too easy on the Internet. The problem, of course, is that there's just SO many people out there. It's like a huge museum and library combined, where there's no staff in the building, and we're trusting everyone to view the displays and check out the books and never steal. The problem, however, also offers the solution. There are SO many people out there that you can't get away with stealing if we can get even a small fraction of them to help us guard the doors.
Go ahead and rip off my poem. But you better keep it in a desk drawer, because if you put it on the Internet I WILL find out about it.
Okay, that's my vision for the Trouble Reports. What can we do to make it work better? What can we do, Tim, to alleviate your very valid concerns?