When it comes to content theft, there is a great deal of confusion.
Not only is copyright law almost impossible to understand, even by most lawyers’ standards, but the technology used to steal content on the Web is often confusing in and of itself.
This confusion has given rise to a series of myths and misunderstandings about content theft, many of which have very negative implications for Webmasters concerned with the rising tide of scraping and plagiarism.
To help dispel some of those myths I, along with Lorelle from Lorelle on WordPress, have put together a list of the most common myths in content theft and explanations for why they are false.
Myth #1: There’s Nothing I Can Do About It
The most common myth by far is that, when it comes to content theft, there is no way to stop it.
The truth is that there are a variety of tools at the disposal of every Webmaster that can detect, track and stop content theft. All one needs to know is where they are and how to use them.
However, the most important tools when dealing with content theft are the laws. If the site is hosted within the United States, something easily determined with Domain Tools, you can then file a DMCA notice with the host the get the content removed. Similar laws exist in most other countries, including Australia and those in the EU.
Even if the site is located outside the range of such laws, you can still file a notice with the search engines and/or their advertisers.
In short, there are many approaches you can take to dealing with content theft. For more information on filing DMCA notices, take a look at my stock letters page and at my DMCA contact information list.
Myth #2: It Takes Too Long to Handle
As someone who has handled well over 600 cases of plagiarism, I know well that this is false. As I demonstrated in a post on my site, an average case of plagiarism should never take longer than twenty minutes to resolve. Most, in fact, can be resolved in less than ten.
What is time consuming is learning how to handle plagiarism and setting up the system to take care of cases that arise. Such a system needs to include detection tools, notice templates (cease and desist, DMCA, etc.) and a system for tracking cases. Still, the fundamentals can be acquired in a few hours and the set up needs to be done only once.
From then on, every case gets easier and faster to handle.
Myth #3: I need a Lawyer To Do Anything
While having a lawyer certainly wouldn’t hurt, you don’t need to have one to take action. To file a DMCA notice, all you have to be is either the copyright holder or an agent authorized to act on the behalf of the rightsholder.
Though you should definitely call an attorney if more difficult issues such as questions about fair use arise or you wish to seek monetary compensation for the infringement, most cases, will not raise such issues. For those, sending out a DMCA notice is a simple process, as basic as sending out an email with a template.
Note: There are very serious legal repercussions to knowingly filing a false DMCA notice. If you have any questions about whether or not a reuse is an infringement, consult with an attorney. Though the vast majority of cases dealing with scraping and/or plagiarism are clearly infringements, if there are any questions you should consult an attorney first to be safe.
Myth #4: I Can’t Do Anything If The Plagiarist Is In Another Country
The Web has connected the entire world in unforeseen ways. Unfortunately, copyright law has not been able to keep up with those changes and internationalization is just one of the many areas in need of an overhaul.
What this means is that having a plagiarist reside in another country can be a very severe handicap, especially if that country is China or Russia, where laws do not force hosts to act on infringing material. However, this doesn’t mean that it is game over if the infringer is located on the other side of the earth.
First, there is a strong possibility that the site itself is hosted in more familiar territory. You can use Domain Tools, linked above, can test for that. Many foreign sites, including those with domain extensions from overseas, are hosted in the U.S. or EU. Since the law is based upon where the server is located, you may still be able to file a takedown notice.
Second, even if you can’t file a takedown notice, you can get the site removed from Google as well as the other search engines. This will at least prevent the site from gaining any benefit from your work.
Finally, many sites use U.S. and EU based services such as ad networks and search engines. You can report such sites to those serves and get critical functionality removed.
All it takes is for one to look objectively at the site and create reasonable expectations for resolution. At the very least, it is better than giving up completely.
Myth #5: At Least They Linked To Me
Links are the currency of the Internet. Links are you how say “thanks” to sites that provide good content, how you provide attribution to a story or simply reference a useful article. It stands to reason that, if a spam blog links to you, it can only benefit you. Unfortunately, that is not how it works.
The problem is that not all links are created equal. Spam blogs obtain their strength through numbers, often into the hundreds of thousands. The traffic of a single post on a single spam blog is very low. Worse still, search engines, generally, don’t put a lot of stock in spam blogs and intentionally downplay the external links on them.
In short, a link in a spam blog is unlikely to net you any traffic or any search engine benefit. Sadly, that is the best-case scenario.
A slightly worse-case scenario is that the search engines don’t detect the blog as spam and rank the copied content higher than yours. As a recent study showed, that can happen even if the source is cited and linked.
However, the worst-case scenario is that the search engines do their job in detecting the spam blog as such but, seeing that your site has many links incoming from them, decides that your site is as well. Collateral damage in Google’s war on spam is not unheard of and it is wise to distance oneself as far from the spammy neighborhoods as possible.
Even if the site isn’t spam-like in nature, having your content copied and linked can be a mixed blessing. I’ve seen attributed use of my own content rank above my site and, though the links can help, many have mixed feelings about this kind of copying versus just paraphrasing or quoting small portions.
Every Webmaster and blogger has to decide for themselves if this is worthwhile. If you do decide to allow such copying, I highly recommend using a Creative Commons License and remember that even with the presence of a Creative Commons License, scraping, attributed or not, is still likely a violation of the license.
Finally, with works licensed under traditional copyright, attribution does not drastically change fair use argument for the scraper. Fair use hinges more upon other factors, including whether the use was transformative and the potential damage to the market for the original work, than attribution. Wholesale copying and pasting is almost certainly an infringement, with or without a link back.
When it comes to content theft, there are myths and confusion everywhere. These are just five of the most common myths I’ve run across in my years of working in this area. Many more are still out there.
So that begs the question, what myths have you heard of or want clarification on?
If you have questions about any of the myths in this piece or have any new ones you want to present, feel free to post a comment.
The quicker we can get to the truth of these matters, the faster we can start working on creating an Internet where content is both free and still productive to those that create it.
If balance is the key to a happier Web, then no one disrupts the balance more than scrapers and plagiarists.