Someone’s making money off your copyrighted content (But it isn’t you)

making money off your copyrighted content

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Today, it is really difficult making money off of content. Despite rising demand, there is an expectation of “free,” leaving musicians, artists, and writers to scramble for a living.

That makes it all the more aggravating when we find examples of companies unfairly making money off your copyrighted content. And that is exactly what is happening in a questionable method of monetizing blog content involving sites like Business2Community and NewsCred.

In fact, they may even be making money off of you without your knowledge.

How Business2Community makes money off of free content

Business2Community is a website of curated content from across the web that was founded by Brian Rice, senior director integrated marketing for SAP, and others. The site has no association with SAP. According to those associated with the site, it has struggled to create a viable revenue stream. A few years ago, the site was up for sale.

Recently, several bloggers, including Mark Schaefer, discovered that their original, copyrighted content was being sold to unsuspecting companies for their use without the knowledge or permission of the content creators. Here’s a notice at the bottom of a piece of Mark’s content that showed up on a business site without his consent:

Screenshot 2016-05-20 14.05.32

Business2Community is licensing the content to NewsCred, which is then selling the content to corporate clients. Both NewsCred and B2C are profiting from the original content skimmed from blog sites for free.

Mark, and hundreds of other writers, had given Business2Community permission to syndicate blog content on the B2C site, but there was no agreement to sublicense the content to others. And yet his piece had been among those sold to Newscred, which in turn licensed the content to brands to post on their own sites.

This situation becomes even more complicated because tech giant Dell paid Mark to write the original article. Technically, Dell owned the content and Business2Community stripped the reference to Dell from the post before selling it to NewsCred.

This situation opens up many questions about the Business2Community practice and the rights of authors who had contributed content to them in good faith. How does this happen, and is it legal?

Copyright in a world of curation

Most people understand the fundamentals of copyright: you create something (like a photo, a blog post, or an ebook), and you own it. If someone else wants to use that content, they need to get your permission (subject to the exception for “fair use,” which I’ve explained in detail here).

Seems simple enough, and yet people infringe copyright all the time, intentionally or unintentionally. One marketing practice that seems to create confusion is content curation—sharing content created (and owned) by someone else on your website, social media feed, or other channel.

Essentially, “content curation” means sharing quality content from outside sources (i.e. content that you didn’t create) for the benefit of your audience. The value in curation lies in using discretion to sort through the mountains of crap content and guide your audience to the select few gems that are worth their time and attention.

Typically, ethical curation involves linking to the original content source, as opposed to copy/pasting the entire text or uploading video and images to your own site. Content creators can, however, give permission for a website or other publisher to republish their work.

Copyright, Licensing, and Sublicensing

Here’s where things get sticky.

Let’s say that you (the creator and licensor) give a website (the licensee) permission to republish your work. A third party finds it on the licensee’s website and offers the licensee money to let them post it on their website, too.

Without your express permission as the content creator, this kind of sublicensing as practiced by Business2Community and NewsCred is not legal.

Attorney Sara F. Hawkins illustrates the problem this way:

“It would be like somebody came to you and said ‘hey, would you hold my purse?’ and all of the sudden you’re like ‘oh my gosh, this is a really nice purse, I bet I could put it on eBay and sell it.’ That’s what they’re doing [when they sublicense your content without express permission]. Even worse, actually. They’re putting it on ‘Rent the Runway’ and licensing it over and over.”

And yet there are entire businesses (like Business 2 Community and NewsCred) built on licensing content created by others to third parties.

Your original content is like your purse. You wouldn’t intentionally give away your purse, but it’s possible that some of the sites you publish on have terms that say that by publishing on their site, you are granting them a license to use your content and license others to use it.

There’s nothing about copyright licensing in Business 2 Community’s contributor guidelines, but check out this section from their terms of use:

“By posting to or otherwise engaging in any communication within the Site, you are granting the Site (or any of its assignees) a perpetual, royalty-free, and irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, and sell any such information.” [Emphasis mine.]

