How Big A Problem Is Blog Plagiarism?

from the doing-the-math dept

I'm always surprised when I see some well known blogger flip out over the fact that spam blogs are copying their content. It's happened for many years -- and happens to us all the time. Is it annoying? Absolutely. However, is it worth making a big stink over it? Probably not. The latest to suddenly notice the trend is Om Malik who has started a big discussion on blog plagiarism after coming across a site that was copying his (and other VoIP bloggers') content. So, why isn't it worth getting upset over? First of all, it's a very fine line. How different is it from some random site reposting someone's content and an RSS aggregator reposting content. For example, here's Bloglines reposting Om's content, which it's done for years. Should he be upset about that? People say their complaint is that others are making money off of their content -- but that's not a realistic complaint. The NY Times book review makes a ton of money off of other people's content -- by adding value to it and promoting it. Obviously, you can argue that scraper sites don't add value, but some people could find them useful as aggregations of content. Sites like Unmediated and Davenetics' Newsmonger (which appears to be down right now) don't do anything other than repost other people's content (including our own) -- and yet we don't hear too many people complaining about them "making money" off of bloggers' content.

One major difference is that the site Om is specifically complaining about is taking his content without crediting him -- which is a more reasonable complaint, but not quite what everyone seems to be talking about. However, when that's happened to Techdirt we've discovered two things -- and both suggest that all this debate is a waste of time. First, when we shoot off a quick email to the sites asking for proper credit, we almost always hear back with an apology, from some "new" blogger who isn't quite sure how it all works, and they usually fix things right away and start giving us credit. It helps, by the way, that we first thank them for finding our content valuable enough to reuse, and then ask nicely for proper credit. However, much more importantly, the sites that (1) don't credit properly and (2) don't respond to such emails almost always disappear within a month. Why? Because no one reads them. Who goes out and finds some nameless site that's obviously reposting content? The people who would find such content interesting almost definitely are reading the original sources, and will know immediately that the site in question is ripping people off. So, the complaints that these sites are "taking money" from the original sites is probably bogus as well. They're not taking money away because no one's reading those sites.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2005 @ 10:50am

    No Subject Given

    I see you direction in the paint you've made (and very well, might I add). But what happens when the tables are turned and the site creating the content is a much smaller, less known website... while the site that is "scraping" that content is huge - such as, lets say Yahoo or MSN?

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2005 @ 10:54am

    No Subject Given

    Here is another way to look at it. One site creates their own content by using 90% cut-paste verbatim from another site's content, without so much of giving credit to where the original content came from? (I'm sure plenty of kids in middle school did this in their history, literature...etc classes).

    But again, you last paragraph in this article basically sums it all up nicely -- "So, the complaints that these sites are "taking money" from the original sites is probably bogus as well. They're not taking money away because no one's reading those sites."

     

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  3.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 27th, 2005 @ 10:56am

    Re: No Subject Given

    That's a good question, but for the most part it seems unlikely that Yahoo or MSN would do wholesale plagiarism -- because the second it's found out, it would reflect extremely poorly on their brand. Chances are, they'd simply be reposting the content with credit (something that both of them actually do already with their personalized pages) -- and that leads to greater promotion.

     

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  4.  
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    Keith, Dec 27th, 2005 @ 11:39am

    Re: Almost sounds like you are appoving of this be

    Copyright infringement is copyright infringement, period. I find it amazing that you would imply that it's ok to steal another persons work without authorization and without crediting the author. No wonder we have so many problems with our perceptions of right and wrong leaning to "whatever is good for me is right".

    Whether it's "realistic" or feasible to police something is entirely another issue, but that has nothing to do with whether or not it's right or wrong to steal the content.

    And as for making money off others content, blog or not, that should be terms for suit and I'd certainly hope the author would have the ability to prosecute to the full extent of the law.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2005 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Almost sounds like you are appoving of this be

    • These days, almost all things are copyrighted the moment they are written, and no copyright notice is required.

    • Copyright is still violated whether you charged money or not, only damages are affected by that.

    • Postings to the net are not granted to the public domain, and don't grant you any permission to do further copying except perhaps the sort of copying the poster might have expected in the ordinary flow of the net.

