B*tch stole my content! Plagiarism: How to Deal with a Thief
A couple weeks ago, an email notification from blogging bud B (of Beautifully Invisible) flashed across my iPhone. Excited to see what she might be contacting me about, I tapped the notification, and then I saw this:
Oh, great, I think. Just what I need to deal with right now. I open up the email and find (in true B fashion), a succinct and very well-written note about an accidental discovery B made—a book review blogger (of all bloggers) had most assuredly lifted gratuitous amounts of our content, plus a post from Fajr of Stylish Thought, and reworked them into “original” posts on her blog.
This post captures my half of the story of how B, Fajr, and I worked together to stop a plagiarist dead in her tracks. I’ll also share tips and resources that you will need should you find yourself in the same unfortunate situation.
Be sure to read B’s post, I Think We’ve Been Plagiarized… Sort of: The Story of the Content Thief, to find out:
- Why applications that measure and analyze blog traffic are vital—and why you should be looking at more than just how many visits you are getting.
- What data you need to pay attention to when analyzing site traffic.
- How to build a “case” against a plagiarist.
And on with the story…
This post looks familiar. Uh, maybe ’cause it’s MINE!
Irate and clicking like crazy, I, too landed upon B’s discovery and saw a tab at the top of the blog entitled “Building a Better Blog” (sound familiar?) that was formatted almost identically to my page. Then I saw my post, Klout—What it is and Why it Matters, which I painstakingly wrote and published in March 2011, reworked with synchronous similarities and published on that other blog in October 2011, with absolutely no attribution of any kind. Not a link, not a name, not an “inspired by,” nothing. Oh no she didn’t, I thought. She just messed with the wrong blogger.
A quick review of my blog analytics corroborated B’s findings. We both saw the same September 23, 2011 initial interaction date, and exits through links on my Build a Better Blog page to B’s blog. So, as a group, B, Fajr, and I decided to stand together and take action, and we got a resolution we are mostly happy with.
First, a little plagiarism 101. And, please note I am not an attorney, and this is not legal advice. If you have questions about plagiarism, copyright laws, etc., be sure to consult a qualified legal professional.
Plagiarism—it’s more than just copying.
We all learned in primary school that you can’t copy anyone’s writing and pass it off as your own. We’ve all done papers and reports in which we (probably begrudgingly) created a works cited page or used footnotes to cite references we paraphrased, and quotation marks to indicate a direct, word-for-word statement. We all know verbatim copying without attribution is illegal and unacceptable, and that blog scrapers are clearly committing copyright infringement.
If you look at the screens above and compare them to my Klout post, you can see they are not identical. But the subheadings, layout, and even parts of the copy are so similar to my post, there is no doubt this is not a coincidental similarity. Which brings me to my point: plagiarism doesn’t pertain only to verbatim regurgitation of another’s writing. According to Wikipedia,
“Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the “wrongful appropriation,” “close imitation,” or “purloining and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,” and the representation of them as one’s own original work…”
Notice that definition doesn’t apply only to scraping or verbatim reproduction of content. If you “closely imitate” the work of another, changing a few words here and there—as the blogger did with content from B, Fajr, and me—you are still guilty of plagiarism. Hey, you know what’s funny? The very blogger who lifted our content offered a pretty good explanation of it in a post she dedicated to preaching about plagiarism. Couldn’t have written it better myself, so I’m quoting her, though I can’t offer linked attribution—I’ll tell you why below. Keep reading.
“Plagiarism is wrong. No matter how you look at it.
There is no excuse… ‘I didn’t know…. I didn’t mean to… I did it subconsciously.’ No, you didn’t. You did know and you did mean to.
Plagiarism isn’t just copying and pasting word for word and passing it off as your own. It can be taking someones work and changing around the sentence structure, getting out your thesaurus and changing a few words here and there… basically taking the central idea tweaking it and passing it off as your own work.”
Oh, the irony.
How we fought a plagiarist—and won.
