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.

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  1. identicon
    Jonathan, 29 Dec 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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