World Wide Theft: Video Production In The Internet Age

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Plagiarism performing in the Internet age is two things: extremely easy and absolutely unviable.  Yes, both at the same time.

If you happen to be a video producer, there are certain things you should know in order to: a) defend yourself from  possible theft, and most importantly, b) to avoid being the plagiarist yourself. Do not look at me that way, you can be plagiarizing without even knowing it. In a world where almost everything has been said and done, this is something that should be taken into account.

Faraway, so close.

I was skyping with my dad the other day, talking about work. At one point he asked me ‘aren’t you afraid of someone stealing your work?’. I told him ‘Dad, the Internet is incredibly vast but also incredibly small’. And I hung up. No, seriously. What I meant is that word gets around, and sooner rather than later you find out that you have been ripped. This does not make the matter any less serious, but still.

The writer can rely on a handful of plagiarism detection tools such us PlagScan, Quetext and Plagiarisma.Net. There are no tools of the sort for video production, but it does not matter.  There is something infinitely more powerful than any add-on and more frequent than you would think: solidarity. Internet is capable of creating a sense of community like nothing we have seen before. Most plagiarism cases are reported by the very users, and most of the time this is how the victim finds out.

Here is an overwhelming fact: it is extremely hard to erase one’s doings in the digital world. That offensive tweet you once posted and deleted out of shame, that celebrity’s nude pics that leaked – every step leaves a trace, that can be recovered by more or less expert hands. Blame it on my recent Mr Robot binge watch if you want to, but this is the fact of the matter.

Who will protect us.

Well, copyright laws still apply. Every country has their own, and they protect not only the whole work but also every single piece. Be as it may, Internet is a game changing factor that made the situation much more complex. There is such thing as international copyright laws, but the frontiers between countries are not as easy to determine. Most countries are quite behind when it comes to Intellectual Property online, and others have no legislation at all.

I have been researching a lot, yet found very little. The lack of clear copyright laws for online content is so serious that the second result Google spits is an article posted in 1996. For the love of God, please look at this layout.

video production

Miles to go here.


It was an honest mistake.

There is only so much you can do to protect your work, because if someone steals from you, you will find out eventually. So, let us be proactive and see what we can do.

Good will is no extenuating circumstance. In the United States, plagiarism is punished with charges that can be as high as $150,000. Not funny at all. If you do not intend to steal (and I am sure you do not), be aware of the many ways you can be committing unintended plagiarism.

  • Common Internet mistake: ‘if there’s no ©, it’s up for grabs’. Wrong. The only content that is actually free is the one that explicitly says so. This leads to endless uninformed and involuntary copyright infringements.
  • When it comes to video production, citing content picked from YouTube is a constant need. I cannot stress this enough: you have to cite the source and where to find the content even if it is public. The reason? So people can watch the whole thing, in case the context in which the content was used changes its intended meaning. It does not necessarily have to do with bad intentions – these things happen all the time.

Here is an interesting video from WriteCheck on how to cite properly.

  • A note to all, from professional producers to amateur youtubers. One of the most frequent reasons a video is taken down is music. Copyright free music for videos is available online but, to be honest, it can be quite corny. What to do then? Well, SoundCloud is a great option. There are brilliant artists whose works are available for the price of a Facebook like or a tweet. Use their music, give them credit and that is it.
  • In video production, faces are everything. Make sure every person that appears on camera has previously consented to do so. This permission takes the form of a signed release. And remember the golden rule: when in doubt, discard.
  • Permission to shoot in private locations is of the essence. It might be okay to shoot in a public park, but watch out for private places shots (home interiors, e.g.) that may have go unnoticed while filming. Google Street View shots are fine, and some countries even allow the public to get and use the contents recorded by street cams. Plenty of resources here.

Always keep in mind that word gets around. Stolen content has a humongous potential for getting viral, because people love pointing fingers. You do certainly not need that kind of publicity. Even if it mutilates your product, even if it restricts your creativity, remember – better safe than sorry.

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