Aug 09 2007

Copyright and Plagiarism on Blogs

Published by Meg at 1:50 pm under Australian Blogs, blogging

If you are serious;

  • about blogging,
  • about building credibility as a blogger,
  • about increasing your blog karma, and
  • about being perceived as a professional

then perhaps you should consider this.

There exists in Australia (and other countries in the world) two notions we should be aware of. One is that of Copyright Law, and the other of “plagiarism”.

I am not a lawyer, and have not had any specific legal training in this area. This is not meant to be an exhaustive post on the intricacies of Copyright Law, or legal advice, just some of the implications for bloggers. You should always seek expert legal advice.

Essentially it comes down to a fine line, that most of us (as bloggers) probably test regularly, but which we really should be much more conscious of.

A few fundamentals of Australian Copyright Law

  • In Australia, copyright law is set out in the Copyright Act 1968.
  • Copyright does not have to be registered, as soon as a work is created, it is protected by copyright (assuming “skill and effort” went in to creating it)
  • Australian copyright owners are protected in most other countries
  • Always look for permission about what you can and can’t do with material. Some websites may permit you to download, share or even reproduce the work, but unless this is expressly permitted in writing on the website, you should contact the website owner, or the original creator of the work, and seek permission in writing
  • Even if there is permission, you need to be sure that it is the original copyright owner has authorised it being there
  • Just because the author (or creator) is unknown, that doesn’t mean that copyright does not exist (you know those funny emails that go around that we all like to share :O )
  • You do not need to display the © symbol for copyright to exist
  • It’s important to keep in mind that an individual blog post or article is the “work”, not the whole of the website or even web page. Copying directly even a part of a work, can be deemed “substantial”. Substantial is defined as “important, distinctive or essential”
  • It does seem to be permissible to reproduce a larger part of a work, provided it is for the purpose of criticism or review, and provided there is genuine analysis
  • Photographs and images are subject to copyright too - be careful!
  • Bloggers might think about including their own copyright statement outlining what can and can’t be done with their work.

What can be done if your copyright is infringed?

  1. Email the owner of the offending site. Jonathan Bailey has an excellent series of three posts (Plagiarism-Fighting Network Tools) outlining how to do just this
  2. Contact the ISP - as they can also be liable for permitting the copyright infringement
  3. If that doesn’t work, you might need to take legal action

Reference: Australia Copyright Council.

See also the Basics of Copyright by Miles Burke

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is different to copyright. Plagiarism deals with

…taking the ideas of another person and passing them off as your own.

Even though you might not directly copy a chunk of work, even though you might paraphrase the content, you are still plagiarising and it is a form of content theft.

Wikipedia differentiates copyright infringement and plagiarism as such:

While both terms may apply to a particular act, they emphasize different aspects of the transgression. Copyright infringement is a violation of the rights of the copyright holder, when material is used without the copyright holder’s consent. On the other hand, plagiarism is concerned with the unearned increment to the plagiarizing author’s reputation.

To avoid plagiarism, it’s always best to make reference to your source (i.e. link to it) and use quotations where possible. If you find a post, video or website through another blog, I think it’s good karma if your cite the “middle blog”.

A Few Thoughts

There are lots of aggregating blogs and sites out there. It’s probably “within the guidelines” for these sites to present an excerpt from your post (usually the first few lines of the entry), with a link back to you, however frustrating it may be. Without original content on these sites, it’s unlikely that they’re ever going to amount to much. And they usually move on pretty quickly. But if you object, you can ask them to stop aggregating your posts.

What annoys me the most are the bloggers who should know better. The bloggers who are presenting themselves as “serious bloggers”. Not the scum sucking content scrapers (who’ll eventually get their day).

Having to assert yourself (and your copyright) is not a particularly pleasant task for many. Last week it happened to me, and I wasn’t sure how to handle it. The (Australian) blogger in question simply copied and pasted some of my content. This blogger did not even include a link as to where the information came from, so anybody arriving at the page would have no clue as to the original source.

I sent an email, explaining that I thought what the blogger had done was wrong. I did not demand removal, I left that to the bloggers discretion. More than two days later the content of the post was replaced with a message saying it was removed because I asked for it to be removed as I wasn’t credited. This wasn’t accurate and I left a comment clarifying this. [Update 10/8: The blog post is now removed, along with a previous link to this site, and previous comment from me.]

