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Plagiarism is not hard to fight now that there are advanced tools and services that people can use for protection. In this article we will talk about how to fight people who have copied your designs, bandwidth, articles, music, and everything that can be stolen. Preventing people from plagiarizing your works is another matter because it is in their discretion to do so, which is out of your control. But when the unwanted happens you should be prepared to deal with it, that’s why I wrote this article; to help you fight plagiarism with some tips and tools.
The last time I checked one of my published articles on CopyScape to see if anyone copied it, it returned 8 websites. Totally plagiarized without even saying thanks to me. I researched the material, wrote it, refined it, and finally had it published only to be copied in an instant. Easy work for them? Yes, they’re reaping the things I’ve planted. Should I stand by and let them do it because fighting plagiarism is a very hard task? No, actually it is easy to fight plagiarism. If you want to make these thieves’ lives miserable, read on!
Plagiarism is when a person, or a group, borrows your idea or work without telling you beforehand and passing it off as theirs. Most of the time people who plagiarize others’ work profit from it either academically or financially. Plagiarism is both easy and difficult to detect, especially when it is done online. Thankfully there are big and small entities out there focused on fighting these evil doers, although for a price.
Before firing your laser cannons at your enemies, you should first research the best mode of action. But worry no more because I’ve done it all for you and all you have to do now is to understand and remember and probably bookmark this page so that when the time comes (which I hope it won’t) you’ll know what to do.
Thankfully you can rely on search engines to do their job in fighting plagiarism. It’s most effective for text, not so much for different media types like a video clip or an image.
Google recently updated their algorithms, which is called the Panda Update. It brought many websites’ ranking down because of the rampant content farming, spinning, and very bad content quality. The update is very helpful for original content creators because Google knows which came first and therefore gives it higher priority. If a duplicate comes in, the crawlers tell the search engine that it is a duplicate and they receive a bad rating. The consequence is either a drop on the page ranking or a total ban from the search engine.
One cheap trick to ensure your ownership of a material is by mailing it to yourself. My college professor in programming told our class to do this when we think we have something great that may not come to fruition until some time in the future. He told us to print the code, mail it to ourselves, and keep the thing safe. The stamp and date will prove that you are the original owner of the item/idea and also when you thought of it as the post office date stamps everything. This can also work for articles, short stories, designs, and other things that can fit in on a parcel.
Over a year ago I wrote an essay on my Multiply (yes, I used Multiply!). Incidentally, I was also researching about plagiarism and thought of Googling some lines of my essay. I found out that the whole essay was copied and republished elsewhere. I looked into the website further and did some Google-fu on their published essays and found out that most of them were taken from bloggers without citation. I filed a report to Google to have the website checked for illegal practices. A few weeks later the website was removed from the search engine’s index.
Another way to fight content stealing is by, first, talking like a gentleman with the person involved. If nothing good happens, you can then proceed by contacting the hosting provider (provided the work stolen is online)
If you have heard of the term “autoblogging” and the paid tools available online then I’m pretty sure that you have your doubts about it too. For the uninitiated, autoblogging means pulling out information from other blogs and publishing it on your own. To answer the question whether such a practice is legal or not, it is both yes and no. Yes in a sense that practitioners can legally reproduce press releases or be granted permission by blog owners. However, it is unlikely that blogs similar to 1stwebdesigner will gladly say yes to these autobloggers.
Why do some use autoblogging software? The answer is for easy money. The software automatically pulls information from listed blogs’ feeds and republishes it on their own, whether it includes a source link or not. Many do this to harvest links from Clickbank, eBay, Amazon, and other online stores that offer affiliate marketing.
If it is done for affiliate marketing, then the content is not considered stolen, but the problem search engines see here is duplicate content. With Google’s Panda update, content farms like these will either be ranked lowest or be totally banned from the index. Ouch.
In some cases, where software isn’t involved, people see an article, or any other type of media, online that they fancy and try to change a few lines or color. Changing it a little and taking it as your own is not stealing, right? Wrong. There is no short cut to hard work and success. If you want to create a blog such as 1stwebdesigner, you start from the bottom and spend countless hours writing and researching and making it popular. Take a look at this blog which Dainis noticed. It copied some of 1stwebdesigner’s contents totally without even linking back. Whether he links it back or not, copying an entire article is not cool. An excerpt is fine, but an excerpt does not mean from beginning to end!
This is a common problem for photo blogs and web comics. Hotlinking happens when someone copies the direct link to the file and publishes it on a different website. What happens here is that the media is used on a different website but is still hosted on the original source, which eats their bandwidth without receiving any traffic. A very bad practice. It’s called bandwidth stealing!
