Plagiarism Is Not Flattery – What To Do When It Happens To You

04 May

If you blog long enough, eventually you will find that one or more of your posts will get stolen and used without your permission. This happens to me on a fairly regular basis. I’m often asked what I do about it and I’m often asked by others for help when they find their posts have been stolen. Below, I’ve outlined how I handle it. First, let’s look at what plagiarism means in the context of blogging.

What Does Plagiarism of Blog Posts Look Like?

Copying and pasting entire blog posts without permission and without providing attribution is obviously plagiarism. What I often see is copying and pasting of entire posts and then a link to the original post. That is plagiarism too. Just because a link is added at the bottom doesn’t mean it’s okay to re-use an entire post without permission (we’ll stay out the Fair Use exemption for the sake of brevity for this post). It’s not okay for at least two reasons. First, it’s plagiarism. Second, whether they run ads or not and whether they admit it or not, bloggers love page views. We love to see how many people are coming to our blogs. And by lifting entire posts, you’re denying us those page views we crave. An analogy that I often make goes like this, “what would you say to a student who copied and pasted an article from the Internet, slapped a link to it at the end of the paper, and turned it in for a grade on a research assignment?”

What To Do When Your Posts Are Plagiarized

Step 1: Try to determine if the person is doing it maliciously or innocently. This is important because it influences how I take my next steps. Determining this can be tricky, but generally if the blog reusing your content doesn’t allow comments, doesn’t have a contact email or form, uses a lot of inappropriate advertising, and or is reusing the content of many other blogs in the same way they’re using your content, they are intentionally stealing your content. In some cases though I’ve had teachers/ principals reuse my content innocently because they didn’t understand fair use.

Step 2a: If there is a contact form or contact email available and if you think the person is improperly reusing your content because he/she doesn’t understand fair use, send a strong, but polite (I left out polite once and I later wished I hadn’t) email explaining the person that what he/she is doing is improper practice. Be sure to include some suggestions for properly reusing your content such as using truncated feed widgets.

Step 2b: If the offending blog doesn’t have a contact form or email address posted, run a WHOIS search using Go DaddyWhois.net, or Whois-Search to see who has registered the domain. When there isn’t a proxy in place it’s easy to locate the contact information (email, phone, fax, mail) for the person who registered the domain. Use that information to contact the offending site or blog’s owner. In some cases the person who registered the domain might have used a proxy to hide their contact information. If that is the case it can be hard to find the contact information. Likewise, a Whois search will not work for subdomains. An example of a blog on a subdomain is contentthief.blogspot.com.

Step 2c: If the blog plagiarizing your content is hosted by Blogger, Report a TOS Violation/ DMCA Complaint. If the blog plagiarizing your content is hosted by WordPress.com, report it here.

Before going any further I need to remind you that although I did well on the LSAT I am not a lawyer and I do not claim to be an expert on copyright and intellectual property law. Consult your lawyer if you think you need legal advice.

Step 2d: Provided you’ve found the contact information for the person improperly reusing your content and you think he/she is doing that maliciously, go ahead and use the phrase copyright violation in the email you send. Sternly tell the person that they are violating your copyright rights, provide an example for the person, and give a clear deadline (48 hours is more than sufficient) by which they must remove your content from their site. Be sure to include wording indicating that you will pursue legal action if they don’t take down your content. Usually, this takes care of the problem. Sometimes I hear back from the offending party and other times I do not hear back from the offender, but they do remove the stolen content.

Step 3: If you cannot get in touch with the offending party and or they do not remove your content, you can try to contact their hosting service. Inform the hosting service of the problem and be sure to give specific examples of plagiarism. I’ve done this only twice. Once I got a response and the other time I didn’t get a response.

Step 4: The public option. If you cannot get anywhere using steps 1-3 above go ahead and publicly “out” the offender. Post it on your blog that someone is stealing your content, post it on Twitter, and generally try to embarrass the offending party into taking down your content.

If all of the above fails, then you have gone beyond any steps I’ve had to take and at that point I would suggest that you consult a lawyer if you want to pursue the matter. But take solace in the fact that most splogs don’t last very long.

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