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Catching the Content Cheats

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Yesterday, Aaron Wall of SEO Book (who you should be reading, by the way) brought my attention to what has to be one of the most flagrant instances of content theft I’ve seen in a while. Hitwise, the online analysis arm of the Experian empire had used a graph from one of SEO Book’s recent blog posts in a webinar, but had gone through the trouble of removing the SEO Bok logo, in an attempt to pass the work off as their own. A reader alerted Aaron to the fact, and he – entirely justifiably – called out Hitwise and Experian for stealing his content.

We’ve been here before. Remember the Daily Nation and the African Executive? Then, as now, it is plagiarism, plain and simple. Lifting content wholesale and sticking it on your website is just as bad as a university student copying somebody else’s essay and submitting it for marking. Not only that, but it is bad manners. If you have found something useful and believe that other people might be able to make use of it, and if you are going to duplicate it elsewhere, at least have the good grace to get permission first.

Hitwise eventually left a half-hearted apology on the SEO Book post, but quite frankly, such a large company ought to know better. As slotclash noted soon afterwards, “Airbrushing out the logo is a bit more than an ‘oversight.” What’s most galling is that if the situation were reversed and a blogger used a Hitwise report on their blog without attribution, you know that copyright infringement notices would not be slow in appearing.

Links make the internet; without them we’d all be scrabbling in the dark. I have noticed that the occasional blog post here will have a snippet appear on some obscure website that seems to trawl for keywords in a search for content. Even in this ambiguous sphere, the majority will link back here, rather than pilfer an entire blog post without attribution. The worst time for me came when I was doing the New Entrepreneur series, which apparently caught the eye of a member of a LinkedIn group, who proceeded to lift whole chunks of my posts and share them amongst group members. Then, one of the group members, one Mr. Adams, decided to repost the same content on his own blog. FairShare threw up instances where he had copied between 12 percent and 62 percent of my blog posts.

Now, who should I be angry at? On the one hand, it was flattering to think that somebody found the blog series useful enough to share with others, but on the other, it is bad netiquette to copy and paste entire articles rather than linking back to the source. A couple of paragraphs is OK, but close to two-thirds of an article most definitely isn’t. And then there’s Mr. Adams, who appears to be a lawyer. One would hope that over 30 years of practice would have gifted him at least a passing acquaintance with copyright law. Not only was my permission not sought, but aside from the “by Stephanie” at each of the copied segements, there is no way for the casual reader to know where the content came from. And I’m willing to bet there are more than a few Stephanies online.

Content is king, and good content is worth protecting. I use FairShare, Copyscape and a variety of other tools to keep an eye on where my content is appearing and whether it’s being ripped off. For those who value their blogs, especially those who hope to monetise their offerings in some way, it’s important to know how your content is being used. And if you find that somebody is trying to pass off your work as their own, rather than assuming you can’t do anything about it, call out the content cheats and shame them, just as Aaron Wall did.

[Image by TakomaBibelot]

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