Social Enterprise

Online content often a victim of plagiarism

If you want to increase your web presence for career purposes by writing technical content, be aware that there are lots of people out there who will repost your stuff on their sites without your permission.

In past blogs, I've recommended that IT pros increase their (positive) web presence by writing technical articles. This can be done in a personal blog or by writing-for-pay for technical publications.

In light of a recent event that has been making the blogosphere rounds, I feel the need to make you guys aware of one the caveats of writing for money on the web: People will steal your stuff.

Sometimes they'll steal it without really knowing the concept of plagiarism. They'll run your piece and retain your byline but on their site and without asking your permission in advance. Basically they're getting the content someone else paid for, for free. This would be a great business model if it were, oh I don't know, LEGAL. Also, it harms the bottom line of the online business that actually paid for the content, since most of those businesses depend on Google traffic and incoming links.

Sometimes they'll take your content without your byline and run it on their site, with the underlying assumption that they wrote it. Also illegal. And weaselly.

I have learned that there are an alarming number of people out there who believe that anything on the Internet is public domain. Here's a case in point:

One freelance writer found this out the hard way. Basically she had one of her articles reused without permission or compensation by an online magazine called "Cooks Source." (Let me first say that if this mag was going to steal something it should have swiped an apostrophe from somewhere.) Anyway, when the writer wrote to the "editor" to point this out, she got this in return:

Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things. But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it!

First of all, you cannot be an "editor" and not know about copyright laws. Just can't happen. Secondly, what's with the attitude?

This copying and pasting stuff happens enough that we here at TechRepublic have to get our Legal department to issue cease and desist warnings about once a week. Never underestimate the motives of another party either. One of our editors here told me that she just heard about an instance of someone stealing another person's Twitter feed, including a tweet about a pet dog dying. (I'm still trying to figure out a possible motive on this one. Is creepy a motive?)

So there are two lessons here: Don't take content from other sites without the express permission of the editor or writer. Second, if you write something, Google yourself often. And then Google some words from your article to see if it's showing up elsewhere.

Our Programming and Development blogger, Justin James, has in fact created an app for finding thieves of content online. Called Rat Catcher, the app is free for a 30-day trial. Another way to protect yourself online!

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

20 comments
jsaubert
jsaubert

It's an age old struggle. The moment a work is "released" it will be stolen. It doesn't matter if it is a technical writing, a photo, a work of fiction or graphic design. If it's any good it WILL be bootlegged, plagiarized or outright taken no matter what you do. I can only share my somewhat minor experience in this. On the side I do the occasional t-shirt or poster design; small runs of 25 or so for comic shops or theater groups. If I put the design online or even share the raw file there is a 50/50 chance that I will see it on someone else's site or Cafepress or Etsy for sale. It used to bother me more but I've mostly just stopped posting my designs online without huge ugly watermarks, if I post them at all. When I'm doing a design for a charity is when I get angry, the money for those shirts and poster are supposed to be going to cancer research or third-world countries or the like. Taking money from me is one thing but essentially stealing money from small time non-profits is beyond low.

v r
v r

Toni - Thank you again for another intelligently written and useful post. I have been writing and was considering writing a "for pay" blog with valuable career lessons, but am now seriously questioning my sanity for considering it.

mrherrera
mrherrera

If the article has a share link or an embed button, is that still plagiarism? Several sites have this including Tech Republic blogs.

JJo69
JJo69

As long as they post a link back to your site and give credit where credit is due, it shouldn't be an issue. I can see the point if others pay for the content however, if it is a free blog it personally doesn't bother me. It happens to me all the time and I've come to view it as a form of flatery.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

A few years ago, I wrote a fairly popular blog. I was getting lots of hits, and I was happy. The content was for entertainment, not for any sort of knowledge sharing. I was getting about 10K hits/day and 40 or 50 comments. After writing a particular entry, I had thought I coined a phrase, well, one of my commentors thought I had coined a phrase. Anyway, I googled the phrase and I found that it had been used two additional times on the web. I went to both entries, and found my entire article, lifted word-for-word, on two different sites. My by-line was not part of the article. One of the sites referenced my site (it was hyperlinked to the stolen title), and the other had no mention of who wrote the article. I wrote the editors of both sites and did not even get a response. Both sites lifted 10 to 20 articles per day, and they must have used some search engine popularity tool because they only lifted my most popular pieces. Another site took all of my articles - without giving me credit. All three basically were created and generated income from their ads. I no longer write a blog, but I imagine it is worse now.

TobiF
TobiF

A couple of years ago, i came across http://www.tineye.com/ and found to my surprise that a photo from my blog was re-cropped and used by a different site with no attribution whatsoever. So far, I'm not publishing professionally, but when I start, I'll happily contribute reasonable amounts to good services that will alert me to copies of my texts found in unexpected locations.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Way too many of the Special Feature Articles are a Cut & Paste from another publication with just the By line changed to attribute the authorship to someone else. Quite often this happens several times and the original author is lost. Of course the Newspaper Publications complaining that those who point this out are just being [b]Picky[/b] doesn't help but it does tend to point to the fact that not many [i]Editors[/i] really are that in anything but Name. ;) Col

JamesRL
JamesRL

Lots of plagarism going on where people grab photos and claim them for themselves. I've heard of several instances where they did this in commerical work - -instead of hiring a photographer or paying someone for an existing photo on the web, they just grab it.

mariuspauloshea
mariuspauloshea

May I have your permission to print and distribute this to my students? I have to deal too often with the subject of internet plagiarism and your blog entry would make a useful contribution to the campaign. Associate professor Marius O'Shea

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

but if it's how you earn your corn, I can see the problem. One if the issues for me is while the articles might not be public domain, the content often is, if you see what I mean. If I want use people's stuff I link to it, basically what Sir Tim had in mind when he invented this stuff.

Justin James
Justin James

Toni - Thanks for the link to Rat Catcher! Just as a quick heads up, Rat Catcher is still in beta, so it is actually free for all use for the time being! J.Ja

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

You're absolutely right--it's like the title Editor is public domain as well. I'm going to start calling myself an Interior Designer since I often pick out my own rugs.

Tink!
Tink!

So long as the internet exists, the fight over usage rights, copyrights and references will also exist. This applies to anything and everything published online, including but not limited to: articles, pictures, stories, creative writings, etc.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

After all if you do the work you should have the title shouldn't you? :D The only thing that got to me and even then I wasn't overly worried was the wifes Darts Team. I was pestered into designing a Emblem for them by [b]SWMBO[/b] so I threw something together which they liked and then 3 years latter I saw my Logo on the Football Clubs Building, Letter Heads and everything else. Apparently they paid the Darts Team Capitan for the right to use that Logo and she sold it to them. I think it's the only time that the wife has ever apologized to me for making me do something for her. Wonders never cease. :^0 Col

seanferd
seanferd

Wow. Asked, and permission granted. Will wonders never cease? Many thumbs up for Toni Bowers and mariuspauloshea.

TobiF
TobiF

Is techdirt and techrepublic one common entity?

seanferd
seanferd

No relation. But you may quite like it. I mostly read the daily posts straight from email.

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