In other words, by letting Business 2 Community run your content on their site, you irrevocably grant the company permission to sell your content to third parties.

What’s worse, these terms aren’t dated, so it would be difficult for you as a contributor to know if those terms were in effect when you first agreed to let Business 2 Community use your content.

They are, at least, supposed to give you attribution, but you’ll probably find that any third party who licenses the content simply credits Business 2 Community (as we saw earlier), and not the original source (your website), as was the case with Mark Schaefer’s post that Stratford University licensed through NewsCred after it appeared in Business 2 Community. In this case (look carefully) it appears that Mark Schaefer is an employee of Business2Community:

making money off your copyrighted content

Placing license provisions in the terms of use (as Business2Community has done) would be considered a “browsewrap agreement.” The enforceability of this type of agreement is a matter of some debate, particularly where, as here, the rights granted are sweeping.

Really, contributors are giving the site all of the same benefits they themselves hold in relation to their content except actual ownership. Once you’ve submitted your post, Business 2 Community is free to sell it, remix it, and create derivative works.

“Short of handing them over the actual copyright,” explains Hawkins, “you’re giving them everything.”

Because so many copyright cases settle out of court, it’s difficult for people to know what’s enforceable and what isn’t, but recently a California court refused to enforce ProFlowers’s browsewrap agreement that required arbitration of disputes. (Long vs. Provide Commerce, Inc.)

In that case, the court suggested that businesses would be “well-advised” to use hyperlinks and “conspicuous textual notice” to ensure that consumers understand that the “linked page contains binding contractual terms.”

In the case of Business 2 Community, contributors can get through the entire submission process without seeing any notice of the copyright provisions in the terms of use. If the syndication happens automatically, the original creator might never even interact with Business 2 Community’s portal—the process is entirely automated at that point.

“A Lawsuit Waiting to Happen”

In Hawkins’s opinion, this situation presented by Business2Community and NewsCred is a class-action lawsuit waiting to happen. “You don’t even get a click,” she observes. “I don’t see how even a browsewrap agreement would apply, because you don’t affirmatively agree to the terms and it doesn’t block you at some point [from submitting a post].”

NewsCred’s business model is different: the company licenses large swaths of content from publishers like The Wall Street Journal (and Business 2 Community), but also uses freelance writers to create original content that they then license to third parties.

“We have over 100,000 newsletter subscribers. It’s really difficult to nurture all of those subscribers against their personalized journeys and their interests,” explains NewsCred Vice President of Marketing Alicianne Rand. “It’s really difficult to scale that with original content production, so we turn to licensed content.”

NewsCred licenses content from more than 5,000 different publishers, including Associated Press, Reuters, TechCrunch, and FastCompany. “We syndicate that content and we allow our customers to host that content on our site,” says Rand. “We’re paying the publishers as customers millions of dollars every single year to have the right to license that content.”

The problem is, publishers might not have the right to sublicense that content in the first place.

“Newscred appears to be buying some shady goods [from Business 2 Community] and they don’t know it, because they’re being told ‘we’ve got permission to do this,” explained Hawkins.

This means that you could see your content appearing on brand websites all over the Internet. If you don’t monitor your content closely, you might miss when it gets reposted — at a profit — to places you never expected.

In other words, someone could well be making money off your content, but it isn’t you.

Brian Rice of Business2Community was contacted multiple times with an opportunity to comment for this article but did not respond to our requests.

Protect Yourself

If you’re not vigilant about protecting your content, someone could easily put your metaphorical purse on ‘Rent the Runway’ without you realizing it.

Before you post any content (articles, videos, pictures, etc.) on someone else’s website, or grant them permission to repost any of your content, carefully review their site’s terms of use or terms of service, as well as any contributor guidelines.

If you don’t find the answers you’re looking for, email the site owner and ask (in writing) exactly what rights you reserve and which you grant if you contribute content to the site.