    • Fair use is a complex doctrine meant to allow certain valuable social purposes. Ask yourself why you are republishing what you are posting and why you couldn't have just rewritten it in your own words.

    • Copyright is not lost because you don't defend it; that's a concept from trademark law. The ownership of names is also from trademark law, so don't say somebody has a name copyrighted.

    • Fan fiction and other work derived from copyrighted works is a copyright violation.

    • Copyright law is mostly civil law where the special rights of criminal defendants you hear so much about don't apply. Watch out, however, as new laws are moving copyright violation into the criminal realm.

    • Don't rationalize that you are helping the copyright holder; often it's not that hard to ask permission.

    • Posting E-mail is technically a violation, but revealing facts from E-mail you got isn't, and for almost all typical E-mail, nobody could wring any damages from you for posting it.The law doesn't do much to protect works with no commercial value.


    From... 10 Big Myths about copyright explained

    ...Did I just violate copyright law by quoting that website, even though it was referenced as the source to where this text came from?

     

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  6.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 27th, 2005 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Almost sounds like you are appoving of this be

    Copyright infringement is copyright infringement, period.

    I never denied it was infringement. I only questioned whether it was worth making a big stink about it, and then posited that it is not worth it.

    I find it amazing that you would imply that it's ok to steal another persons work without authorization and without crediting the author.

    Again, I'm not implying that it's "ok." I'm saying that the amount of time and effort wasted going after it is really *wasted* and could be spent on much better pursuits.

    Whether it's "realistic" or feasible to police something is entirely another issue, but that has nothing to do with whether or not it's right or wrong to steal the content.

    Again, not the point. However, if you're going to complain about stuff, doesn't it make sense to do a cost/benefit analysis of how much time and effort you're wasting over something so trivial?

    And as for making money off others content, blog or not, that should be terms for suit and I'd certainly hope the author would have the ability to prosecute to the full extent of the law.

    So, would you support Om suing Bloglines and those other sites that are commercial endeavors and make money off of his sites as well?

     

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  7.  
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    Frank J. McCourry, Dec 27th, 2005 @ 12:31pm

    No Subject Given

    If you don't want you private information published publicly, then don't publish it publicly. If you want paid for your source code, don't publish it.

    I find it insane that we even entertain these things. If it's copyrighted, post your copyright information and sue. If you stole it, expect to be sued. Why do we need more legislation?

    BLOG's are a complete waste of valuable webserver space anyway. The information on them is either personal in nature or so opinionated that the information contained cannot possibly considered as reliable. If it's personal, I dno't really want to know, if it's unreliable , I don't need it. If it's Blogged I don't want to know and I certainly don't need it.

    I'm done ranting now....

     

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  8.  
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    Miel Van Opstal, Dec 27th, 2005 @ 12:35pm

    Re: No Subject Given

     

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  9.  
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    Dan, Dec 27th, 2005 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Re: Almost sounds like you are appoving of thi

    ...Did I just violate copyright law by quoting that website, even though it was referenced as the source to where this text came from?
    No you didn't because you cited your source.

     

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  10.  
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    t3knomanser, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 6:45am

    Agree

    I came here from memeorandum, which is another site profitting from your content. That's how the blogosphere works.

    When I read Om Malik's original post I had a hard time mustering any concern. Partly, it's because I distribute my content under a CC license anyway. But the other issue is this- people might violate that license, but am I going to hunt them down? Do I want to invest my valuable time trying to patch what really are small leaks?

    It boils down to the fact that we've got a really messed up idea of what IP really is, and what the best way to defend it is.

     

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  11.  
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    Marc, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 7:48am

    Re: No Subject Given

    "BLOG's are a complete waste of valuable webserver space anyway."

    What a totally ignorant statement. Better ask Dan Rather just how much of a waste they are. On second thought, better not, a few blogs rightfully cost him his job. With FACTS BTW, not anything "personal in nature" or "opinionated."

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 8:26am

    Re: No Subject Given

    "BLOG's are a complete waste of valuable webserver space anyway."

    You do know that you are reading a blog RIGHT NOW, don't you?