Other Bloggers’ Advice

Lorelle on Wordpress has an excellent post entitled “What Do you Do When Someone Steals your Content”. I’d highly recommend that you read it. Some of it is not applicable in Australia, but provides a great overview of the process. She includes a sample letter, which may be a little on the stern side, but would certainly not leave the copyright infringer with any doubt about how you feel on the subject.

Lorelle makes a very valuable point

DO NOT SEEK REVENGE: Spamming, publicizing, or abusing the content thief will only bring suffering back to you. Stay professional. Defacing someone’s website, targeted spamming, and even publicizing the copyright violation can lead to criminal and legal action being taken against you. Even if legal action is not brought against you, your reputation may be ruined by such attacks. Be professional. There is a time and place for public outcries. The beginning of the process is not the time to go public.

It’s very easy to fall in to the temptation of “outing” the thief, but you need to manage the situation carefully.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger also has a good post entitled “What to do When Someone Steals Your Blog’s Content - Blog Plagiarism“. At step 5 he suggests

Shame the suckers! - I guess that is what this post is about. Name and Shame them - expose them for the thieves that they truly are.

Other resources

Copyscape

iPlagiarismcheck (which Andy Beard reviewed recently in “Outsourcing and Plagiarism Checkers“).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Has content theft happened to you? How did you resolve the issues?

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33 Responses to “Copyright and Plagiarism on Blogs”

  1. Christine Parfitton 09 Aug 2007 at 3:27 pm

    You provide some great detail in your posts Meg - thanks!

  2. Megon 09 Aug 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks Christine :)

  3. Andy Beardon 09 Aug 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks for the link Meg

    iPlagiarismCheck is more of a tool to make sure your outsourced writers are sticking to the rules.

    As for plagiarism of my own content, I license under GPL, and make sure every article has lots of internal links, and then let them do what they like.
    With Google Reader so easily used as a way of segregating content for republishing, there is no sensible way to block it, and the backlinks help you define ownership in the search engines.

  4. Snoskredon 09 Aug 2007 at 4:44 pm

    I stumbled it, another brilliant post Meg. :)

    Snoskred
    http://www.snoskred.org/

  5. Miles Burkeon 09 Aug 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Great informative post, and thanks for the link.

  6. Megon 09 Aug 2007 at 8:24 pm

    @ Andy - what exactly are the implications of “GPL”? Do you have this referenced on your site?

    @ Snoskred - thanks :)

    @ Miles - thanks, it was good to find a local reference. I might have saved myself some time if I’d searched more comprehensively before, rather than after, writing the post :)

  7. lorion 10 Aug 2007 at 2:00 am

    I have had this happen to me twice.

    Once someone reproduced my posts on livejournal in an effort to harrass me, so I contacted the Livejournal abuse team and they shut the LJ down.

    secondly time, someone in china used a photo I had taken, and had hotlinked it rather than save a copy to their own server.

    I just removed the photo from my site, bandwidth theft for me is a bigger problem than copying my posts.

  8. Colin Campbellon 10 Aug 2007 at 2:46 am

    A lot of bloggers tread a very fine line on this and as the sphere matures, you see much more attribution of sources and recognition of the source, even if it is just recognising somebody else for being clever in finding something. I hope that it does not become too regulated and managed in this area. We don’t need lawyers to make any more money.

  9. Andy Beardon 10 Aug 2007 at 2:52 am

    It is actually references at the bottom of every post, but there is a CSS problem looking at the site in Firefox that seems to hide it.
    It does appear in all feeds though.

    The legal implications are that someone can legally take all my content and compile it into something else, even for sale, as long as for the parts that are used there is attribution, and if modified that they don’t claim it was written by me, purely adapted.

    It also gets interesting on the reuse, as I can then use whatever they create in my own stuff.

    There are additional things to do with software under GPL, whereby if you use someone’s GPL code, you in theory have to also provide source code on request (though most make that freely available)

    I look on attribution as being links back to the original

  10. Megon 10 Aug 2007 at 1:00 pm

    @ Lori - glad you were able to resolve both issues. I would have been tempted to replace the image with something obnoxious ;)

    @ Colin - I think a lot of the sharing is pretty harmless, and agree that we shouldn’t get too obsessed about it. As you say, a “hat tip” is a nice gesture.