If you don’t read the terms of service, you could be letting someone else make money off of your content without owing you a dime. Few people would knowingly agree to that type of arrangement. After all, “exposure” doesn’t pay your bills.

kerry gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Senior Program Manager, Enterprise Learning, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Twitter.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Thomas Galvez

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  • Brooke Ballard

    Thank you SO much for writing such a thoughtful and NEED-to-know piece, Kerry. I too syndicate my content with B2C and have noticed some pieces turning up on NewsCred and other sites (with attribution to B2C, not me). This is infuriating and I’m wondering what — if any — recourse we have. I know plenty of people who allow B2C to syndicate their content, and I’m 99.99% sure they aren’t aware of this … highway robbery.

    Mark, would you be willing to share what your plans are? Perhaps we should all band together and pull our content from the B2C site? Not that doing this will stop content from being stolen and plagiarized, but this feels especially dirty since we’ve “allowed” them to borrow our content.

  • I’m with Brooke – I’d like to know what your plans are too, Mark.

    I recently had a piece show up on Cox Media’s website with the same tag Kerry posted above. I found out about it through Buzzsumo’s monitoring. Talk about infuriating! I’ve noticed it a lot more lately and now I’m considering pulling my content from B2C…

  • I don’t use B2B, but I’ve been reading about sketchy TOS on Kathryn Kristine Rusch’s business blog for some time. She looked into a contest and realized it gave them copyright just for entering! It’s pretty crazy out there.

  • Chuck Kent

    Thanks, Kerry. It seems that the digital world, including the supposedly credible content platforms, are more than comfortable with stealing. I recently noticed that YouTube has created a channel out of an album of kids songs I produced in 2003, and have been selling ever since. Of course, they did not ask, and they are not sharing the revenue stream from the ads that appear on the channel. O course, unlike Mark and others here, I’m getting even with them… hardly anybody is watching/listening! But that’s not the point; it seems to me that Google assumes anything is ownable (and I have never posted the album contents on YouTube, so even if they have a well-buried clause granting themselves a wildly broad “license” it would seem not to apply). Anyway, thanks to you and Mark for bringing this to the fore.

  • Marcy Massura

    This makes me so mad. Attrition is not the same as permission,

  • I wish more people understood that giving credit isn’t enough.

  • That’s the problem: most people have no idea they’re granting such sweeping rights. It’s everything but ownership! All the benefits. Crazy. Thanks for sharing that, Chuck.

  • Yes, you really can’t be too careful.

  • This is definitely something many people aren’t aware of, Brooke. Basically, if content creators don’t want their content licensed to third parties for a fee (in which they won’t share), they shouldn’t contribute to sites like b2c.

  • Wow. This is concerning. I was NOT aware of this and have been syndicating content to B2B for years. Will definitely be looking into this. Thx so much!

  • Hey thanks for the heads up. We have over 60 posts with B2B. I did stop using them when I noticed we did not get the push we were looking for. Sure we got a lot of eyes on our content, but it did not inspire the readers to click on our site or read our blog. So I’ve pulled the plug on all syndication. Unless, of course it’s for people/businesses I know personally, and am giving the content as a “guest” blogger.

  • bradw

    This issue is and will be not only a debate but a big problem for years to come. Stolen videos on Facebook is one of the biggest gripes I have scrapping sites are still alive and well. Just these two things are costing people 10 of millions of dollars every year.

    If anyone is interested in more information here are a couple articles and videos on this subject I don’t think anyone can get too much information about this problem.

    I never post links as spam I am just sharing information that is totally inline with your subject. As a matter a fact I rarely comment unless I’m passionate about a subject. This issue is very important for people to know,

    Great Article Thanks Kerry!

  • Well, my plans first of all was to bring this light. Kerry and I have been working this issue for about three months before it was finally published. She did a marvelous job as I knew she would. As an attorney, she was the best person for the job, not me. Plus I knew I count her to be even tempered about it because frankly I was disturbed by this. : )

    My policy is to attack issues not people. Was I wronged? Yes. The issue has now been brought to light and hopefully the “market” will respond. I have already suspended my B2C feed (never did much for me anyway)

    I understand they are taking a position that they own all content of all contributors that have appeared on the site. Hopefully after this article they won’t be stupid enough to keep selling other people’s content (including mine) but if they do I can see how a lawsuit would be warranted.

