September 11, 2008

Blogging Tip #11: Combatting Plagiarism

If you maintain a blog long enough, someone will steal your content. Plagiarism happens all the time in the blogosphere. Particularly blatant cases may involve someone simply copying and pasting one of your entire posts. This is problematic even when you are given credit, but it is plagiarism when the thief attempts to pass your writing off as his or her own. Suppose you find someone plagiarizing your content. What can you do about it?

But I've Given You Credit

Before tackling plagiarism (i.e., your content is used without crediting you as the author), we need to address an often misunderstood and even more common practice - reproducing an entire post with credit. You wrote an excellent post last week, one of which you are really proud. You now discover that another blogger, one whose blog received far more traffic than yours, has cut and pasted your entire post, giving you credit at the bottom of the post. You should be happy, right? After all, you are this blogger is giving you credit for your work and hopefully sending some visitors your way.

Not so fast. Yes, the fact that you've been given credit is good. Unfortunately, not everyone who links to this other blogger is going to do so. Imagine a scenario where Blog A reproduces your entire post and credits you. Blog B, a true giant in the niche along the lines of a Pharyngula, now cites material from your Blog A's post (which is your content) but credits Blog A with authorship rather than you.

I experienced something similar to this recently with one of my posts. I am happy to say that both bloggers - the one who copied my entire post and the one who credited the copier but not me - apologized and corrected their posts. I got lucky. What about next time?

You want other bloggers to link to you, and you want them to quote your content. However, you do not (or should not) want them to reproduce your posts in their entirety on their blog. Quoting excerpts, good; copying whole posts, bad.

Protecting Your Content

The key in protecting your content from plagiarism or other undesirable uses (such as reproducing entire posts), is prevention. If you have not already done so, get a free Creative Commons license for your blog and make sure it is displayed. You need to make it clear what others can and cannot do with your content. Next, run periodic checks on how your content is being used with Copyscape. This can help you identify blog plagiarism.

Assuming you find a blog which is using your content in violation of your license, consider the following steps in the order listed (mildest to most severe):
  1. Contact the blogger. Most of the time, the violation is done out of ignorance rather than malice. Be courteous and assume that no harm was intended. Most of the time, this is all that is necessary.
  2. Contact others in the community. The online atheist community is small and tight enough that many of us may be able to help you track down a blogger who has not responded to your queries. If the blogger has not responded in 1 week, consider using Twitter, Friendfeed, or a similar service to ask around to see if anybody knows what is going on. You are not trying to harm anybody's reputation here - you are just looking for current and reliable contact information for the blogger.
  3. Contact the blogger's hosting company. If the previous steps have yielded no results, contact the hosting company of the blogger in question and inform them that there has been a copyright violation.
  4. Contact the blogger's domain registrar. If neither the blogger nor their hosting company will respond in a reasonable amount of time, try contacting the domain registrar.
  5. File abuse and/or duplicate content reports with various search engines. Since this may result in the other blogger getting banned, you do not want to take this lightly.
  6. Get medieval on the blogger's ass. When all the above fails, the gloves come off. File complaints with copyright-related boards such as Intellectual Property, contact the blogger's advertisers, write a post about the situation on your own blog and send it to every social networking site imaginable, and consider pursuing legal action.
For some recommended reading about protecting your content and how to deal with plagiarism of your blog, consult the following:
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