10 Years of PT: 2009 – CopyByte and Bytes Copied

copybytelogonewcleanIf 2008 was a flurry of travel and business growth, 2009 was something a respite. It was a year without air travel, a year without big conferences and a laid back year for media appearances.

However, it was still a key year for me it was the year I made one of the most important decisions of my life, the year I joined CopyByte. At the time CopyByte was a subset of a large content creation/web design company and, instead of being brought on as the head, I was being brought on as a manager under their employ.

While the change didn’t have a drastic impact on Plagiarism Today, it made a huge difference behind the scenes.

So, while 2009 is a story of very little changing for Plagiarism Today, it was definitely a pivotal year for the site and one where Plagiarism Today could have taken a radically different course if only a few things had happened differently.

Copyright and Plagiarism in 2009

Barack_Obama_Hope_posterIn 2009, the dominant copyright news story of the year was the Shepard Fairey case, which saw the Associated Press file a lawsuit against street artist Shepard Fairey over his iconic Obama “Hope” poster, which was very popular during the 2008 election.

Though the case went on for two more years, eventually being settled in 2011, it would be yet another year after that before Fairey would be able to put it behind him completely. That’s because, despite a decent case, Fairey opted to alter evidence leading both to criminal charges and the withdrawal of his attorney.

2009 was also the year that the four founders of The Pirate Bay were convicted in Swedish court. Between appeals and and one of the members fleeing the country, the last founder to be released was only let out earlier this month despite all of them having sentences of less than one year.

But while those were big topics in the 3 Count (which also made its debut in 2009) and the Copyright 2.0 Show, the topics of discussion on the site itself focused heavily on Digg. In April of the year, Digg began using frames on all outgoing links, something they called the DiggBar, which created an uproar against the company.

Digg quickly relented on the DiggBar, but the damage was largely done. However, that was hardly it for the issue of framing, as we saw again with Snip.ly and will soon see in another Plagiarism Today post.

In other news that would go on to be oddly relevant years later, Facebook found itself facing controversy over its Terms of Service, which would go on to be a repeated issue for the company. However, the 2009 case was an especially interesting one because it fell on the heels of the Hammerfall RPG controversy, which was a Facebook game that used artwork lifted primarily from DeviantArt.

Of course, just a few months later, another Facebook RPG would face similar accusations.

However, the year wouldn’t have been complete without a few plagiarism scandals and 2009 saw its share. While we didn’t have a trio of Presidential controversies as we did in 2008, we did complete the collection of the four major Presidential/Vice Presidential contenders as Sarah Palin faced allegations of plagiarism. However, the allegations were, at best, weak and didn’t stick around.

free-coverAuthor Chris Anderson faced plagiarism allegations in his new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. In his defense, he claimed that, while he copied from the sources involved, he had intended to cite them and was going to do so online before the book was released. Anderson’s publisher, Hyperion, was satisfied with the explanation and continued selling the book.

However, the big scandal of the year was New York Times journalist Maureen Dowd, who was accused by talking Points Memo of plagiarizing a post by their editor John Marshall. Dowd said she was told the line from a friend and hadn’t read Marshall’s column. The Times issued a correction on Dowd’s piece but never took any further action.

Though Dowd’s career didn’t suffer any setbacks from it, many still associate Dowd with the scandal, in part because she is a political blogger and the incident is still used to attack her today.

All in all, it was a very busy year for copyright and plagiarism, but an even busier one at home.

Most Popular Post

Using the same standard as the other posts, which is looking at the past 90 days of traffic, the most popular post on Plagiarism Today from 2009 is Copyright in 561 AD, a post about an actual battle over copyright, or rather, who had the right copy a book of psalms.

While many understandably complain about the legal process of dealing with copyright infringement, at least it’s been a more than a millennia since thousands of people died in a single battle over questions about the right to copy.

However, the only reason that post is the winner is because it was recently featured on Reddit’s Today I Learned subreddit. Discounting that, the winner would be 5 Free Copyright-Related Steps Every Blogger Should Take Today, which includes some simple tips for bloggers, and others who post online, to better protect their work.

Behind the Scenes

copybyte-square-clean-transBehind the scenes, the biggest decision was to join CopyByte. Though I announced the decision in August, it had been in negotiations for months prior. While I don’t want to talk too much about the negotiations or share any proprietary information, it’s safe to say it was a major decision for me.

My consulting business had grown considerably over the previous years and was starting to earn a solid income. However, working for a company offered me a full-time job with consistent pay and that was appealing following years of ups and downs working for myself.

When I decided to do it, my only major demands were that I would maintain complete editorial control over Plagiarism Today and that CopyByte would not continue down the same path. Before I was hired, CopyByte had been used to send threatening letters to suspected infringers demanding cash settlements, an act now commonly referred to as copyright trolling.

I wanted to try something different. While we continued to send letters, we changed to “soft” cease and desist letters and invited people to become customers. Since the company earned thousands of dollars over the life of a customer, infringers were actually more valuable as a customer than someone who settled and the approach worked, attracting dozens of new customers without as much as a single hostile phone call.

I had never been more proud of the work I was doing.

However, since I was working full time, I had to work exclusively for them. Though I was allowed to keep a couple of paid writing jobs, my consulting practice disappeared overnight and I had all of my eggs in one proverbial basket.

Still, I kept myself busy in other ways. Though I didn’t travel nearly as much I did speak again at WordCamp Dallas, I also spoke virtually at the Online International Virtual Assistans Conference and made another appearance on This Week in Law.

But perhaps the longest-lasting thing to come out of 2009 was the 3 Count column, which launched in February 2009.

The column was spawned out of a general understanding that there was no way I could keep up with the grind of copyright news on Plagiarism Today with regular posts. Prior to its launch, I had experimented with a variety of formats including a weekly linkroll and a semi-regular wrap-up column. However, none of the solutions seemed ideal.

The 3 Count offered a great format to balance coverage of copyright news with the time needed to do it. Though the columns still take 1-3 hours to compile, depending on the day, it’s much easier than the wrap up series and much more thorough than the linkroll approach. All in all, I’ve been happy with the series and it’s a favorite among newsletter subscribers.

Overall, it was a busy year and one that changed both the course of this site and my life. Just how is still being decided on both fronts.

Bottom Line

Before I wrap this up, I have to mention something I missed in the 2008 post because my notes falsely had the date as 2009. November 10, 2008 was the first episode of the Copyright 2.0 Show featuring Patrick O’Keefe. Chris Matthieu, the show’s creator, dropped out to focus on other projects but Patrick willingly and enthusiastically stepped in, making him and I the duo that would be make up the bulk of the show’s episodes (to date at least). So, apologies to Patrick for the error.

On that note though, 2009, at the time, seemed like a very good year. As it closed I had a new job, a steady income and was doing some of my best work. Though it was a calm year for travel, professionally it was probably one of my best and it was a prominent year for the site as well with its battles against the DiggBar and other controversies.

However, most importantly, it was the year that really finalized the format of Plagiarism Today. The 3 Count brought the entire site together and freed up the longer-form columns to talk about whatever was most interesting to me rather than what was going on in copyright news. Because, while that news is very important for obvious reasons, one could easily dedicate three blogs this size to covering it.

I want this site to be a blog that focuses on helping content creators and while covering copyright news is important, it can’t be the sole focus of the site.

All in all, it was a year to remember. However, a lot of the highs would be very short-lived as some major changes were just around the corner.

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