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Anytime I write a blog post that gets a track back from another post, I look into it. I like to see how other blog’s use my post as a resource.
So when a blog I wrote (6 Subheadings Strategies You Need to Know) received a trackback from another post, I went to check it out. But I was disappointed to find that my article was not referenced as a resource. Instead it was only mentioned at the end of the article under an “Acknowledgement.”
But even more troubling, I found that my article wasn’t a resource for the blog post — it was the blog post.
The introductions were slightly different. A few sentences and the conclusion were removed, but the body of the content — the meat — was all mine. Even the image, selected and used by the publisher Blog World, was the same.
A Copyscape report showed that 366 words matched 54% of the original text. You can see all of the pink text that was copied from the original.
In my mind this seemed like an obvious case of plagiarism. I wanted to know how sites got away with this, so I reached out to Richard Stim (an attorney and author who specializes in copyright, patents, and trademark issues) and explained the situation to him.
But his explanation didn’t really back up my plagiarism accusation.
“What you describe is not plagiarism but it may be copyright infringement.
Plagiarism is not a legal standard – it’s when someone else poses as the originator of your words or ideas.
Copyright infringement is a legal standard – it’s when someone makes unauthorized use of your copyrighted material.”
To explain the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement, Stim showed me an example of plagiarism that he encountered at his company Nolo, an online library of legal information.
Stim’s team wrote post for the Nolo blog (Ten Tips for Songwriters: Credits, Copyrights, and Coauthors).
According to Stim, their article was then plagiarized and posted on the Find Law blog (Songwriter Tips for Copyright, Credit, and Royalties).
In this case, the content was not copied word for word. Instead the second article is an extremely close representation of the original author’s words and ideas — which fits within the definition of plagiarism.
As you can see, strings of words in these two articles don’t exactly match up. But the message of each section contains almost the exact same messages. Stim says this is an example of plagiarism.
Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is when someone makes unauthorized use of your original work — reproducing your content as is. Copyright infringement is the more accurate way to describe what happened to me (and Blog World, I might add).
In my situation, the publisher for Social Media Company attributed the post through an “acknowledgement” and a link. I asked Stim if that attribution is enough? Does acknowledgement give the right to reproduce content? Does it negate the copyright infringement?
“Attribution has zero effect on determining whether copyright infringement has occurred.
It’s kind of like if someone stole your car but was nice enough to paint your name on the side; you’re still the victim of car theft.
It’s possible that attribution may be considered as a mitigating factor when determining damages for copyright infringement (which is more likely if the borrower sought to locate the copyright owner but failed) or a judge may consider it an aggravating factor (proof that the borrower knew you were the author but went ahead and ripped you off anyway).”
So it seems that attribution doesn’t right the wrong — especially in my case, where the acknowledgment came right before the “author” bio (which seems like an oxymoron to me).
After looking at a few other articles on Social Media Company’s blog, it became pretty evident that the site is scraping content.
“Scraping Content” is an automated process that scrapes a site, copies its content, and republishes it on another site.
Social Media Company isn’t the only company scraping content. All content that can be viewed on a webpage can be scraped, so many sites take this as an opportunity to find content relevant to their audience and swipe it. It’s also not likely to stop anytime soon.
Google doesn’t like it either and is doing their best to protect writers and publishers. This excerpt from their Webmaster Tools breaks down their views on scraped content.
But the fact of the matter remains, a lot of websites are scraping and stealing content.
I asked Stim what he recommend authors and/or publishers do if this happens to them.
“That’s a tough call. You can write to the borrower and ask them to remove it, citing your copyright ownership. You can exert rights under the DMCA and have the borrower’s ISP take down the entry. But filing a lawsuit would probably not be worth your efforts unless you could demonstrate a financial injury that would justify the attorney fees.”
So scraped and stolen, what’s the next step?
For me… nothing.
I’m not going after Social Media Company, and I doubt that Blog World will either. When it comes to scrapers that steal content, the best thing to do is protect your content from being scrapped in the first place.
While it isn’t really worth it to take legal action, you could contact the site and ask them to remove it. Or you can report the site to Google if you want to take it one step further.
But if it’s more than a scraper and someone is out there stealing your work (copyright infringement) or your ideas (plagiarism), at least now you know the difference and can be armed to fight the fight… when it’s worth it.
Richard Stim is an author and attorney specializing in small business, copyright, patents, and trademark issues. He writes about these topics on his blog Dear Rich Blog and for the blog on Nolo.com, one of the largest online resources for legal information. Stay tuned for more posts featuring answers from our interview with him.
This article does not intend to provide any legal advice whatsoever.