Monday, July 06, 2009

GUEST POST: Blog Content Theft

Content theft happens all the time online and it's complicated by international sites that do not recognize the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Some call it pirating, but I'd rather call it theft. As a friend pointed out, the term "pirating" gives theft a quasi-romantic outlaw connotation.

Plagiarism. Most of us know about plagiarism because we've had it hammered into us in school. Plagiarism is when you steal someone else's writing and imply that it's your own. You've copied content from someone's site and put it on your own site with no credit to the author.

Plagiarism is also when you steal someone else's ideas. You've stolen content and rewritten it so that plagiarism-detection software will not be able to catch it. This is theft of ideas.

Unfortunately, plagiarism can't be prosecuted in a criminal court of law. But it can be pursued spectacularly through civil courts – we're talking massive lawsuits.

Copyright Infringement. This is an online phenomenon. People copy content IN ITS ENTIRETY and put it on their own websites, adding an author credit and a link back to the original site. Then they pat themselves on the back for not plagiarizing. Maybe they truly believe that they're helping out by "circulating" content and giving it more visibility.

This is content theft. First, you've duplicated content, which harms you and the author. Google and other search engines don't like content duplication across sites, so they will penalize both sites with lower ranking in the search engines results pages. In short, no one will find either site and traffic drops in both places.

Second, you're making his content work for you, especially if you have a higher page rank. Every time someone searches on "eighteenth century costuming", your site will come up before his. Everyone will go to your site. Page-exposures and ad-clicking goes up on your site. Now you're stealing money that would have rightfully gone to him for content that he wrote.

Even if neither site runs ads, you've still hijacked traffic that should have gone to his site. He probably has internal links leading to more content on his site that no one will see because they've read what they were interested in on your site where you put the content that you stole from him. Do you really think anyone will go through the link to his site after they've read the information that they wanted in its entirety on yours?

The right thing to do. Don't copy content in its entirety. Quote no more than one or two sentences, and then link back to the original site. If you don't want to lose visitors off your site, then have a new window open with that link.

What to do if it happens to you. I have detailed instructions on my website. I've had content theft happen to me four times. In all four cases, I contacted the website owner first with an informal request that he or she take down my content immediately. I got the impression that the first two didn't know they were doing anything wrong, and I'd inadvertently given them a big scare. The third sent me a snotty reply but she did comply, and that's all I wanted. The fourth ignored me so I contacted his Internet Service Provider who ripped the content down within three hours of my email. That's all I wanted – end of story.

Val Kovalin at
Val Kovalin reviews m/m fiction and writes about the genre


Stacia said...

I've had this happen to me several times recently, and in each case reported it to the ISP or blog platform, and they handled it very quickly (especially livejournal; I think the elapsed time was something like 20 minutes from report to takedown/blog suspension.)

Makes me furious!

Val said...

Thanks, Emily. Looks good!

Fiona Glass said...

A very clear and helpful article - thanks!

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

There is a ton of misinformation in this article. "Stealing ideas" isn't plagiarism, especially if all the words and thoughts are your original interpretation of an idea.

And the author clearly doesn't understand the difference between true copyright infringement and proper "fair use" citations.

The author's intent is honorable, but he should really spend some time actually researching the legal definitions of copyright infringement and plagiarism. He's presenting his own opinions as facts, and that doesn't help anyone.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I should also note---under both US and international copyright law, "ideas" are not subject to copyright.

Athena Grayson said...

What's legal isn't always what's ethical, or the right thing to do. Don't copy other people's posts in their entirety and put them on your blog with a link and author credit. Copy a relevant passage and link to the entire article on its original site. What's so hard to understand about that?

Stacia said...

Jill, "stealing ideas" can very well be plagiarism. If I read a Harry Potter book and then wrote my own novel about Larry Rotter who has a scar on his hand and is sent to Hoptoads wizarding school, where he meets Don and Persephone and they become his friends, and Don has a big family and Persephone...well, you get the picture. Copyright theft is different from plagiarism; you can plagiarize without committing copyright theft. The 1995 Random House Dictionary defines plagiarism as "use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work."

I'm also not clear on where the misinterpretation of Fair Use is here. As has been proven numerous times, copying someone's entire post/work without permission, whether a link back is provided or not, doesn't fall under Fair Use. To fall under Fair Use the copied excerpt generally has to be a minimal amount of the original work; copying the entire post is NOT Fair Use. (Yes, there have been one or two cases where this didn't apply, but those were special circumstances.)

Anonymous said...

One thing I am uncomfortable with is when I see folks distributing somebody's entire "tweet" from Twitter. One reason I don't "tweet". That and the fact some people there seem to be as addicted to that thing as others are to the very air they breathe. Hell, I like cigars but don't have to nurse one 24/7.

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking comment. As a writer, it's somehow taboo to say it, but, I think people worry about plagiarism too much. While it's clearly douchebaggery to take credit for somebody elses work, I don't think I'd call it stealing.

Hell, this happens in the American work place CONSTANTLY! And yes, when bosses do it, it's still the same douchebaggery.

But the end, if I steal a donut, then Dunkin has lost the product and can't sell it again. If I steal an blog post, though a scroungy thing to do, the writer still has the blog and can gain from it. And if it's done with propper attribution? And a link?

I just don't see the problem! And yet some people throw a tizzy.

And people certainly worry about their precious "ideas" too much.

I think we'd have a much more creative and productive society if we had more relaxed rules with regards to "intellectual property."

And then there would be greater consensus on the truly heinous acts of deception.

kirsten saell said...

But the end, if I steal a donut, then Dunkin has lost the product and can't sell it again.

This is one of the most common rationalizations people use to justify piracy of electronic media. They're not actually "stealing" because it's not a physical object and is still available for sale to others.

Bottom line is, you're benefiting from someone else's work without paying for it--whether that's $$ or credit or linkage or whatever. Still theft, IMO. No different from having someone mow your lawn and then refusing to pay them.

Anonymous said...

Hell, this happens in the American work place CONSTANTLY! And yes, when bosses do it, it's still the same douchebaggery.

...if your boss took the idea to a rival company there would be lawsuits over intellectual property.

The company may not care who came up with the idea, but it's still their property (in most cases).

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