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The People’s Court Addresses Content Theft by Bloggers

Stealing content from bloggersI am big fan of judge shows. I DVR The People’s Court and Judge Judy every day. My family tells me that I really should have pursued a law degree since I love debating and arguing so much (er… thanks guys) so maybe that is why I love these shows. I just love seeing the real life drama unfold and hearing why something is legal or illegal and watching the average Joe make his or her case.

Today though I was rather disappointed in Judge Marilyn Milian of The People’s Court and I am normally a very big fan of hers. The first case on today’s show was about a topic that is very near and dear to me…content theft. As a blogger and owner of several web sites I am all too familiar with how easy it is for people to take the words you have painstakingly written and commandeer them for use on their own web sites/blogs. It happens to me ALL THE TIME. I write an article or tutorial for one of my blogs and then BAM a few weeks, months, or years later I see that someone has taken my article and copied it word for word onto their own site, along with my original photos. Sometimes they only take a portion but they are still “taking” something that belongs to me and not asking for permission. Whether or not they give credit to me as the original author (many times they don’t) it still bothers me that they don’t ask for permission.

Would they feel comfortable just walking into my home and taking a cup of sugar? No? Well, why is it okay for them to take my words, which are my intellectual property, and use them to make a profit for themselves? It’s not okay. Yet anyone watching The People’s Court today will think that it is okay.

The case revolves around the author of a printed book and how a blogger stole seven short stories from it and reprinted them on her for-profit blog. The book is Wedding Days: When and How Great Marriages Began, which I totally want to buy after seeing the show. I love the concept!

Anyway the judge went through the four criteria used to determine fair use of copyright infringement, one by one. They are:

1) Purpose of the Use – Was it used for non-commercial or commercial use? If it was used for commercial use, such as on a for profit blog or a blog or site used to attract customers then it is not fair use. In this instance the judge recognized that it was NOT fair use because the blogger was using the stories to draw traffic to her blog and make money as a local wedding officiant.

2) The Nature of the Copyrighted Work – Is it fiction or nonfiction? If the work being stolen is non fiction and more factual in nature it is harder to prove unfair use than if the story was all made up in your head. Because the book contained true stories that don’t entirely belong to the author the judge said that reprinting could be considered fair use. Also because the work was published this case leaned towards fair use. The author put it out there for the public to enjoy. Though I would add a NOT FOR FREE right after that.

3) The amount of the work used – How much of the article/site was reprinted? The blogger in this case reprinted 7 stories in a book of 365 so the judge ruled that it was a small enough amount to warrant fair use. I find this rather incredible. If another web owner reprints a paragraph in a long article AND credits you then yes that is fair use. But to say that 7 stories amounting to 4000 words or more is small enough to be considered fair use because it comes in the context of a book is crazy. By that logic someone could copy 20 articles from my site word for word and get away with it because I have over 2000 articles total. That is nuts! The judge really missed the mark on this one.

4) The Effect of Use on the Potential Market or Value of the Work – Did the use of your content cause actual damages or are you just mad that someone stole your content? The judge decided that the author suffered no damages or harm and I agree with her. I detest when web site owners steal from you and then sell you a line about how they are doing you a favor by sending you traffic. They may be right, though usually not so much, but they should still ask for permission. In this case the blogger should have asked for permission but in the end she did direct traffic to an old book that was published 15 years ago. Any mentions on the Internet are beneficial in my mind though the way the blogger went about sharing the info was not so good. Still she didn’t damage the author in any way.

Taking these 4 things into consideration the judge sided with the blogger and awarded no damages. Though she told the blogger not to put the content back up. If what she did was perfectly legal, then why not put it back up???? Yeah, something stinks there. I think that if ANY of the above four criteria show that it was not  fair use then the case must be settled in favor of the copyright holder.

So because the first criteria clearly demonstrated unfair use then the judge should have sided with the plaintiff (the author). There were no damages though so the penalty should have been small, maybe $100. We have to send a message that this type of thing is in fact illegal and keep bloggers and site owners from going lawsuit crazy by making them prove damages. This ruling was not only wrong IMO, it sends a bad message to content thieves that they can get away with stealing the hard work of others. I still love Judge Marilyn though. :)

Did you see the case? What did you think?

How To Earn a Good Living as a Blogger

Many bloggers have a tough time turning their blogging efforts into profit and they end up getting discouraged. Is it possible to make decent money blogging or will you just have to be happy with pocket change? What do you need to do to make a living wage?