    But there’s right and wrong, and wrong can certainly hurt your reputation.

    @ Andy - I knew I had seen it somewhere!

    Is that more appropriate for the coding work you do, than your general posts?

  11. Snoskredon 10 Aug 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Meg said - @ Lori - glad you were able to resolve both issues. I would have been tempted to replace the image with something obnoxious

    Like Tubgirl?

    If you don’t know what that is, don’t google image search it, just forget I mentioned it.. there’s life before you see tubgirl and life after it and the two do not resemble each other.. ;)

  12. Megon 10 Aug 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Snos

    Oh YUCK. Curiosity killed the cat, as they say. Do NOT try this at home.

  13. Snoskredon 10 Aug 2007 at 1:37 pm

    I told you not to look! People, don’t look - text search for the Wikipedia on it if you really must know. And make sure you have images turned OFF. ;)

    We like to send that one to the 419 scammers when we’re done playing with them. I don’t think they appreciate it as much as they should! ;) I would have thought they would write back to us thanking us for thinking to send them such an image, but oddly they come back with death threats. I can’t understand it. Maybe it’s me. ;)

    Snoskred
    http://www.snoskred.org/

  14. Daniel Sweeton 10 Aug 2007 at 11:51 pm

    By the way - the U.S. has the same type of copyright law. The content doesn’t need to be registered (although it helps during a lawsuit). It is automatically copyrighted when it is created.

    Thanks for the article! The only question I have is how I would know if the plagiarism happens. And if I would want to take the time to find them…

    Dan

  15. Jonathan Baileyon 11 Aug 2007 at 7:34 am

    Excellent post! Thank you for the info on Australian copyright law as it is not something I know very well. I will have to bookmark this for future reference. As a note to anyone in the U.S. or EU, there is no significant difference between what is talked about in this primer and copyright laws in those locations.

    If you or anyone has a copyright issue, please feel free to email me at my site or visit the legal issues forum at performancing.com. I will gladly help out any way that I can.

    Thank you again for this wonderful post and for the mention!

  16. Darleneon 11 Aug 2007 at 9:21 am

    In my short tenure as a blogger, I have had this happen to me. It was a website, not a blogger that literally copied my post and pasted it into a online newletter, newspaper type thing. I contacted them and they never responded. I finally let it go.

    Your post is full of excellent information for all bloggers to consider. I appreciate your post. I shall stumble your post!

  17. Megon 11 Aug 2007 at 10:59 am

    @ Daniel, I daresay plagiarism is a lot harder to track and substantiate, and the legal remedy more difficult. Doesn’t make it right, however!

    @ Jonathan - I had meant to link your name to Plagiarism Today (which I’ve now added - sorry!).

    Many thanks for your feedback and terrific work in this area :)

    @ Darlene - sorry that happened to you. I guess there comes a point where you have to wonder whether it’s worth the energy to fight it….

    Thanks for your comments

  18. Rodon 11 Aug 2007 at 11:13 am

    Creative Commons is probably worth a mention too:
    http://creativecommons.org.au/

    I use CC to cover photos at http://www.goldcoastinfo.net/photos/ so people can use the shots to do whatever they want as long as they provide attribution (well hopefully!).

    I couldn’t be bothered stressing about people using my content so I figured just let people do what they want and hopefully good will might come back.

    Worth checking out and being aware of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DMCA too.

    Great post, Meg! Again!

  19. Jonathan Baileyon 11 Aug 2007 at 11:35 am

    Thank you for the link! I must be the world’s worst blogger though, I didn’t even notice it wasn’t there already.

    Still, thank you very much! Please let me know if I can help in any way!

  20. Megon 11 Aug 2007 at 5:49 pm

    I Just found a couple more interesting links:

    http://smartwealthyrich.com/content-theft-how-i-recently-had-to-deal-with-that

    http://www.blogherald.com/2007/06/25/the-20-best-free-anti-plagiarism-tools/ (found via Jon at Smart Wealthy Rich).

