Buying Your Way Out of Trouble?

A lot of free Web sites offer pay versions of their product in order that people slightly more serious about their site/blog/profile purchase. Usually these pay versions remove advertisements, add features and offer some kind of badge to signify the owner as a “premium” member.

A well-known example is Tripod, they offer a variety of plans that range in price from five dollars a month to twenty, each offering different benefits and perks.

However, many times, it appears that one of the “hidden” perks to getting a premium account is that you get to avoid punishment for engaging in copyright infringement.

Take for example. People who engage in plagiarism there are usually either severely warned or banned. However, members who are premium, especially those with long-term memberships, get a free pass. The site even goes so far as to completely ignore full DMCA notices that it receives about infringing premium members, in clear violation of the law.

Another site,, has a team of very dedicated and capable moderators patrolling the site. However, the moderators, who can take any action they please against free members, are powerless against premium ones. Any issues with them, including those which are very clear cut in nature, must be handled by the site’s overworked administrator. Even then, though the work gets removed, nothing more serious is ever done, even for repeat trouble makers.

Though these are just two examples, many sites show little to no willingness to move in on paid members, even when the evidence and the law are both clear. Whether this is out of fear of losing funds or fear of breaking a contract is unclear, but it’s a common theme.

One exception to the rule is where moderators have full reign over all accounts and move very quickly on all incidents of clear infringement. They make no exceptions, no matter what the person has paid.

Other sites need to realize that A) Ignoring copyright infringement, even by paid members, can be very costly, especially under the DMCA and B) That they need to write their terms of service to make it clear that paid members are held to the exact same standards as free ones and that no refunds will be given in the event their account is disabled or altered due to abuse. Such a policy would not only help thwart plagiarism by free members, but also other abusive activities such as harassment and spamming.

In the end, though hosts need to protect their pocketbooks and keep their members happy, they also need to protect themselves and avoid taking a bullet for their members. A few dollars a month really pales in comparison to any legal action that might be filed and it only takes one determined copyright holder to make such a policy very defeatist.

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