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Copyright and plagiarism

There's a thread over at ProBlogger about stealing web content. I've had this happen to me more than once, though it's fairly rare because almost all of my content is freely available for re-use as long as it's attributed correctly and linked back to the original article when possible.

So I only go after these kind of people if they have taken content and haven't attributed it back to be. I've had that happen now and then, but most of the time it's easily straightened out. Rarely, there's some jerk who ignores me and keeps on doing it.

I don't get too crazy about it. Simply said, I don't think they can keep up with me. They could put bots in to automatically steal stuff as it's published, but they'll have to edit it or they'll just have links right back to me. That editing can be automated, of course, but it's going to slip up on the more complex references and intersite stuff, and of course if they are trying to make money from Google, you bet I'm going to complain to them. They may not do anything, but it doesn't hurt to try.

I'm also going to block their ip if I can easily figure out who they are. If I can narrow it down to a small set of suspects, I might even put out some bait by providing a slightly different file for each ip and see where the fake or slightly altered article shows up. I wouldn't give up easily.

For example, if someone was just yanking my pages with a wget or lynx --dump, I might embed their IP in a comment or as extra data to an intra-site link. I'd encrypt or encode it so they wouldn't know what it was, but if they stole another article I'd have their IP. Then the real fun could begin: I could feed them botched content whenever they accessed any page. Again, I'd do that subtly so that the content they post would be poisoned but they wouldn't notice unless they carefully read it. Or I could just give them junk, or block them outright.

What you can or should do of course depends on the circumstances. Unfortunately, even if there are legal issues involved, you may not be financially able to defend your rights. Many small companies have had to swallow their anger when a large competitor has blatantly ripped them off, but even a small legal issue can cost more than you can afford. That's even more true if the issues are confusing and complicated: lawyers aren't any smarter than the rest of us, and you may find yourself spending hours re-explaining details that you thought your counsel already understood. You'll be paying for those hours, of course: I didn't say lawyers are dumb.

In the case of web content theft, the violator may be in another country, making it even more difficult to bring any pressure. You aren't entirely out of options; this article presents some more ideas.



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