How to Fight Plagiarism and Copyright Violations of Web Content
I have written a great deal of content over the past 12 years and in that time, many things I've written, from web pages to Hubs have been stolen and republished in everything from blogs, to websites and more.
It's disheartening, it can make you angry and upset that people do this, but it also highlights some very important lessons for ALL of us who make a living on the internet.
Do you really know everything there is to know about plagiarism? How about copyright law? Do you know how to protect yourself? Are you guilty of theft without realizing it? If you're new to writing for the web chances are you just might be. Do you know how to protect yourself? Do you understand how copyright works and how to discover if your content has been stolen?
The answer to all these questions is answered here!
Ignorance may be bliss, but it isn't an excuse!
Some people who compile information from the internet are genuinely ignorant of plagiarism and theft. There is a pervasive and misguided belief that if it appears on the internet it must be “free”. While the internet has gifted us with an unfathomable amount of information at our fingertips, it has also given rise to many problems. The sense of entitlement to others intellectual property being the main one. Not all people who “steal” content are aware that what they are doing is a crime or even wrong! It's true.
Another problem that is widespread is purchasing stolen content. Some well-intentioned website owners purchase what they think is original content and publish it in good faith, not knowing they have been sold stolen content from unscrupulous individuals.
There are cases of plagiarism and theft due to ignorance (the vast majority probably) and being victimized by unscrupulous content companies, and then there is malicious theft that occurs with things like content scraping. Content scraping is how the unscrupulous seek to make money without working for it.
Some people are guilty of plagiarism by simply not attributing the work of others properly! It can be a very slippery slope, so lets look a bit at plagiarism and copyright law. Learn how to protect yourself from theft of your work and also from being accused of theft or improper usage when it truly wasn't your intention!
This book has everything you need to know to avoid pitfalls and fully understand "fair use" practices. It is a must have for anyone who produces online content whether it's writing, media, graphics etc. If you are a member of Kindle Unlimited you can check it out for free.
Understanding Plagiarism vs Fair Use
First on the list – know the difference between “fair use” and plagiarism. This is important for all writers to know and understand.
Under fair use laws, it is perfectly legal to take a sample of something and then write your own thoughts on that subject. A great example is book and movie reviews. You can't obviously take large chunks of the original work and publish it, but you can take a small quote and place it in your piece so long as it is properly attributed.
Reprinting an entire chapter of a book is obviously not allowed under fair use. A short paragraph or quote is considered fair use, so long as it is properly attributed and used within your own original work. For example, if you are reviewing a book and talking about your thoughts and feelings and you use a short quote from a character that really moved you, that would be acceptable. Giving away the entire plot line and placing large chunks of the original text in your piece - definitely not acceptable.
Posting a clip of a trailer for a movie by embedding the official trailer from YouTube – good; posting pirated movie clips or the whole movie – bad! (and will probably get you sued!)
Discussing a great album and linking to an MP3 sample on iTunes is good. Discussing an awesome song and offering an illegal MP3 of the entire thing – bad. (and again likely to get you sued).
Talking about Susie's blog post with a short sentence or two and then promoting the post and linking to the original encouraging your readers to view it – good! (with permission, when in doubt ask) Copying and pasting Susie's blog post to your own blog even with the authors name and then commenting throughout is bad. You've taken her work and used it for your own gain at that point.
Most people understand fair use when it comes to things like movies and music, but they don't place as much value on it when it's just “Susie's blog” etc. However, Susie's original content is protected by law just as much as any other original intellectual property. She may not have high power attorneys to sue people, but there are still steps she can take to protect her work and to cause a lot of problems for those who steal her work.
Are you like Susie? Has your content been stolen and you feel helpless and not sure what to do? No worries, I'll show you the all too familiar DMCA complaint process shortly.
What is Proper Attribution - How to Cite Sources Properly
Properly attributed means the original source is mentioned by name in the writing, and a link back to the official website or to purchase the item is given. It is a good rule of thumb to seek permission before doing any of this type of writing to protect yourself.
If you read Susie's really awesome blog post and said something about it in your article, you would name the source by name and give it a working hyperlink at the very least. If you review a book, you would link to the authors website or to the product itself where it can be purchased.
If you are citing studies in a health article, it is advisable to use the name in the article with an asterisk or number and then link to the original study at the bottom of your piece.
Example: According to a study at the *Prestigious Medical Study University etc etc. The name of the source of information is italicized. At the bottom of the piece place an asterisk and then the official name of the study and source so that your hyperlink would read something like the following: XYZ Study, Prestegious Medical Study University, published in soandso journal March 2012 … something to that effect.
There are tools online you can use to properly cite sources! EasyBib is a Free automatic bibliography and citation generator
How Can I Tell if it's Plagiarism?
Most people have a general understanding of plagiarism and what it means, but you may or may not understand the full scope of it. So how can you tell if something is bordering on plagiarism?
Using a direct quote or any amount of someone's text without attribution is plagiarism. Most may not think it's a big deal, but it can get you in hot water really fast.
Simply rewording someone's piece of writing or “paraphrasing” is theft! It is not your own simply because you reworded or regurgitated what you just read.
