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Poached! October 13, 2012

Posted by Karen E. Lund in Humanizing Technology, Learning.
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My return to blogging experienced a rude shock when I discovered that The Buddy System for Job Seekers had been copied in its entirety on half  a dozen other sites.

When I mentioned this to a friend who has sometimes earned her living as a writer, she immediately responded that it would almost be a compliment, if it wasn’t plagiarism.

Indeed, it was a little creepy.

My first clue came when WordPress’s Dashboard informed me of a “pingback.” After seeing two blogs that had lifted my entire post, I did a Google search and turned up more.

They were amazingly efficient, if flagrant in their disregard for the effort I put into writing. They simply copied my entire post to their sites and adding a few tags (of which more later). A quick look at some of the sites made me suspect that all their posts were like that: copied directly from another blog. There was no rhyme nor reason to the topics of these posts, no consistency in writing style. And, yes, there were these weird tags added, which had nothing to do with my post—or, that I could see, with the other posts.

I mean, NASCAR?? Not only did my post have nothing to do with NASCAR, I don’t even know how to drive!

After sputting indignantly to myself for a few minutes, I did a little research. Three of the plagiarized posts were on Blogger (owned by Google) and two on Typepad. I poked around their main websites to find contact information to report the plagiarism. It wasn’t particularly difficult; I merely provided the URLs of the offending posts and the URL to my original post.

To their credit, both Typepad and Google removed the posts and notified me in less than 48 hours. Google removed my posts from the offending blogs. Typepad went further and deleted the entire blog. (That’s no small thing because Typepad blogs—unlike Blogger and WordPress.com—are not free.)

Which leads me to the bigger question: Why steal my post? I happen to think I’m a pretty good writer, but I’m not that good. (Am I?) And I’m not a big name. Circle of Ignorance is my personal blog, not some top-ranked site.

As far as I could tell—although I didn’t linger; it felt like being in a dirty restroom in a dive bar in a bad neighborhood late at night—the plagiarizing sites werern’t selling anything. They weren’t likely to make money by publishing (in this case stealing) my post. And none of them seemed to have big audience: neither my post nor any of the others I looked at had received any comments.

So I am left scratching my head. Steal my post, tag it with completely unrelated tags, don’t try to make money. Violate Terms of Service (not to mention copyright laws) and get taken down. Yeah, that’s a plan.

So for my sins I have a new temp gig… researching copyright permissions for a publisher. I’m up to my ears in copyright notices, requesting permissions where needed, and learning more about the subject than I ever expected. But, darn, I believe in copyright—and also in “fair use.” Writers, musicians and artists are entitled to ownership of their work. People should be able to read, listen to or view it, and to share limited quotes for reasonable purposes, but that doesn’t extend to lifting someone’s whole blog post, article or chapter without even asking. And without even a discernable motive.

PS: If you’d like to quote a couple of sentence, fine. Give me credit and link back to my post. Keep it relevant and polite, and don’t try to make a buck off it because I don’t. I’ll be thinking about this a good deal and you’ll see more thoughts on copyright, fair use, open source, and Creative Commons in future posts.

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