  • angelaengland

    I wrote a post called “How to Share Awesome Content on the Internet Without Being A Thief” and explain how giving attribution to the content you stole simply lets people know from whom you stole it. “These delicious apples I stole came from Sonny’s!” No, just no.

  • angelaengland

    It’s especially hidden since it’s not int he contributor FAQs page but rather hidden in the more general site terms.

  • Attribution is only part of the equation, and often only a greater concern than the illegal act of copyright infringement in academia. Too many people don’t understand that attribution is not a defense to using another person’s copyrighted work without permission or legal exception.

  • It’s actually not hidden in the TOU now. However, the license did not always exist. Adding such a sweeping license without providing notice to users or giving an opportunity to opt-out is a violation of law. The general principal of licenses is that they are not retroactive, unless specifically given consent. This is why the current revenue model is highly problematic.

  • Always smart to know what’s happening with your content!

  • You bet, Pam!

  • No doubt, but this was not part of the deal when we joined them back in 2012…

  • Too true! That’s on b2c.

  • “Your original content is like your purse. You wouldn’t intentionally give away your purse”
    Wait, what?

  • Pingback: The Dark Side Of Content Sin-Dication | Level343()

  • I was disappointed to learn of this, Mark. I actually discovered your blog via B2C so it was sad to read about what they have been doing with yours (and countless others) content.

  • Pingback: » #129: A Legal Episode()

  • This week, thanks to Buzzsumo, I saw my article show up on “Bloglovin” with links all back to B2C and today when a big SM company shared my article, it was the version that appeared on B2C. I’m done. Thing is, I don’t see how you remove syndication once you become a contributor. Anyone have a link?

  • They make it very difficult. I literally had to write Brian Rice on LinkedIn to ask him to get me out of it. There was no other mechanism. And they say they still own your old content by the way! For the record we approached Brian for a comment on this article by the same channel and he ignored it.

  • Sheesh. I guess I’ll go track him down. Thanks for the tip, Mark.

  • Found an email address on their About Us page and he replied within about an hour to say it was paused.

  • I was not aware of this issue with B2C, but have sent this link to other writers I know. Scraping sites are one issue we all deal with, but have you seen the cloners? My entire site (up to the date they cloned it) is now online at the .org version of my domain. The thieves are offshore entities known for blackhat malware hosting.

    Even though I filed a DMCA complaint with Google against the home page of the stolen content, that page still appears in Google’s index. Some other pages I filed are now hidden. Google only allows you to submit 1000 pages a day and ignored the one page that I would most like to see removed from the index.

    They registered the alternate domain with NameCheap – the same domain registrar I use. I am really disappointed that NameCheap refuses to stop pointing the cloned domain at the stolen content. They claim there is nothing they can do, but no doubt these cloners register thousands of domains so they’re a bigger revenue source for registrars than legitimate sites.

    All I could do is put up warnings on my social accounts and turn on every ad available in infolinks. I had their plugin installed, but not activated. The thieves apparently activated it and I found out the day they put the cloned site up because Infolinks emailed me to tell me they added the clone to my account. I can even see how much traffic they’re getting to my stolen content. Any ideas on what else to do are welcome.

    I’m glad I wasn’t letting B2C syndicate any of my content. It is one thing to get permission first, but quite another to just help yourself and pocket 100% of the income from it. I wonder what other larger blog with contributor content on it is doing this?

  • Published on b2c from other companies in the past few years. Never really paid a lot of attention to it, because it was initially a guest post to another site. However, I have not directly posted on their site in years. Fun!

  • Same thing happened to me Gail. I was able to get them to take it down. An outfit in India copied all my content, including all the blog posts!

  • Pingback: Are You The Victim Of Content Theft? Here’s How To Find Out()

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