As the CEO of CopyByte, Jonathan Bailey helps clients with copyright and plagiarism. He also regularly publishes information about copyright infringement on Plagiarism Today, an online resource designed to raise awareness about issues with content theft online and help webmasters and content creators protect and defend their work.
In the interview below, Jonathan provides tips on contending with content theft, working as a self-employed writer and consultant, and maintaining financial stability and a good work-life balance.
What made you decide to to launch Plagiarism Today and CopyByte?
I started Plagiarism Today in August 2005, coming up on the 8-year anniversary soon. I had been publishing poetry, short stories and other work online for about five years prior to that and had been discovering my work plagiarized all across the Web. I have dealt with over 700 plagiarists of my work alone.
I started getting into blog reading around that time and wanted to find a blog on the topic of battling plagiarism and copyright infringement as a small author. However, despite looking for a few days, I didn’t find anything and decided to create it.
Shortly after that people started approaching me wanting personal help and expressing a willingness to pay for assistance. From that, a consulting practice was born and I was eventually hired by CopyByte to run a firm dedicated to fighting copyright infringement. When the umbrella company wanted out of the field, they offered me the chance to take ownership of it and I did, I still run it today several years later.
What are the top things one might to do protect one’s copyright?
The biggest first step is to simply be aware that infringement happens. So many people go through the process of building and growing their site without realizing that people are infringing their work and the impact it is having.
You can start out by doing a few searches for your work. If you’re a writer, put a few unique phrases in quotes and Google it. If you work with images, use the image comparison feature in Google Image Search to find duplicates and near-duplicates. If you find a lot of copies, you may want to start considering taking action, including filing DMCA takedown notices to get infringements removed.
Also, if you’re either in the U.S. or thinking about suing someone in the U.S., you’ll likely want to consider registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Though not necessary to have copyright protection, without a registration you can’t file a lawsuit and without a timely registration you can’t collect reasonable damages.
What would you say are the most damaging elements of plagiarism on the web?
Plagiarism can have a lot of nasty impacts including SEO problems (Google only displays one version of a page in its results and may prefer the plagiarist over yours), it can effect your ability to license your work if there’s confusion about who is the owner and it can also cause problems with your readers if they think you’re the plagiarist or are endorsing spammy sites.
We live and die by our content online and when someone plagiarizes it, they are taking a piece of who we are online.
Another, less direct, problem is that we spend time and money producing content. When someone else, in particular a competitor, is able to gain the benefit of that work without any of the effort, they have an upper hand over us. Time not spent writing content is time that can be spent elsewhere.
What is the work of a copyright consultant and DMCA agent like? What takes up most of your time as a consultant?
I typically divide my day up into two parts. During the first part of the day I write. That is for both my site and other sites I have columns at. I typically write at least two pieces per day, including one news column and one longer explanatory article.
The second part of the day, usually starting right after lunch, is client work. What I do during that part of the day depends on what’s on the docket. It can be everything from helping clients track their content on the Web, filing DMCA notices to get works removed, writing reports to outline the situation their content is in (how serious is the infringement, what steps can we take, etc.) and even processing incoming DMCA notices for hosts that I work with.
It’s nice to be able to start my day off with something consistent and, though engaging, relaxing to me and then moving into more active stuff.
What practical financial advice would you give to those who are interested in being self-employed? What have you done to ensure your financial stability?
I started out very slowly with this as a business. I began as only a part timer doing what I thought would only be a couple of one-off jobs making very little money. I was supported by my “real” job at the time and was doing it more out of love and passion than thirst revenue.
I ended up not taking it full time until I actually lost my day job and had to. I was about to hit the bricks and look for another traditional job when my wife pulled me aside and told me to try this full time. She probably saved my sanity with that.
With regard to financial stability, it’s been difficult. I had a few setbacks, in particular when the company that owned the original CopyByte pulled out suddenly due to other difficulties. My business went from 100% to 0% in one phone call.
But I learned from it all and the lessons were to not put all of your eggs in one basket, take on a variety of clients and always be looking for more. I stopped chasing big “scores” a long time ago. Sure, huge checks felt great at the time, but I probably worked harder for them than I would have for many much smaller ones, especially when you factor in how much of my life I had to shuffle to get those projects done.
Another big thing for me was shifting my business away from one-off jobs to recurring contracts. Instead of turning in a one-time report on the health of someone’s content, I converted that to a cheaper monthly contract where I monitor and maintain their copyright situation. Smaller, recurring and more diverse streams really helped me find stability.
How do you maintain work-life balance as a self-employed entrepreneur when there is always more work to be done? Are there any rules or habits that have helped you maintain balance?
I have to admit that I’m not particularly good at this. It’s not so much the work/life thing for me but the passion issue. This is still an issue I’m deeply passionate about and it was a personal issue well before it was a professional one. I have trouble separating that out sometimes and that causes me to obsess at times.
My wife is my anchor. She is the one who tells me when I need to get away and when I’m head over feet into it. Even pulling me away from the computer by force when needed. Without her, I could easily see myself getting too lost in my work.
Other key factors for me have been diet and exercise. When I got started in this I wasn’t leading a healthy lifestyle, I put on a lot of weight. I, with my wife, started dieting and exercising and I lost about 60 lbs through it all. Now I start every day I can off with a 3 mile run and still focus on my diet. Being in reasonable shape has made a huge difference mentally and physically.
Beyond that, just find hobbies and activities that you enjoy that are away from the office. I run a small haunted house out of my garage every year and that requires constant work and I’m also an active homebrewer. Both of those are things that pull me out of the office.