Okay, first it is totally possible to make a living as a blogger. I have been blogging for about eight years and have brought in a full time income for six of those years. I make more blogging than I did in corporate marketing. It can be done. The most important advice I can give is that you need to diversify your potential income sources and have your fingers in a lot of different pies. Not only does this mean you have many opportunities to make money it also serves as a protection for you in case one of your revenue streams dries up.

Also, in my experience you need to network with people who know this business. Nowadays many bloggers seem to gravitate towards other bloggers but since so many are having trouble making money with their craft, is that the wisest idea? Since the day I first started my blog I considered myself to be an Internet marketer and affiliate marketer, not a blogger. I networked with other Internet marketers, whether they had blogs or not. I learned all about SEO, search marketing, PPC ads, paid search, niche markets, keyword research, and so on. Bloggers are starting to get more savvy in this regard but in general they still have a lot to learn and you want to be hanging your hat with people who know how to make money online, if that is your goal.

Here are some of the ways you can make money blogging:

Affiliate Marketing – Online companies have figured out a great way to get an army of free advertisers willing and ready to help them spread the word about their products. How so? They offer affiliate programs. You sign up for the program, you get a unique code, and you spread it around on your site. When one of your visitors clicks the link and makes a purchase, you get a commission. The commission depends on the company and product but there is a lot of money to be made by recommending products on blogs and niche sites. As long as those links remain active on your site the potential for earning never goes way, even on content you wrote a couple years ago.

Hot Tip!! Companies can change product pages or close affiliate programs so make sure to check your site for broken links regularly. There are WordPress plugins designed to check this daily and notify you of broken links, so install one today!

Don’t be lulled into thinking that affiliate marketing is not for you if you don’t see immediate results. It can take time, especially if you don’t have a lot of traffic yet. If you started using affiliate links after you have established a blog then spend some time going back over all your old posts and seeing where you can link to affiliate products. In June of 2006 I made a whopping $2.34 cents from Amazon. In June of 2008 I made over $2,000, just from Amazon and just in one month. Good things come to those who wait and work hard.

Another wonderful aspect of affiliate marketing is that companies with good programs will bend over backwards to give you the tools you need to succeed, especially smaller brands and businesses. One affiliate program I love is run by a small green company that sells reusable products. They have offered me products at a 40-50% discount so I can purchase and then review. They have also offered me exclusive discount codes for my readers representing a 30%+ savings. Those promotions been very profitable for me. Building relationships with your affiliate managers can be very lucrative!

Hot Tip!! Use affiliate links everywhere, not just blog posts. Use them on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, in emails, in newsletters, in discussion forums, as the URL in blog comments, in response comments on your own blog posts, and wherever it makes sense to do so.

Sell Your Own Products – Think physical products, eBooks, physical books, eCourses, teleseminars, audio recordings, smart phone apps, etc. I dived into selling e-books about three years ago and at $12 a pop they are not making me rich but they do bring in a couple hundred dollars a month with no work required to maintain that. A good smart phone app can bring in thousands a month. Brainstorm some product ideas.

Sell Ad Space – Many bloggers and site owners already do this to some extent but it can be a great source of revenue if you have a high traffic site. You can sell the ads yourself directly or you can use an ad network. You can do both even. Offer banner ad spots as well as text link ads and you may just come up with a steady new income stream. I know one blogger who makes 2-3K every month just from text link ads on her small network of blogs. About 30% of my income is derived from ad sales and a nice portion of that is text link ads that I sell in six month and one year terms. Just be aware that text links must only be used on blogs with high quality, regularly updated content.

We hear text link ad nightmare stories all the time about bloggers who started selling text links and were then de-indexed by Google, effectively killing their traffic and rankings. This does happen, I do not deny that, but more often than not they were not blogs with high quality content and the bloggers sold too many text links and also sold them to non-relevant sites. If you are a beauty blogger for instance it makes no sense to sell a text link to an online bingo site. Even if they agree to pay you $500/year for that one little bitty link, it will do you no good if it hurts your online reputation and ranking. Just say no to spammy, irrelevant links, post original high quality content, post regularly, and you will be fine.

Hot Tip!! When a marketer or big company emails you and asks for your ad rates you don’t want to low ball yourself. Instead of giving them a rate ask them to make you an offer. Many times you will end up getting more than you would have asked for and if you don’t, counter until you get a better rate.

Running out of ad space? Have you considered starting a newsletter and putting ads there or putting ads in your RSS feed?

Host a Directory – Forming a products and/or services directory on your site is another option. Businesses would then pay a small yearly amount to be displayed on your site. PhpMyDirectory is software that allows you to maintain a professional looking directory in minutes. You can see it in action here.