Another issue about photo blogs/galleries and web comics is they are prone to re-hosting. Re-hosting someone else’s work usually doesn’t give credit to the author/photographer. In which case, people can apply watermark on the images or apply a CSS trick to disable downloading of the original file (tutorial about this soon).
Believe me when I say that there are many designers who make a living ripping off other designers designs. With a little decency they apply some few changes. The internet is big, so it’s probably hard to know when your design has been ripped off. But when you encounter one, say a website template you made or a logo, and they’re making profit from it, that’s when hell should break loose on your side.
I personally know a small web design/development firm who has a list of websites they copy, they only change the color scheme based on the request of their clients. Tracing is also an issue for the logos they make, but who can catch them if they’re only a small firm, right?
Ever had that hunch you’ve seen your design somewhere where it’s not supposed to be? Before dealing with a stolen design you should know how to look for replicas. For images, you can use Tineye (via upload) or Google Images (via drag and drop) to reverse-search for similar images. These tools are also very useful for finding the name of the actress you chanced upon in movies!
After verifying that your design was stolen, what you need to do next is to talk to the owner about the issue of design theft. If the owner does not respond, which is always frowned upon, you can proceed by sending the hosting provider a notice of content theft. Every hosting provider out there, if you read their terms and conditions, explicitly says that they will disable or totally remove websites that have stolen content, especially when someone files a case.
If, in case, nothing happens, you can proceed by hiring a Copyright Lawyer to help you with the legalities. Only practical if your design is being profited from.
A decade ago we can say that there were lots of original ideas, but today saying an idea is original is subject to debate. Some may argue that an idea produced today is just a recycled idea, an offshoot of some well-formed thought. Take for example Facebook. People may think it’s original, but when you insert into the equation its roots you’ll notice that it’s not really far from MySpace and Friendster in terms of ideas. Issues of originality lies within the grey areas of things, and it is also hard to prove that an idea was stolen even if both are 99% alike.
In the online world I daresay that 99% of everything that can be written has already been written. This topic about plagiarism has already been written, although not necessarily word per word. Issues arise when an excerpt, or the whole content has been reproduced, spun, and taken entirely without the knowledge and expressed permission of the author.
It all starts with you and with whom you share your ideas. Great ideas can create and revolutionize the world, but there are 7 billion people out there and 2 billion people connected to the internet (CNN source) each capable of thinking. You are not as unique as you have previously thought, but not everyone is good at planning and flawless execution.
For composers out there, especially those who are frequent users of websites like YouTube and Vimeo, some problems arise when an original composition is blatantly used in other videos as their background music. Perhaps among the examples given, stolen music is the easiest to fight since websites like YouTube and other multimedia websites take it very seriously. So no worries here, especially when the enemy is just a small fry.
Remove Content From Google - If you believe there is a questionable activities on a certain website, you can report it to Google to have it removed from the search index.
DMCA Website Protection - Although it only applies within the boundaries of the USA, it is still useful to know this especially when both party are from the USA. DMCA prevents illegal reproduction and transmission of copyrighted works. The good thing about this is if the perpetrator is overseas, and the host is within the USA, you can still demand a take-down since the item itself is within their boundary.
CopyScape - A service that scans the web for duplicates of your web pages. Very useful for finding content farms! Let’s run an experiment to see if it really works using an article I wrote titled “Where Have All The Comments Gone?“. Click here for the result. Useful, right?
Turnitin - Useful for students, teachers, and editors. Checks if articles, books, and essays are plagiarized or not.
Google Alerts - A free solution to find out if someone has copied your work. How? By setting unique phrases as your alerts. You’ll be alerted if a match is found on the internet.
Copyright Protection - The creator of Copyright Protection is an artist whose limits have been reached by thieves, that’s why he gave birth to this copyright protection service. It is a paid service that provide two options: either digital or physical security. This is also where you protect your idea!
Myows - A free service to help protect the works of writers, designers, photographers, journalists, and anyone involved in creating original content. Everything you upload will serve as an evidence that the work is yours in case you’ll somehow be involved in a nasty battle against copyright infringement.
Click and Copyright - A paid service to protect everything original. Follow the link to see the price table and the services they offer. Click and Copyright is owned by copyright attorneys, running now for 10 years.
If you have important tips and services to plug, plug them now because I’m sure there will be people out there who will find your comments useful!
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Rean is the editor of 1stwebdesigner. He regularly writes about freelancing, technology, web design, and web development. Rean also writes at Knowledge Salad, a blog filled with weird and interesting facts. One of his goals is to help his fellow Filipinos earn money online, to help them build a career out of working from home, just like what he has been doing for years now.