  21. Svetlana Gladkovaon 12 Aug 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Meg, it is an excellent post, thank you very much for sending me the link. I would love to share my experience. As soon as Profy started to get a descent amount of visitors, we have seen all our posts bluntly copied by a splog (something named Daily Clerks). And we saw our content due to internal links same as Andy mentioned so that still remains the onlyway to see content theft for us: I know there are some WP plugins that help you track content theft but my experience in dealing with the situation proved knowing where the content is does not necessarily mean you will be able to remove it.

    So first thing about this splog was that they simply had ABSOLUTELY NO contact information on the website, not any single email or contact form. And why would they? We all realize that the only thing they want is grab some money by AdSense, not build a community and communicate with readers or something.

    So contacting them was absolutely impossible and I decided to contact relevant department of 1&1 - the ISP of the splog. Surprisingly, despite I received an initial confirmation that my email had been received and they were starting to work on it, I have never been informed that they were able to do something and I still notice the splog stealing certain posts (tagged with some special words that must bring them more traffic).

    So this definitely was not a pleasant experience. But now I rarely see our posts copied in full - I only see a few lines aggregated and linked to the original post. Surprisingly, such links even generate some (small) traffic.

  22. Megon 12 Aug 2007 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Svetlana

    Thanks for sharing your experience - I hope that you get it sorted out.

    Do you agree that we, as bloggers, should also assume some of the responsibility for alerting other bloggers that their content is being copied?

    What I mean is that if we get pings from duplicated posts, we can’t always assume that the original source is aware of it. I guess a quick email to the original source wouldn’t hurt.

    I wonder if there is a site that collects and lists these blogs, though I suppose you have to be careful about defamation then. It seems that collectively we might make more noise than individually…

  23. Rodon 13 Aug 2007 at 11:58 am

    Re making a list: it’s worth taking a look at the profile of high level spammer. Generally they’ll work in bulk volumes ie. hundreds if not thousands of domains completely auto generated right from the domain registration through to the content grabbing and site generation. Then moving on to bulk auto gen form/comment spamming for link generation.

    From a technical point of view usually they are quite talented, just misguided. Personally I wouldn’t see much value in creating a list apart from making a target out of yourself for what is generally very technically talented people.

    So why do they do it? Easy question, it’s a numbers game. If one site can make as little as a dollar a day and you have an automated app spewing out hundreds of sites a week the dollars start adding up!

    So how do you fight it? Take away the income, a while ago Google started making moves on this kind of thing and if you come across it just email G and apparently they act and reportedly have closed accounts. Do some searches for Google and scraped content I think there has been a lot written about it.

    The other point worth noting is that G is also very good at determining the content originator for the matter of search rankings.

    What about the ‘one time’ or ’small time’ content scraper? Try to make contact with them and make a relationship! Yep, make them a content syndication partner. That person could have some talents in site generation that could be put to good use particularly if you have some input. That concept can be a little hard to grasp at first but you need to remember newspapers (online) are syndicating content daily.

    Thats my thoughts!

  24. Megon 13 Aug 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Hi Rod

    I meant to thank you for the links you left earlier…

    I can see your point about making a target out of any site that contains such a list, and it would probably just serve to direct more traffic to the site in any case.

    I have seen some posts about Google being pretty swift to act in these situations, which is encouraging.

    Thanks again for your input :)

  25. Svetlana Gladkovaon 13 Aug 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Meg, unfortunately I have not had that situation sorted out because I never managed to contact the splogger (I even found him registering his blog on MBL and contacted the community owner there but he never replied, of course). 1&1 did not take any actions and the splog is still alive and is still stealing content (but rarely from Profy now).

    As for your question, I do think it is worth a quick email if you find someone else’s content stolen but again, it is quite difficult to have your content removed or at least acknowledged. I myself invariably find our posts stolen because of the high number of internal links but I rarely know what I could do about this. But your idea about creating a list of splogs is good, I think - it won’t even take much efforts from all of us because we can easily collect all the trackbacks from splogs. And in order not to make the owner of such a list a target for the sploggers to attack, we can for example create a new group of StumbleUpon to post all the splogs there. And we could also email Google abuse department about this group so that they could track new postings and take actions. But still I see a problem: we will need to “discover” the splogs to be able to post them into the group. And I definitely would not want to generate traffic for splogs myself. Besides, you can not click thumbs down when discovering a new site – only the following voters can use this option. Any ideas?