Sponsored Posts/Paid Reviews – When companies contact you with press releases or product pitches send them a form email informing them of your compensation rates for helping them to promote their products or services. Many will simply ignore you and move on to find other bloggers who will do this for free but some may take you up on your offer, thus providing new sources of income. You have nothing to lose by asking. The next time you get an email asking if you would share “XYZ” with your readers reply with a nicely worded email telling them you would be happy to, provided they compensate you for your time.

Another potential opportunity comes from emails asking you to accept a guest post. Instead of coming from other bloggers, many of these proposals come from freelance writers who have been paid to build links to their employer’s web site. They are being paid to put that link on your site and you get nothing in return, beyond blog content that you could have written yourself. When you get these pitches email them back with this…

“If you’re a fellow blogger looking to guest blog and link back to your relevant blog, we’re glad to welcome you. If you’re guest blogging to build a link to a company website, we’ll be happy to quote you a price for publication. “

The writer may end up deciding to split the profits with you and then you get a small stipend and free content.

Blog Sponsorship – Bloggers will often look for sponsors when they need to defray the costs of special events like blog conferences but you can look for and accept sponsors at any time. Typically you offer some sort of benefits package such as dedicated blog posts, tweets and/or Facebook shares, a banner spot in your sidebar, etc. and they pay a set rate in return. This is very much like selling adspace but it is typically more personal and involves developing a supportive relationship with a company or brand.

Build Your List – Marketers are fond of saying that the money is in the list but many bloggers are not hip to this. If your site gets de-indexed or penalized in some way or if it gets hacked and/or the domain stolen (it happens!) would you be ruined? If any of that happens pretty much anyone will be hurt but those that have a list will be way ahead of the game when it comes time to rebuild. Your visitors should be encouraged to sign up for your list whenever they visit any of your posts/pages. Yes, we want them to click affiliate links and make purchases but we also want a way to contact them in the future and put more of our content in front of them. That may not happen if they don’t subscribe to your list(s). Give them incentive to subscribe by offering free content such as an exclusive report, ebook, ecourse, tutorial, or video. Not only will you have that data if the worst happens you will also have a list to send offers to. I use Aweber for list management and autoresponders and would never be without it!

Network  - This isn’t a direct monetization method but it is important nonetheless. Relationships and contacts will help us go further in the blogosphere and ultimately make more money. If you hide behind your puter and insist that you don’t need friends, then you will be passing on many potential opportunities. Establishing relationships with other bloggers and marketers means you will have more blog interaction, more links to your content, more “shares” on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and also more word of mouth opportunities. When a blogger friend is asked by a brand if they can recommend any other bloggers for campaign participation they may put in a good word for you. That is money in your pocket from a referral. You can also form marketing groups that encourage reciprocal blog commenting and social media sharing. Facebook groups are perfect for this! It’s a sandbox folks and the more friends you have, the better.

Membership Sites – If you have managed to establish a nicely trafficked site or a size-able online community it may be time to create an inner circle. This can be done via a private forum or a password protected area on your blog where you share specialized content with paying subscribers. It can also be a place where you offer coaching and personal assistance with those interested in your niche. If you run a recipe blog for instance this can be a place where you offer exclusive recipes, step by step instructions, videos of you cooking and sharing tips, menu planners, shopping lists, and other value added features. Your particular niche will determine if this is feasible but many bloggers and site owners have had great success with offering their best content to paid subscribers.

Squidoo and HubPages – Both of these sites allow you to create your own content and be paid a percentage of commissions from ad clicks and affiliate sales. You basically split the profits from your pages 50/50. Product reviews and write-ups do especially well on sites like these and they can be very profitable. I myself usually only make about $50-$150 a month from my Squidoo lenses but I have some friends who make a lot more.

What I like most about them though is that you can make your own online purchases through your Squidoo or Hubpages affiliate modules and get money back via commissions. I cannot click on my own Amazon link and get the commission, Amazon will not permit it. But I can click Amazon links on my Squidoo lens and then I get 50% of the commission. That is money back in my pocket that I would not otherwise have gotten.

You can also use these sites to create backlinks to your blog(s).

Create Niche Sites – A blog or web site is virtual real estate. All the work we pour into our blogs and sites is building equity and value. Successful real estate tycoons often own multiple rental properties so that they can keep a steady flow of income when the market is not doing so hot. Like them, we may want to expand and add more real estate to the mix with small niche sites. This way we have more avenues to bring in money and our eggs aren’t all in one basket. If one site gets slapped by Google for some inexplicable reason or the traffic just slows for market reasons we can just change focus and work more on another. You can even use your stats from your blog to figure out other lucrative niches. This is what I did when I built my bento lunch site. A few blog posts were wildly successful in selling lunchboxes during the back to school season so I figured that a whole site dedicated to them would be even better. It is not uncommon for this site to make $30 in a single, non seasonal day and over $50 a day during the back to school months.