Theft of original ideas – this gets tricky, because let's face it, if you think of it, chances are someone else has too. It's fine to have the same knowledge and information as others, it is not OK to just repeat what they said or steal their recipe and claim it's yours. For example, a lot of people make soap as I do. I have written many articles on soap making, as have other crafters. It is not plagiarism to write about soap making. When you use your own original thoughts, ideas and experiences you can rest assured you are not plagiarizing. If however I visit Mary's soap website and I just repeat what I've read, even if it's not the same exact wording, it IS still plagiarism. I am not using original ideas or speaking from experience or my own knowledge. This is where a lot of internet copy goes into those grey areas.
Not citing official sources can also be considered plagiarism. If you get information from a study for example, you must cite the study appropriately in the body of work or it's technically plagiarism.
Video by Bainbridge College on Plagiarism with Excellent Examples
Protect Your Content!
- You can check your content for free by taking a few sentences out of the middle of your article or content and doing a Google search with the phrase in quotes. This is very effective, but honestly extremely inefficient.
- You can also go to CopyScape and place a URL or copy and paste your content to check for plagiarism. This service is free for a set number of searches, after that it is 5 cents per check. This isn't a bad deal for those who have minimal amounts of content, but it is manual and time consuming.
- You can sign up for protection of your website content on DMCA.com they offer free badges or a premium monthly service that protects your website pages from content, gives you several free "take downs" and also templates to do unlimited manual take downs of stolen content. It also makes your pages "right click proof", preventing people from simple copy and paste theft. There are many quality free and premium features here for protecting your site content.
- Another great website for checking your content manually is the free plagiarism checker from Small SEO Tools. (Google it) Paste your content into the window and it will check your content line by line for plagiarism. This is also handy if you want to ensure that something you have written will not trip Google's plagiarism sensors! It is a very nice tool, but it is harsh :) it will catch even common phrases and flag them.
Understanding Copyright Law
Did you know? The moment you write something it is protected by an implied copyright. It isn't necessary to file copyright protection on every piece you write.
When you create a larger project, say a full website or a book, then it is a good idea to go ahead and file for copyright as an extra means to protect your investment. Copyrights on file are just added insurance in case you should have to sue in the future to recover damages. Not worthwhile for small articles, definitely worthwhile for full collections!
Ok, so I am already protected what to do if someone stole my stuff?
This is where you have to be proactive and be willing to confront those who steal content, particularly if it's websites that profit from scraping large amounts of content. This is all too common lately and it's a real problem for many hubbers as well as those with blogs and other popular websites.
Some seem to believe that since it's so rampant it's not worth the trouble to even fight back - I say that's an understandable, but not very helpful point of view. In order to solve a problem, it is important to be a proactive part of the solution, not to just expect others to do the work for you.
If you see work stolen verbatim this is likely due to "content scraping". If you find work of yours that is paraphrased, but in the same order and you can definitely tell it is just your work reworded, this is somewhat harder to prove, but it is still theft and should be reported.
How to File a DMCA Complaint
First, you want to do a free "whois" search on the domain where your stolen content is located. Google search "free whois search" and many possibilities will come up. Type the full domain of the offending site in and then information will appear telling you who owns the domain, where they are located and contact information. Often this information is unfortunately bogus, particularly for sites that are knowingly ripping off content.
You can use this information to send a cease and desist formal letter - or go straight to Google and file a complaint through them to get their site unlisted. They have a very painless automated process that allows you to do this by simply filling out a form. You will be asked upfront if the stolen content is on YouTube, Blogger, in search results etc. from there you will answer some basic questions and then fill out the form shown below.
Have you filed a DMCA complaint before?
Google is fairly quick in most instances to take down offending sites, but it's very important to be thorough in filling out their form. This will de-index the site from Google's search engine but will NOT force the offending party to remove your content. For that, you have to contact the official site owners with a DMCA complaint. You can find many templates online for how to write the letters.
Whatever path you choose, don't just let them get away with it. It's important not only for your own writing, but for the writing community of professionals as a whole that we all do our part to stop content theft.
- FAQ about Copyright -- Chilling Effects Clearinghouse
Anything you can possibly need to know and understand about copyright, cease and desist notifications and fair use.
Sample DMCA Letter
Below is a sample cease and desist letter you can send to help get your content removed from websites. If you cannot contact the website owner directly, use the whois search to discover who is hosting their website and contact the webhost.
This sample can be tweaked a bit, but should cover your basic needs.
Subject: Copyright Infringement Notice - Cease and Desist
It has come to my attention that my copyrighted work " Insert title(s) here" has been displayed on your website without permission.
The copyrighted work at issue is the (text, images, whatever the infringing content is) that appears on http://www.locationoftheft.com/thispage.html
The URL where our original copyrighted material is located is http://www.youroriginalcontenturl.com.
I can be reached via email or phone for further information and clarification of this matter. (put your contact info here)
Next you can include any other information that may be pertinent such as who posted your content to the site their user ID or email for example
"The user ID of the individual who has reprinted my content illegaly is JoeSchmoe"
After all of the information is in place, DO use the following statements.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information shared here is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner.
I have a good faith belief that the use of the copyrighted materials above was not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
© 2013 Christin Sander