Plagiarism Online

Via reader Dean Bailey, largely unedited:

I’ve recently started a blog of various categories. One of them is technology and although flattering when I fist noticed that I’d been copied and pasted with nothing more than an “original post” link, I by chance ran into the guy who did on a tech forum and broke my rule of getting angry online after reading the guy’s justification of doing so when his entire site is in fact the works of other people with “orignal post” links.

While I ended up being really annoyed over something futile, I managed to walk away from it quickly but it has left me wondering just where the line is in this sort of thing. It seems to be straightforward logic that if I cover something that I’ve learned on my own by putting together knowledge gained from various sources over time and write it out in my own words in a structured manner that took effort and care, that if someone wants to use what I’ve published, they should either get my permission, use it to make a commentary, make further contribution to the material, or have an opinion. The only thing that really would be applicable in this case would have been further contribution as it was just an instructional tutorial.

My best guess, because I assume that the same laws apply to the internet as any other published media, is that you can’t simply copy and paste the work of other people and then put at the bottom “original post” unless you have a reason for doing so that is beyond the scope of the original author.

It will be of detriment to my number of page hits when this happens, and the post in question is landing people at my site. My additional and more pressing concern regarding this though, is that I also write occasional short stories and I have some on the site. These I would like to share when I write them, for now, but at the same time I’d like to be able to republish them at some future point if I get enough content, an audience, publisher, etc etc.

After the exchange I had with the guy who reposted my tech article, I’m left doubting my instincts and wondering how safe my content is, in general, when I publish it online. I realize that people can take a piece of what I do and do what they want – praise it, correct it, add to it, scrutinize it, etc. What I am second guessing though, is if, and how, I need to take steps to protect content online, and if its even acceptable or not for them to in fact copy and paste from my site the way this particular person did.

How have you dealt with this? What would you recommend for anyone publishing content that they want to keep as their own and also have some level of control when it came to it turning up inappropriately on other sites? Additionally, since I’m hosting on an American site, for now, and in the example with the tech post, it was pasted onto a web-host in The Netherlands, just how much legal protection (assuming I have any) goes out the window when the circumstance is International law, and how much of a concern is it?

How much do you want to bet that content from this article is quickly lifted into random pages strewn about the infobahn?

Unfortunately, there’s not much that can be done to minimize the impact of plagiarism online.

You could threaten a violator with legal mumbo jumbo – but at the end of the day, you’ll have lost nothing but time and money that would have been better spent building a name for yourself. You could file a complaint with the Web host of a site, but don’t expect them to get taken offline anytime soon. You could slap some amount of DRM over any kind of digital text, but… assume that it’ll eventually be broken.

Since they don’t care about the trust of their “reader,” they can’t be trusted (themselves).

I’ve gone as far as to modify my RSS feeds to automatically include links back to the original news source (my blog, for example). Even in doing that, however, automatic attribution can be quickly circumvented.

The most prevalent plagiarists lack emotional capacity and moral direction; they obviously don’t care about you or any sort of law which might govern them. They’re bottom-dwellers. They’d eat their own family if it meant they could make a buck or two from it. Seriously. Plagiarism is typically practiced for direct (and indirect) monetary gain. Many spammers could (and should) be viewed as plagiarists.

Nameless, faceless Internet filth – far more insidious than what some consider repugnant.

A thousand people might try to hack away at your mindshare – but when you have the support of your own community, they’ll know who is original and who isn’t. Once someone earns the label of “plagiarist,” their reputation should be shot…

…and so should a plagiarist be when unmasked.