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edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y

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FreeCodeCamp's Copyright Infringement

I think it's important to clearly state that FreeCodeCamp committed copyright infringement. It doesn't matter if we think it was an honest mistake -- though it may not have been. They published articles of many authors on a new site without their permission, neither explicit nor implied. @ben raised his concern in this post:

Background: FreeCodeCamp was a publication on Medium. This is a feature of Medium that allows organizations, or individuals, to curate a collection of Medium based articles. Individual authors write directly on Medium, or cross-post from other sites. The authors retain ownership and may request inclusion in the FreeCodeCamp publication -- without assigning any rights or making any further agreements.

Recently, FreeCodeCamp decided to move away from the Medium platform, creating their own article site. They copied all articles from the Medium publication to this new site. They did this without requesting, or announcing their intent, to the authors of those articles. They did credit the authors, though they do not link to authors' profiles and lost a "canonical URL" feature from the Medium platform -- search engines rely on this feature to properly manage search results.

Like @aspittel did, I searched my inbox for emails with FreeCodeCamp. I can't find anything asking permission, nor any special agreement that I had with them.

I got an email from Medium alerting me to the potential problem. This seems like an unusual move. It's a carefully worded email to not make any accusations, but to clearly say there's something wrong.

Looking at the new site, I see that many of the articles don't have any kind of author bio links. Image captions have also been lost, potentially removing source information -- which may be required for some photos. My own article wasn't imported correctly, missing the code content at the end. This technically makes it a derivative work, which is another area of copyright law as well.

A mistake, or intended?

The move was sloppy, that's certain, but was it wilful copyright infringement?

The founder of FreeCodeCamp, Quincy Larson, commented in Ben's post. In one comment, he claimed he knew nothing about Medium's use of canonical URLs -- a key feature that makes cross-posting on Medium beneficial to authors. Sure, it's possible he didn't know, but it triggers my dishonesty sensors.

I headed over to FreeCodeCamp's site and looking for information about governance. I was unable to find any corporate structures, nor published financial information. This is not a minor point. This type of information should be freely available and I'd expect a certain level of transparency in these organizations.

Usually I'd let this type of thing slide. Small charities have a lot on their plate and can make mistakes. However, given the recent event, it beings a lack-of-transparency pattern that should not be ignored. We're missing a financial piece of the puzzle to determine whether moving the articles was a genuine mistake, or had ulterior motives.

Show the good will

I'd like to believe this is all a big blunder, but I need to see proper outreach from FreeCodeCamp. I hope the situation can still be fixed in an amicable way, but it must be resolved.

@ossia , care to respond?

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Top comments (6)

maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci

This has definitely thrown me for a loop too, even as someone who has never written for this site before. I've actually decided from this to make a rule that any content I post from now on lives in full on my entire site.

Before my Dev articles were only here and I linked to them from my site, but from now I'm going to cross-post and mark my site as the canonical URLs. Don't get me wrong I trust Dev to not pull something like this, but everything has made me err on the side of caution. No matter what happens, I want to be certain that my writing has a safe and secure place on my own site.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Don't get me wrong I trust Dev to not pull something like this, but everything has made me err on the side of caution.

And rightfully so. We're working on some ideas specifically around this notion which will help folks control their content in a more explicitly self-hosted sort of way. You can already do that in some ways, but from a tooling perspective we want to make it easier and more powerful.

We want to provide a shared ecosystem for learning from one another and collaborating on software ideas where folks feel safe doing so, we don't want to hold people's great work hostage.

We'll announce some of these plans soon. Articulating ideas is way harder than having them, but I'm excited to be able to offer some clarity in this respect in the not-too-distant future.

isaacdlyman profile image
Isaac Lyman

Blog posts and articles are protected by the DMCA in the United States. If anyone feels inclined to exercise their copyright in this situation, here are some relevant links:

Why and how to file a DMCA takedown notice registrar info for FreeCodeCamp

NameCheap's DMCA form - scroll to the bottom, choose "Abuse Reports", then "Copyright / DMCA".

Make sure to include all the necessary information in your request (Sara Hawkins provides a template in the first link above).

I know there are differing opinions on the DMCA and I usually wouldn't bring it up, but I have yet to see any indication that FreeCodeCamp has noticed or cares about this massive copyright infringement and this may be the last recourse for some people.

jel111 profile image
dumdumdev • Edited

I understand they may have done this hastily and I also don’t have any skin in the game. They could have given a heads up. We know he didn’t switch over alone and someone must’ve known. On the other hand Medium sucks and FCC has helped so many people for free I would hope people could let this go. Chock it up to helping people.

mortoray profile image
edA‑qa mort‑ora‑y • Edited

Making a mistake is one thing, persisting in a broken state is another. FCC needs to actively resolve the current situation, regardless of how they got here.

I have no issues with Medium, though I don't see they've behaved in appropriately here.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I think it's fair to criticize Medium on how they handled certain things leading up to this and in their past. But with regard to this precise situation, they acted predictably and in accordance with previous cases like Hackernoon.

I feel like FCC is purposefully conflating the situation to make it an "us vs them" situation, when it really isn't.