Theft Means Theft: The Lawless Land of Social Media

I am a member of a number of groups in which total disregard of copyright is normal. A few days ago, a member of one of those groups published a beautiful CG artwork depicting a ww2 warship that was apparently taken from the artist’s website.

Although there was a watermark on the work itself, the only information given by the sharer was the name of the professional artist, who I later learned is in Poland. The existence of a watermark on a work does not mean you are permitted to publish the work, and I’m sure there was no permission to publish the work in that form and manner.

The unlawful publisher of the work is ostensibly in Spain, but who even knows if that is the truth or if the name used by the unlawful publisher is even his real name. In social media particularly, unlawful publication of works created by others and which the others hold the copyright to is rampant.

Because theft of content had become so common in that group, rather than admonish the offender I posted two links to the artist’s website, one of which leads to his resume/contact information. There was no acknowledgment of the posting of that information. It appears that where you got your content from is irrelevant, as long as you have it.

Why does this theft happen? It is clearly enabled by:

  • the anonymity offered by the internet, particularly by social media companies, which would lose billions of dollars if they started requiring proof of identity, not because of the cost of verifying identity, but because of loss of users and engagement; and
  • physical distances (it’s difficult for a guy in Poland sue a guy in Spain or to visit the guy in Spain and break his nose.

Many people have become numbed to the violations of copyright. Some mindlessly just shrug it off because it is not stoppable. Embracing that strange attitude is easier for people who don’t themselves create anything, and it is easier for people who have never had any of their online content stolen and unlawfully published or used to just write it off as part of the Internet.

I myself twice had my company website content stolen by, not surpassingly, translation brokers in China. There was little that I could do. I sent cease and desist warnings. Neither thief replied. But that doesn’t mean they were not engaged in unlawful behavior.

Another time a translator started up a website by stealing content from my website. I warned him about it and he told me that he had given someone the job of building his website and they must have taken my content as a starting point.

I call bullshit on that and bullshit on remaining silent when things are stolen. When you see thievery, say something about thievery of intellectual property, be it text, graphics, or anything else that is not up for grabs just because you have a computer or a scanner. Theft means theft.

Author: William Lise

A long-time resident in japan, I have been chiefly involved with Japanese-to-English translation and litigation interpreting for decades. I was an electrical engineer in my previous life.