How The Internet Polices Plagiarism

from the works-itself-out dept

When we write about bad intellectual property laws or lawsuits, we often get angry comments from people along the lines of “Oh yeah? What if I just took all the content on Techdirt and posted it on my own site? You’d be pissed off then!” The response is the same: please, feel free to do so. We have an RSS feed to make it easy. A lot of sites already do so, and we’re always happy to have more. Of course, the vast majority of those sites credit us, which is nice. Occasionally, we come across sites that don’t credit us for the content. A friendly request often fixes that, but even if they continue to post content without crediting us, is it really that big of a problem? There are two likely scenarios concerning what would happen. In the first, the plagiarizing site would have such a small audience, it wouldn’t really matter to us at all. The second is that the site would get more attention, but enough people read Techdirt as well to recognize the plagiarism and point it out — making that other site lose credibility. This second scenario seems to be exactly what happened to a number of journalists last week, when a blog written by someone claiming to be a journalist was simply taking pieces written by others and posting it as his own. However, it didn’t take people long to make the connection and shame the guy into taking down the site — without the people who were being plagiarized having to do anything at all. The public nature of the internet self-corrected the issue without any lawsuits or problems. So, rather than immediately calling out the lawyers, maybe it’s time to rethink many of the kneejerk reactions to things like plagiarism.

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Comments on “How The Internet Polices Plagiarism”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What about Drudge Report?

Techdirt is not plagiarizing other content. To plagiarize means to present someone else’s work as your own.Techdirt does not do that.

The economics of web publishing are not the same as traditional publishing. Web publishers do not sell content. They sell advertising. In that, they have much in common with the free shopping newspapers that are given away in many communities. Both seek to attract as many readers as possible, because their ad revenue increases with readership. Hence, the revenue of web publishers is not threatened when other sites copy their material. In fact, their revenue may be enhanced of other sites point back to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: What about Drudge Report?

I agree that most so-called news sites on the web are not producing news. They simply point to, and comment about, content produced and published elsewhere. Worse, much of the linking these sites do is to each other.

Sites like this one, Google News, and Slashdot provide a service by aggregating stories of interest to their readers. If you think about that, it isn’t much different from what newspapers do by running stories written by UPI, AP, Reuters, AFP or any other news provider. The key difference, of course, is that newspapers actually pay for those stories.

So, it is ironic that it is a provision of the often maligned copyright law — fair use — that allows these sites to publish the headlines and small snippets of other people’s efforts.

Finally, the fact that you block ads highights a key weakness for these sites: They need a revenue stream to stay alive. If enough people block their ads, their advertisers will wise up.

Steve Mueller (user link) says:

Pirating Techdirt?

When we write about bad intellectual property laws or lawsuits, we often get angry comments from people along the lines of “Oh yeah? What if I just took all the content on Techdirt and posted it on my own site? You’d be pissed off then!” The response is the same: please, feel free to do so.

While there are plenty of bad intellectual property laws (like extending copyrights beyond reasonable terms and stupid patents), don’t be so sanguine about Techdirt.

I posted this in another thread, but it was a bit older, so I’ll ask again here. Suppose instead of redistributing your free site, somebody subscribed to your paid content, then put it on their own Web site and sold subscriptions for less than you charge. How would you feel then? While people redistributing your free content might not hurt your business, I suspect redistributing your paid content could.

Even if you wouldn’t mind that, that’s how you choose to run your business. Other businesses are free to make their own choices, for better or worse, about how they allow their content to be used. That’s how things work in a capitalist society, and until the U.S. becomes socialist or communist, telling businesses what they “shouldn’t” do will often just waste your time.

Would I like all content to be free and unencumbered? As a consumer, of course I would. However, I’m realistic enough to know that I don’t live in that utopia.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Pirating Techdirt?

Considering the targeted nature of our content, most companies wouldn’t find any reason to take our content and offer it to others. However, we do actually have some relationships with customers that do *exactly* what you say. We offer them our content at a set price, and they redistribute it to their customers. And, despite what you say, we feel perfectly fine about it.

The point is never that other companies should do the same thing. The point is that it’s more costly to care about these things. Filing a lawsuit and doing all of those things does very little positive for anyone.

Also, I don’t know how many times I need to say this, but I am NOT saying that all content should be free, and that this is a Utopia. In fact, this article actually has nothing to do with that idea, whatsoever. You seem to be mixing apples and oranges. What I do say is that, in a competitive environemnt, the price of any product gets driven towards its marginal cost… and for content that’s usually $0.

It’s not about what I want, it’s about what’s actually happening, and suggesting that companies (and people) figure out business models that work in that environment.

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