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In the aftermath of the InformationFlash plagiarism incident, several questions have come up from the site’s webmaster and from other bloggers.

Is it okay if the plagiarizer isn’t making money?

No.  Authors work really, really hard to create their original content.  Seeing someone else pass it off as their own, whether there’s a charge or not, reduces the value of our hard work.

If I took the whole content of The Manga Guide to Databases and reproduced it here on my blog, I wouldn’t be making a dime off it.  However, I’d be robbing the author of income.  Even if that author was giving away the work for free, the author might be benefitting in a way that I don’t understand yet, so I need to contact the author before republishing their copyrighted work.

Is it okay if I don’t understand my blog aggregation software?

No.  If you pick up a gun, it’s your responsibility to understand how it works. The first time it accidentally goes off and shoots somebody, you might be able to get away with claiming you didn’t know it was loaded.  After several people complain about gunshot injuries, though, you need to put the gun down.

Just as you can go to a local gun club to learn about firearm safety, you can get help with RSS aggregators too.  Post a message in the product’s support forum, contact other users of the product, or post a message on StackOverflow.  But whatever you do, don’t wave that thing around until you understand what you’re doing.

Shouldn’t the bloggers change their feeds to prevent theft?

Bloggers can choose whether to include the full article or just a few words in the RSS feed.  In my series on how to start a technical blog, I recommend using the full article because readers like it a lot more.  They don’t want to click through to read your full article on your site.  (Personally, I hate the holy hell out of blogs who just include the abstract, and their content has to be insanely good for me to subscribe to one of those kinds of blogs.)

Even if the blogger changes their feed to just include an abstract, it still doesn’t prevent syndication sites from stealing content with screen-scraping techniques.  Then the naysayers would say, “It’s the blogger’s fault for not requiring a username and password in order to read the blog.”

If we have another site pop up like InformationFlash, I’ll probably end up including a copyright note at the bottom of every blog entry.  It’ll say something like, “If you’re not reading this article at BrentOzar.com or SQLServerPedia.com, it was stolen.”  I hate doing that, though, because it looks crappy.  It’s like bolting the TV remote to the nightstand.

Is it okay if end users submit the copyrighted blogs?

No.  When the owner of copyrighted content notifies you that your site has their stuff on it, and they want it taken down, you have to take it down pronto.  YouTube is a good example because people try to upload copyrighted data all the time.  If the original content owner files a DMCA complaint at YouTube, then YouTube acts quickly to take the content down.

Just as a side note – if you try to claim some other user uploaded the copyrighted content, you need to be *very* prepared to show database records and web server access logs to prove the site administrator wasn’t the one uploading content.

How come it’s okay when Digg or DotNetKicks does it?

Because those sites don’t publish the full content of the article.  They show the first few words of the article, and if the reader is interested, they click through to the full content of the article on the blogger’s site.

InformationFlash was showing the entire article, start to finish, without even showing the author’s name.  That isn’t promoting the authors at all.  To make matters worse, InformationFlash had a Google PageRank of a whopping zero – meaning it wasn’t promoting anyone other than itself by stealing content.

Then is it okay if the site promotes the bloggers?

No. When you’re taking copyrighted content from bloggers, you have to get their permission first, period.

Some authors are completely okay with you republishing their work as long as you attribute them appropriately and link back to them.  For example, I’ve told SQL Server Magazine they’re free to use any material from my blog as long as they quote me.  (Part of this is a selfish reason: despite what Compete thinks, I’m pretty sure SQL Server Magazine has more readers than I do.)

Is it okay if it’s not illegal?

Even if you register your domain name anonymously and ignore all incoming emails, sooner or later people are going to figure out your real name.  They’re going to post your name in public along with an explanation of what happened.  That kind of information will turn up in Google searches, and it’ll make for very ugly job interviews and client negotiations down the road.

Besides, don’t you want to be successful?  Your site simply can’t become a success by alienating the very people upon whom your site depends for content.  You can be successful by working with the community and making sure everything is a win-win.  It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, but it works in the long run.

Stealing is easy and cheap – but the long-term outlook is not so good.

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  1. I can only agree. We (SQLblog) have changed to abstracts only after fighting Info Flash and two other “aggregators” in the same week. I’m researching alternative means by which to fight these people, the most promising of which were suggested by Rob Boek, who is really pissed at us for switching to abstracts only. That’s almost a good reason to have done it… Necessity is the mother of invention :-)

  2. I’m not going to change my rss feeds to just the intro, firstly cause I hate it when I open a feed (often offline) and then find that there’s only one or two sentences there, second because one of the feeds (the one infoflash was scraping) was for SQLServerPedia syndication and hence has to be full text.

    Like Brent, when this happens again I’ll likely stick a copyright in the rss feed. Not that doing so will stop anyone.

  3. Good post Brent.

    @Adam, I don’t know about “really pissed”, but I was definitely disappointed. Looking forward to having your feel go back to full content. :)

  4. Brent, I’m not sure why, but your blog replaced my name with my email address.

  5. Ah! Interesting – I think it has to do with your OpenID. The name comes from your OpenID provider, so there might be some mixup in the way your OpenID provider gives my blog the name, or in the way my blog handles the OpenID’s response. I love the idea of OpenID, but man, troubleshooting it blows.

  6. I’m right there with you, Brent! Although my content wasn’t stolen by this particular site, I’ve been through it before many times, especially with sites in countries without the history of copyright protection that we in the West take for granted.

    One thing that really made me laugh at InformationFlash: They stole content from ZDNet, CNet, TechTarget, and IDC! I have a feeling they have some lawyers…

  7. Good post as usual. I did want to mention that, if you’re getting your blog plagiarized, at least it means someone cares enough :) So I suppose it’s a measure of success as well?

  8. I’m glad you don’t get too distracted by those tards and decided to keep your full feed. especially for readers on tiny screen devices snippet feeds blow even more than on a big screen.

  9. Jerome – yeah, one of the guys on Twitter was complaining because his blog wasn’t plagiarized by InformationFlash, hahaha.

    Gero – amen! I hate abbreviated feeds. Adam & Rob have some awesome ideas on avoiding syndication even with full feeds, and I’m cheering for ‘em.

  10. Hoping my OpenID works better this time.

  11. Rob – yep, there you go. Looks good.

  12. “I’ll probably end up including a copyright note at the bottom of every blog entry.”

    Here’s a WordPress plugin that will allow you add a footer to your feed articles.

    http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/rss-footer/

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  15. Great post Brent. There are so many things that we newbies overlook, and this post enlightens on some of the repercussions.

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