  26. Snoskredon 13 Aug 2007 at 11:51 pm

    Svetlana said - I myself invariably find our posts stolen because of the high number of internal links

    That’s one way. I have recently found a couple by google alerts.

    If you set up google alerts for your name and the name of your blog, this can be really useful. Setting up google alerts is simple and easy, I posted a how to on my blog a little while back which (hopefully Meg won’t mind me linking to it) you can find here.

    Handy Blog Tips

    I think emailing google is an excellent way to go - and here’s an idea which might help.

    When I was working against the 419 scammers, we often had to report fake banking websites to webhosts. In order to make it easier to report them we came up with a template - you could just fill in the blanks.

    I suggest someone (unfortunately not me, I’m a bit flat out right now, sorry!) takes the time to write up a simple I found this blog (insert blog link) which has stolen my content, this is against blah de blah and blah de blah, the website breaks your terms of service (have one for google, have one for other common offenders if there are any) I respectfully request that you immediately remove this website blah blah etc.

    If you make it so simple for people to report, people will happily do it - and we can start to get the splogs shut down. ;)

    Perhaps Matt Cutts could supply a contact at google to whom such reports should go, both for adsense thingys and for blogger blogs?

    You could have a simple, basic template for reporting splogs to advertisers, too. Something like - I just thought you should know you have an ad on this site which has stolen content from myself and other bloggers. I suggest you immediately withdraw your advertisements from this blog.

    Snoskred
    http://www.snoskred.org/

  27. Tinkeron 14 Aug 2007 at 11:30 am

    This is a fabulous Article- Not only a link back to certain bloggers, but think even e-mailing them letting the original owner know they were mentioned, featured etc is just common courtesy. I don’t think anyone has rightly stolen our content but they did with our graphics.

    What’s so frustrating and unfair is we have to pay high dollar for images etc, even when we don’t have to credit them– we still do anyway, but there are many (splogs?) out there who just take images from agency sites etc, and some have more traffic than we do— do good guys always come in last? lol In all honesty, there has been a trend I have seen- for example: So and So blogs about ….today, etc, but I think going the extra MILE so-to-speak and write the original writer is an extra step, not just linking or quoting.

    Is there a site or google alert that lets you know if your content is copied etc? Thanks and nice to meet all of you.

    Tinker Vanderbelt
    PR Girl

  28. Megon 14 Aug 2007 at 11:55 am

    @ Svetlana - I’ll put some thought into it.

    @ Snos - of course I don’t mind the link - very relevant. Lorelle also suggests creating a Google Alert for your byline.

    She’s got an update on some other relevant links for plagiarism in last week’s digest.

    As to some draft letters, that’s a good idea. I’ll have a look into it.

    @ Tinker

    I imagine that image theft is probably one of the most virulent examples of content theft on the internet. Lorelle suggests for images

    “In the ALT attribute, write “Image Copyright MY Name My Blog”. Make sure that your copyright policy includes referencing images and graphics.”

    As for other content, see my comment to Snoskred, and I can recommend her blog tips post.

  29. Tinkeron 14 Aug 2007 at 12:19 pm

    Why have I not found this site before? Thank you for taking time out to answer some of my questions = ) We set up google alert, but since we have 10 staff writers- I guess we can set up by lines on them as well, so we can track information?

    Thank you MEG—- I look forward to reading this very informative site and comments!!!

    Kindest Reards
    Tink

  30. Megon 14 Aug 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks Tink :)

  31. […] over at Blogpond has a great post about Blogging and Plagiarism, which is also worth a […]

  32. […] When you are looking for content for your blog or web site don’t copy it from elsewhere. Fine you can quote sections. That’s sections like a sentences, a paragraph or two, make sure you attribute the source, not the entire article. It’s acceptable to get inspiration from the content, or summarise it. But don’t copy it. It’s against the law. Go have a look at Meg Tsiamis’ Copyright and Plagiarism on Blogs. […]

  33. Top 100 Blogs about Plagiarism |(new comment) on 13 Jan 2011 at 11:26 pm

    […] Blog Pond – Contains information about blogging including details about what plagiarism is and how to avoid […]

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