     

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  13.  
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    Keith, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 11:28am

    Re: Almost sounds like you are appoving of this be

    Well, "is it worth it" (concerning cost/benifit) and would a person or entity be "right" in suing, are two distinctly different things. When I was running marketing for a computer manufacturer the ads I created, and the systems I offered, were revolutionary at the time. Enough so that a few disreputable firms actually copied my "copy" right out of the ads and created their own. Did we sue? No, because as you said it wasn't worth the trouble or cost.

    However would I have been right, or would I have "supported" someone who chose to do so, yes. Part of the problem with out society today is that it's not worth it to protect your interests anymore and because of this people with questionable morality will steal whatever it is they want without fear of reprisal or remorse.

    My interpretation of your original post, Mike, was that you were saying it was silly to be in a huff over something as prevelant or insignificant as plagurism. That was my interpretation, correct or incorrect. But without attaching that belief to you, I would say that it is a common enough mentality today and very sad to say. Can we change it? Problably not easily but we should certainly try. What right does anyone have to steal anothers work without authorization or credit AND in some cases to profit from it? None at all.

    So yes I'd support anyone who seeks to protect their interests in any justified matter. But if a site says "you may freely use this material so long as credit is given to this site" then go for it since approval was given by the author.

    Sorry for the long winded post :)

     

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  14.  
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    Petit, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 4:56pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    That's what he said, aint it 8-)

     

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  15.  
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    Petit, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 5:02pm

    Re: Almost sounds like you are appoving of this be

    Keith didn't read your post Mike 8-o

     

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  16.  
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    Petit, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 5:05pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    :D

     

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  17.  
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    Petit, Dec 28th, 2005 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Almost sounds like you are appoving of this be

    Oh well, here I am at the end of a long thread ( for the time being. What happened to the Reply to *this* comment.

     

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  18.  
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    Jonathan, Dec 29th, 2005 @ 10:10am

    Just a Note...

    I've noticed that a few people seem to be confused here so I thought I'd take a moment to clear the air.

    Whether or not a use it attributed or not does not change its standing in copyright law. Copyright deals, quite literally, with one's exclusive right to make copies of their work. While attribution is a stipulation for fair use, that only deals with small samples of a work, not using the whole thing.

    If I decide not to give permission to reuse any of my work under any circumstances, that is my choice and the only exception that is granted is the narrow fair use clause. While that's a gray area, copying and pasting whole works is pretty much never covered by it.

    If you were to copy, paste and attribute something I wrote without permission, it would be infringement the same as if you had plagiarized it. The only difference that could make is when determining damages.

    Think about it for a second. Those file sharers that are being sued, they aren't claiming the songs as their own. Just freely distributing attributed MP3s without permission. Text is given the same protection.

    Personally I have no problem with people using my work so long as it is attribute and I use CC licenses to that effect, but still, others might not be so generous and it's important to make note of this.

    Just wanted to clear that up...

     

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  19.  
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    Mike (profile), Dec 29th, 2005 @ 10:20am

    Re: Just a Note...

    No one is confused about copyright law on this issue. We all know that it's being violated. However, the point is whether or not that *matters*. Sometimes it's better to just let something go than to fight against it.

    In this case, it's a waste of time and effort against a site that almost definitely will disappear for lack of revenue within weeks.

    The ONLY people directing others to this site are those complaining about it.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    BlueBerry Pick'n, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 1:20pm

    Content & distribution: some unsuitable for child

    A blog with original content is hard. Cheating is easy.

    Why is this a problem: ethics. If bloggers are willing to slide on their own peers, in a medium we've created...

    ...then this will keep happening: Bush.
    http://www.bushsbrain.com/images/trailers/BBTrailerIntTrailerLoRes.mov

    Namaste
    BlueBerry Pick'n is ThisCanadian
    "Silent Freedom is Freedom Silenced"

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Amy, Aug 17th, 2006 @ 12:48pm

    Pakistan's EssayRelief plagiarism outfit tries to

    On August 11, 2006, the criminal owner of the EssayRelief plagiarism ring tried to KILL a news reporter and cameraman who were investigating the crimes and fraud of his shady company in Pakistan:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=400292&in_page_i d=1770

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Damian Rossman, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 4:20am

    Spam bloggers should be banned forever.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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