Google Alerts Can Help You Detect Misuse or Abuse of Your Work!
May 15th 2007 09:44
The Google Alert can be a very valuable tool for today's writer, whose work can show up in so many different corners of the internet that it might be impossible to keep track of otherwise. Google's search engine continually crawls the Web, seeking content. This is why a Google Alert can find your work wherever it may appear on various parts of the Web, as long as you create an effective alert by entering the most appropriate search terms for the item or items in question.
Why might you want to create a Google Alert? While there are a number of reasons for the average person to use them--such as keeping up-to-date on news stories, business developments, people, or events--for the writer, they can prove especially significant--if not crucial.
For example, if you create a Google Alert using your name, or byline, as your search criterion, you will be notified, via e-mail, when Google detects sites where your name appears. If you sell your work on the internet through a site such as Constant Content,* which acts as a middleman for your work, selling it on your behalf to various buyers who visit the site, it can be difficult for you to be certain that the buyers who purchase your work are abiding by the terms of the sale, since you generally don't know who the buyers are or which website or websites your work will be posted to. If you sell your work yourself, you would be more likely to have access to such information--though there is still a possibility that the buyer might use your work in a way that hasn't been authorized by you.
If you sell "all rights" to your piece--whether through a literary agent, a website such as Constant Content, or on your own--you have forfeited any say over what is done to or with it. In such a case, the buyer may freely revise, rewrite, and even remove your byline and replace it with his or her own. However, if you sell only "usage," or "one-time use" rights, there are limits on what the buyer may do with or to your work.
If you sell it yourself, you may give the buyer, editor, or publisher permission to make changes to your manuscript or online content or you may agree to make the changes they desire yourself. But, on a site such as Constant Content, "usage" rights do not include the right to alter purchased content in any way. This means that the buyer may not add or delete anything from your piece, may not change its title, and--perhaps most importantly--may not remove your byline.
This is where Google Alerts can be very useful. I, personally, have found two instances of unauthorized changes that had been made to my work after usage rights had been purchased--or I should say, Google found two instances of unauthorized changes to my work for me via my one single Google Alert, set up using my name as my search criterion. (I found a third instance myself, in which my byline had been completely removed from the piece, though the article itself had not been altered.)
In one of the two cases found via a Google Alert, my original title had been removed and replaced with a poorly written and grammatically incorrect one, making me look somewhat less literate than I like to look. In addition, a two-word phrase was removed from the piece, which I understood and would have been willing to OK, had they asked. (In fact, I would have even been willing to OK a title change for their particular site, as long as it was grammatically correct.)
In the second case found by Google, the buyer had inserted a decidedly mediocre introductory paragraph before my own initial paragraph--one which did not flow smoothly into my opening paragraph, creating a clumsy transition which, again, made me appear to be a less capable writer than I like to think I am. (The tone and style of my first sentence had been intentional and were perfectly fitting as an opening to the piece, whereas the tone and style of the new opening paragraph were entirely inappropriate to the piece and lowered its quality tremendously.) In addition, this third buyer removed the entire final sentence of the piece, though retaining my byline.
While two of the above issues have not yet been resolved** (though I only found out about one of them yesterday and haven't yet reported it to C-C), I am glad that I'm able to find these breaches of the purchase agreement that each buyer enters into with Constant Content when they purchase content from the site. (Apparently they can't read any better than they can write! The rules of purchase are prominently posted in the appropriate section of the C-C website.)
I, for one, certainly want to know about any and all instances where buyers of my work "murder my manuscripts," "crucify my content," or "butcher my byline"--even if it does take a little time to get the issues resolved. It is, after all, my work; and if I'm going to be a ghostwriter, it will be because I, myself, have agreed to be one--and I have agreed to do so in the recent past, after determining that it was the right thing to do in that particular instance. However, when I'm not functioning in the role of ghostwriter, my work represents me before the world in a way that it never could were my name not on it, and therefore it is even more critical that it present me and my abilities as a writer in a positive light.
They say that knowledge is power. And that's exactly what a Google Alert can give to a writer: the knowledge of just exactly what is being done with his or her literary masterpieces out in the farthest reaches of the World Wide Web--and the power to take action to rectify any breach of business or personal ethics that may be occurring in the handling of those works, which are uniquely his or her own.
So, if you are consistently selling your work on the internet, I would highly recommend that you consider setting up a Google Alert, or multiple alerts, using either your name or other search criteria that are appropriate to your material--or even creating both. You might just be surprised what you find. (Sometimes, what you find will actually be positive, rather than negative, which is always nice!)
A properly executed Google Alert might even help you detect unauthorized use of your work by unscrupulous individuals to whom you have neither sold nor given the right to use it. It could prove an excellent anti-plagiarism tool if you are able to come up with sufficiently specific search criteria to identify your work when it doesn’t contain your byline. (I, personally, have not used it this way, myself yet, however.)
You can learn everything you need to know to get started with Google Alerts by reading the info on their site. It's one great way of protecting the integrity of your work.
Till next time,
*To find out more about Constant Content, see my earlier blog post about this helpful site.
**One of these two issues has since been resolved.
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