Recently, Annie at The Transplantable Rose discovered her blog was being plagiarized. Although this type of content theft has been going on for a while, the gardening community is just discovering it.
Stealing is Easy
Syndication feeds (RSS and Atom being the most common) make it easy for others to steal your content. Anyone can go to your blog, select your text, and then copy it and paste it into their own website. If all they wanted was the content from that one post, and their conscience didn’t bother them, they just might do that. But most online plagiarists want to accumulate content as fast as they can, usually with ad income as their ultimate goal. Using RSS to feed your content directly into their site is a more efficient way to accomplish their goal.
Do you publish a full or partial feed?
Blogging software is designed to publish syndication feeds, so you need to know what kind of content those feeds are making available: are you publishing a full feed, that is, the post in its entirety, or a partial feed, an excerpt or summary? In WordPress, go to Options and choose the Reading sub-tab. In Blogger, choose Settings, go to Site Feed, and then the drop-down box labeled Allow Blog Feeds. For TypePad, go to Edit Configurations, then Publicity & Feeds. You should find out what your blog is currently publishing—if you didn’t already know.
You probably realize that the simplest solution is to publish a partial feed exclusively. And if that doesn’t conflict with your other goals for your blog, that’s the way to go. But life isn’t always simple, is it? Many people prefer to read blogs in a feed reader, and want to extend the same courtesy to readers of their own blog. Some people are signed up with a service such as Blogburst, which distributes their content to other publishers and insists on full feeds. These bloggers will want to find a different way to protect themselves from content theft.
Formulate a usage policy
What should you do if you want to publish a full content feed without getting your content stolen? As soon as something is published, it is protected by copyright law. But even though your work is protected from the get-go, it is much easier to obtain compliance with the law if your policies are explicitly stated on your blog. It could be as simple as “All rights reserved,” or could encompass several paragraphs. Many people use the Creative Commons website to help them develop and publish a policy for their blog. However you manage to do it, make sure you develop a policy on how your content may be used, and by whom, and publish it on your website.
Include the policy in your feed
Obviously the people reading stolen content are not going to see your policy. That’s why you need to include a brief synopsis of your policy in the feed itself. If you use Blogger, there is a box to enter text that will appear in a Post Feed Footer. You can find this text box on the Site Feed page mentioned earlier. Type in the message that you wish to appear at the end of every post. If you use WordPress, there are several plugins to help you do this job. I am not as familiar with TypePad, and I could not find any information on inserting additional text into a feed. However, you can sign up for a Feedburner Feed, and then use Feedburner’s Feed Flare feature to append your policy to your feed.
Dealing with the thieves
Some thieves are savvy enough to know that such an explicitly stated policy is legally indefensible, and the software they use to steal content filters such feeds out. If you do discover a violation of your policy, you can take steps to stop it. Most plagiarists will pull your content as soon as you give notice that they’ve been found out. There is too much for them to lose if you pursue your case further, and too much other unprotected content they can use in its place.
You should realize that even though it’s protected by copyright, people are allowed to copy small parts of your work in order to reference it, explain it, review it and the like. This is called fair use. Excerpt feeds are usually regarded as fair use, but if your published policy specifically prohibits the use of your feed under certain circumstances, such as in conjunction with advertising, and those stipulations are being violated, the plagiarist will probably stop using your feed when you give notice.
Yes, I said probably. There’s no accounting for fools, and the plagiarist may not even speak your language. It may take more than an unemotional statement of the facts to achieve compliance with your policy, and you may have to extend your reach to the offender’s webhost or advertisers. Resist the temptation to blow off steam. If you keep your tone professional, you convey the idea that you know your rights and know how to take legal action, making the offender more interested in complying before things get to that point.
More information available
There is actually quite a bit of information available on content theft and it makes sense to invest the time to educate yourself. Jonathan Bailey has made online plagiarism his specialty, and his articles at the Blog Herald and his own blog are informative and well written. I’ve been a longtime fan of Lorelle VanFossen, and I still think her article on stopping content theft (listed below) is the best I’ve found. She’s even designed some buttons and badges to help you advertise your stand on content theft. The sources listed below will help you get up to speed on this important issue. Many of them are also on my list of links.
- The Basics of Fair Use by Jonathan Bailey explains the concept of fair use and how it is determined
- How to Detect Plagiarism and Content Theft by Bailey describes techniques for discovering content theft
- Finding Stolen Content and Copyright Infringements by Lorelle VanFossen, is similar to Bailey’s article but contains an overview of actions to take
- What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content by VanFossen is both easy to understand and detailed enough to get the job done
- How to Stop Plagiarism Cold by Bailey, is even more detailed than Lorelle’s and especially useful if content theft is a frequent problem
- Protecting Images by Bailey, lists and evaluates techniques to prevent image theft
- Crash Course in Copyright provided by the University of Texas, it covers issues of special interest to educators
- Copyrights, Blogs, News, Content Aggregation and RSS Feeds by Andis Kaulins the Law Pundit, old but relevant review of court decisions
Don’t get mad and don’t get even. Deal with the problem quickly and professionally, and get back to blogging.