I now have several small sites like this. My least profitable one brings in only $100 a year but since it only costs about $10 a year to maintain, that is worth it to me to keep around. Most make around $2 to $5 a day. Not bad for sites that require only a few hours a year to maintain.

Market Locally – In addition to finding local affiliate programs you can also reach out to local businesses and/or start a blog or web site about your city or township. This will give local businesses more incentive to seek you out for paid ads, sponsored posts, and product/event reviews. Some opportunities that come your way might not be paid, they may just offer you something of monetary value in return for a review or endorsement but when the opportunities are local it may help your bottom line regardless, in services or products that you didn’t have to pay for. Mom blogs especially, that are location specific, can be a great way to leverage free services and entertainment for your family. Typical perks might be free dinners at local eateries, free rounds of mini golf, or maybe a night at a bed and breakfast. It’s not cash but it still has value.

Group Deal Sites – This is another option that will not result in cash payments (unless you are an affiliate) but it can result in shopping credit. Group Deal sites (think Groupon , Zulily, and Mamapedia) are popping up all over and there is usually incentive to share these deals with friends via email, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. When someone you referred buys the daily deal you get credit that can be used on future purchases. When you use these credits on things you would have otherwise purchased, like a new winter coat or rain boots in a larger size) you “earn” money. I have made many hundreds of dollars of credit a these places which I then used to order things like gym memberships, supplements, shoes, and iPad accessories… free.

Vlogging – This stands for video blogging. You basically do the same thing you do in a written post – share your life, vent frustrations, do a product review, ect. – but you do it via video. Companies might pay you specifically to share your experiences with them via video and you can also earn ad money on youTube.

There are many others ways to make money as a blogger such as speaking gigs, paid writing for other sites, consulting, and so forth but I decided early on that I didn’t want to use my blog to leverage me into something that felt like employment. I have been offered consulting jobs and blog outreach campaigns for big companies but I have turned them down because I want easy, passive income and I want to be my one and only boss. It can be done!

If you have any successes on blog monetization to share I would love to hear!

Photos courtesy of my fave stock photography source Depositphotos.

6 Ways To Come Up With Blog Post Ideas When You’re Blocked

We all experience bloggers block from time to time. We just don’t have ideas for fresh content round the clock but on the flip we side we WANT to offer our subscribers the content they’ve been waiting for. If you are known for your awesome content the stress can be pretty intense. Being a blogger without nothing to write about sucks! Here are 6 ideas that’ll help get the creative juices flowing and help come up with blog posts worth reading.

1) Use Your Daily Life As Inspiration

You might not be writing a personal blog, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring personal experience into the posts you write. If you can relate personal experience to the topics you write about, then do so. Sometimes you have to get creative, but your blog posts will be more interesting as a result!

2) Google It!

Why not Google the main topic of your blog and see what appears? You don’t want to copy any other blogs, of course, but one idea will often lead to another. Have a read around blogs in your niche – maybe even blogs outside of your niche – and see what they’re writing about. Either use this as inspiration for your own topics or write a direct response to what’s already out there. You can also skim through your RSS feed reader for post ideas.

3) Check Your Analytics

Checking your stats can leave you with a whole range of blog post ideas. Take a look at the keywords people are typing in to find your site. Chances are that some of the things they’re searching for aren’t on your blog yet. Why not use these keywords as ideas for future blog posts? You’ll also have the added benefit of knowing there’s a future audience for those posts!

4) Test Something And Post Your Results

If you’re really stuck for ideas, why not give yourself a challenge and post the results? For example, in the personal development niche this could mean making a gratitude list each day and writing about the effects. Or you could try a new fitness program and write about how you’re dealing with it. In most cases, readers in any niche love to read real life case studies!

5) Use Videos

Why not get surfing YouTube and see if there’s an interesting video you can share with your subscribers? Embed the video into a post where you give your own personal comments. This is a super-fast way to come up with content that’s still interesting.

6) Invite Readers To Ask Questions

What better way of coming up with content that your readers will enjoy than to invite them to ask questions? Write up a quick post one day asking them what they want to know, then post a follow up a few days later with all the answers. This last method is also an excellent way to connect with your audience.