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.