After conferring with each other, B, Fajr, and I decided to begin by contacting the blogger to let her know that she was guilty of copyright infringement, and that we had IP address analytics to support our claim. We sent her an email on January 20, 2012, and asked for attribution on the content she purloined, and we let her know that not responding would force us to share our findings on our blogs and all our social networks, and that we would initiate takedown proceedings with DMCA.com.
She immediately added the attributions, but after she responded with this, it really inflamed us:
“In all honestly, I have never been to your blog or any of the blogs mentioned in this email until tonight when I cross referenced the posts that you had listed. I rarely if ever read blogs beyond the book blog community. But I could not agree more with your assessments of the posts. And I am sorry to say that I have no viable explanation. I even searched my web history to see if perhaps I had read the posts and had recalled them as I was writing my own.”
No viable explanation. I have never been to your blog. Right. We were surprised by her nonchalance and even more enraged by her lies since our analytics showed she’d been on both B’s blog and mine as recently as January 19, 2012. We decided collectively that simple attribution would no longer suffice and that we didn’t want to be linked with her blog in any manner. B crafted another email that demanded that she delete the posts in question from her blog and all her social networks, and that she rename her “Building a Better Blog” page.
She wrote back. This is an excerpt of her response:
Her contradictory statements and the fact that she did finally delete the posts and rename the page told us that our assumptions about her guilt were accurate. Because we obtained the resolution we sought (or 99% of it), and the plagiarized content now only exists in screen captures we took, we have chosen not to “out” her, lest we open ourselves up to libel. Although we did successfully retrieve our content, it is extremely frustrating knowing she continues to represent herself as an “honest” writer who would never, ever plagiarize.
Oh well. All I can say is I’m thinking she probably learned her lesson. I hope.
UPDATE: April 23,2012 The blogger we did not mention here was exposed by the Young Adult book blogging community. Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, sums it all up in her post, which includes an reprint of the blogger’s “apology.”
UPDATE: April 24,2012 B of Beautifully Invisible responds to the plagiarist’s “clarification” in her post A Tale of Plagiarism Continued: Clarification of The Story Siren’s Clarification.
What should you do if you discover plagiarism?
After your blood pressure comes down, here are some pointers on what to do next:
- If you notice another blogger’s content somewhere else, contact the blogger to let him or her know about the plagiarized content. Chances are they are not the only one whose content is being stolen. When bloggers come together independently with strong evidence, you have a greater case and more power to get the resolution you seek.
- Take screen captures of the plagiarized content so you have an image/proof for future reference and use.
- If there is an email address provided on the site, contact the plagiarist. You should probably send a cease-and-desist letter to start.
- If there is no contact info, the next step is to contact the host of the blog.
- If the stolen content has been scraped there is usually no contact information available. I suggest you register with DMCA.com and initiate takedown proceedings.
Hopefully one of the methods above will nip the issue in the bud. Read more about what to do when all else fails.
Copyright/Anti-Plagiarism Tools and Resources
- DMCA.com helps to enforce the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by fighting copyright infringement and conducting takedowns of stolen content. You can also get a DMCA badge for your blog.
- Plagiarism.org defines plagiarism and provides resources for education, prevention, and more.
- Plagiarism Today has some fantastic resources for dealing with plagiarism online—I’ve linked to several pages in the list above, but should you want more info, be sure to check the site out, especially the Stop Internet Plagiarism section.
- Read my post, Copyright and Image Use—What You Need to Know to better understand copyright law and intellectual property protection.
- Read The Uncomfortable Facts About Plagiarism—great info about this topic in an easy-to-understand article.
- Prevent content scraping—learn more and take action:
- Read The Definitive Guide to Blog Content Scraping & How to Stop It!
- Read Content Scrapers—How to Find Out Who is Stealing Your Content & What to Do About It
- Use a plugin like Anti Feed-Scraper Message
- Use Copyscape to look for scraped or plagiarized content
Remember kids, the truth always prevails—even when people think they’re getting away with something, their IP address and pingbacks will reveal the truth every single time. Stand up for your rights and your content!
PS: “B*tch stole my content!” was inspired by the E! Fashion Police segment, B*tch Stole My Look!