The Yahoo!/AC "Blunder"
Last week, as I was following up on reports of a site (completely unrelated to Yahoo! and AC) that many people were saying was plagiarizing AC content, I came across a feed that showed a television review of mine. I clicked on it and was absolutely shocked to see an article I'd written on the 10th of August on the premier of "Bachelor Pad" in its entirety directly on Yahoo!News. The only link backs to me on AC was links that I had placed within the article myself. My name was not even linked to my profile. Several things were immediately evident to me.
- The article had been a DO (display only) article and Yahoo! didn't have the permissions to publish it on their site.
- I had not been notified by Yahoo! or AC that my article was published.
- I had not been paid for the display of it on Yahoo!
- The article on Yahoo! was up for almost a month, competing with my original article's page views.
- I didn't get a Google alert for the article so I wondered how many more articles of mine were displayed illegally.
As it turned out, there were others with similar problems. DO articles completely lifted and placed on Yahoo! (such as in my case), others who have had no extra payment for articles displayed on Yahoo! but instead offered more work as a "Thank you", misled information relating to assignments and more.
Copyright violation is a serious offense to a writer and this was, in mine and many others' opinions, a perfect copyright violation. (I should note here that AC and Yahoo! deny this is any sort of violation and I'll explain that further down.) What makes it even worse is that evidence suggests that AC was aware of this. They had sent notifications to some contributors (oddly I wasn't one of them) that there were feeds being tested. I have no clue what was going on in their heads even after they found out they were publishing full DO articles. And even worse... this practice continued.
Listen, I completely get that there are bugs that happen when testing things but when you know that something is going wrong, it should be stopped. According to one contributor, even when this was brought to AC's attention, the response was that there was nothing they could do about it and that we (contributors) should just suck it up. Not the exact words but similar in meaning. Only when it burst into full force in the forum was there a scramble to make up for lost time.
I waited and fretted most of last week over the issue. You'd think as against copyright infringement (oops, sorry, non-permissive usage (towmaytoe, towmawtoe)) as most reputable online sites appear to be, that the issue would have been addressed immediately. But that's neither here nor there. It was eventually addressed Saturday but I had taken the weekend off and didn't see it until yesterday morning.
On first glance, it looked like those of us who had our content lifted were going to be patted on the head with $2. Sorry, guys, $2 for a piece used without permission is like trying put a band aide on a wound that needs stitches.
I've said before that when I find an article of mine copied without permission on another site, the first thing I do is send an invoice to the owner of the site and I charge them more for reprint rights than I would someone who asks for permission. Neither one of those amounts come close to $2.
The Second Response
Sensing that the masses were unhappy with the $2 insult and with outstanding legal questions, the guy with the unfortunate task of relaying the messages to us came back with a $15 appeasement gift per each DO that was published without permission. The reason is NOT because they used it without permission but because they took so long to fix it (and it's not even fixed yet; read more). I'm rolling my eyes at this. An apology that they did us wrong (and are continuing to do us wrong) is in order but I doubt we'll see it.
While this doesn't completely cover the brunt of the violation that occurred, it was, in my opinion, a step in the right direction. But there's more.
Those who were crying "Copyright infringement!" (including me), needn't retain lawyers just yet. According to the Master Licensing Agreement, because it owns AC, Yahoo! is considered "The Company". So in other words, Yahoo! has every right to take our content, place it on a Yahoo! page, let it suck page views from our AC published articles of the same name and not pay us for it. In the same breath, they say that they would never intentionally do it. At least they recognize the practice as highly unethical.. or at least I hope they do.
But it Hasn't Stopped!
The article I found has been pulled from the Yahoo! site and so has several others and while I haven't found any more of my own (and believe me, I've been looking), some other contributors have... even as late a YESTERDAY. I don't know everything about tech issues but this ranks right up there with the huge Examiner.com upgrade fail. The more they keep trying to put a lid on the bugs, the more it keeps spilling over. Now contributors are wondering why it's taking so long, why there are some contributors' articles still being affected, etc.
Do I think this is an intentional attempt at stealing articles?
No. I feel like this is an error in both technology and in the way it was handled after the fact.
What will Yahoo! and AC do about it?
As already stated, many articles have already been removed from Yahoo! sites and I hear they are in the process of removing all of them. I hope they are taking care of the feed problem as we speak. We're being compensated $15 per lifted piece. I do believe them when they say that they wouldn't intentionally do such a thing but I'm still upset at what happened and what appears to be continuing to happen. (And trust me when I say this ONLY because it's AC and Yahoo!; someone I wasn't associated with wouldn't be so lucky.) We were violated, legalese or not, this was a violation of our rights and our trust. As a writer, one of the biggest insults to me is when someone takes my work without even so much as asking much less not even paying for it.
What will I do now?
I'm going to continue writing for AC with extra attention being paid to the wording of rights. I will be leery about Yahoo! and AC in much the same way I was when they first attached to each other. I'm only continuing with AC because I don't feel like this was something that was brought about by intentional deception. If I had thought otherwise, this post would be entirely different. I do feel like, though, it was with a lack of respect for our intelligence that it was handled the way it was. And it takes awhile to build trust back up after it's been betrayed.
What do I expect to happen now?
- I expect whatever it is AC and Yahoo! are doing TO STOP. Despite the legal coldness of it, I don't think AC or Yahoo! really believes that it's ethical to place our articles in dual to compete with one another without express permission from us. To do so without our initial knowledge robs us of page views and money not to mention erodes our trust. It is my hope that they are making this their priority.
- I would like to know why this was tested the way it was without a payment system in place to protect your writers in the first place. I understand there are kinks but I have to wonder whether my lack of page views last month was a casualty of this nonsense. It makes me feel like we're not valued as contributors.
- I expect AC to be more upfront about these issues. I realize it's not the most legal-etiquette way of handling things but when you're spouting cold legalese when so many people would like a simple apology and an acknowledgment that what's been done to them was WRONG, it goes a long, long way in rebuilding trust.
- I expect AC and Yahoo! to address the other issues that have come up as a result of this but to do so in due time after the feeds have stopped and no one else is complaining about more of their work showing up unexpectedly on Yahoo!.
I will just state here that I'm really dismayed and disappointed. More care should have been taken and the AC staffer who knew about the problem before I even knew about it but did not respect the impact of it should be counseled on identifying a real problem and taking appropriate action instead of letting it go in the interest of "testing a feed". Additionally, I expect that Yahoo! and AC will take further care in the future and that something like this NEVER happens again.
I'm still excited about what the future holds for AC contributors and Yahoo!. The possibilities look really promising and I can't wait to see where it goes. If you're running into this blog and you're not a contributor, please don't let this deter you from giving it a go. Every integration has it's problems; this just happens to be a big one. But I'm willing to stick it out for now and see what happens only because AC has been a great place to be.
But I shall proceed with caution.
*Note: If you would like to check for your articles on Yahoo! do a search in quotes for "your name" site: yahoo.com or for the title of your article (or unique phrase from your articles) in quotes "title or phrase" site: yahoo.com.