A Content Theft Tale

Filed as Features, General, Guides on July 3, 2007 2:00 pm

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Over here at the Blog Herald, my latest post about the twenty best free anti-plagiarism tools was going over very well. With hundreds of views and half a dozen trackbacks, it was rapidly gaining traction among its readers.

However, one of the trackbacks was not what it seemed. Elsewhere on the Web, a Brazilian blog had not merely linked to the original post, but rather, had copied the entire thing (link nofollowed).

Though the use was attributed, the Blog Herald does not work under a Creative Commons License. Since the use goes well beyond what would be considered fair, a decision had to be made about what, if anything, would be done about it.

As the case went on, it became an interesting microcosm for plagiarism and content theft issues on the Web involving different ideologies about copyright, international laws and a surprise hosting discovery that, theoretically, should bring the incident to an abrupt ending.

The Discovery

Generally, I don’t search for infringements of material of mine that I post to other sites as I don’t control their setup. However, this one came to me, literally.

In my original article I posted a link to my DMCA Contact Information List. The Brazilian site, when it copied the article, sent a trackback to that list as well as to the Blog Herald.

When I looked at the link in the trackback and noticed that it was a verbatim copy of the article I had posted earlier in the day, I decided to seek guidance. Though the use of my work would have been fine if it had been posted to Plagiarism Today, so long as the site had followed other Creative Commons guidelines, I knew that the BH had no such licenses and that the use was an infringement.

I dropped the link in an instant message to my editor, Tony Hung, and left it there knowing that the matter was in good hands.

Unfortunately, the case proved to be more difficult than either of us thought it would be.

Playing Mr. Nice Guy

Tony, seeking to resolve the situation without resorting to threats or legal action, posted a comment to entry and then sent an email to the site owner. In both attempted contacts, he tried to be both polite and courteous, focusing on asking them to take the entry down or change it rather than demanding it.

For example, in his email, he said the following:

I realize that you attributed the article to us and the authorship to Jonathan Bailey, but reposting the content in its entirety is something we prohibit and is in violation of our copyright. If you’d like to summarize the article, that’s fine. If you’d like to quote the article that’s fine.

Unfortunately, neither the comment nor two emails to the site resolved the matter. All attempts at contact were ignored completely.

Tony, using the information at the footer of the site, attempted to contact the host, a Brazilian company known as ClubeWeb, to see if they could help. However, despite his best efforts, there was no luck.

By this point, the blog had responded to Tony’s comment by simply deleting it and there was no public record anywhere that Tony had asked for the work to be removed or altered.

Tony, as well as the entire concept of being a “nice guy” had reached a dead end.

A Different Approach

Frustrated with the lack of progress, Tony re-raised the issue with me during another conversation. Though I was eager to help, I was not optimistic about the possibilities. With no notice and takedown provision in Brazil (that I am aware of) and no practical means to force the removal of the work, I was, in my head, preparing my notices to the search engines to at least get the duplicate de-indexed.

But before going down that path, I decided to give researching the host a second try, this time using my favorite networking tools site Domain Tools. What I discovered is that Clubeweb, at least in regards to this site, was not the host but merely a reseller. The server actually resided in the United States, under the watch of a company called Softlayer. Since the server is on American soil, American laws apply. As such, we were now free to file a DMCA takedown notice.

Though Softlayer was not on my personal DMCA information list, they had filed with the U.S. Copyright Office, as requested by the DMCA, and it was trivial to find their information there (PDF). On Monday, I sent the notice in and, as of this writing, I am waiting to hear back from them. Typically though, these matters take 48-72 hours.

Hopefully, this will be the end of this case and it, most likely, seems to be exactly how it is going to end.

Conclusions

The irony of the case is almost too glaring to ignore. An article about anti-plagiarism and content theft tools being copied without permission. However, this Brazilian site was not the only one to do that. Others took the exact same liberty or worse with it.

I am going to start looking into them shortly, this one just happened to be the first.

Though I am no fan of strong-arm tactics when it comes to dealing with attributed use of ones work, my personal focus is still on plagiarism, this was a case where the nice approach failed repeatedly and neither host nor site owner would respond to gentle requests. In turn, the Blog Herald has a right to enforce their policies with their content.

My hope is that others out there, in similar positions, will take note of this and not stop trying to get their content removed. Just because people do not cooperate or the incident appears to be overseas does not mean that there is nothing one can do. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit more research.

I also hope that this serves as a warning to other would-be plagiarists and thieves. The Blog Herald is serious about these issues and I am here to help them any way that I can.

I’m glad that you enjoyed my article, but please, only take what you need. Leave something for the actual Blog Herald visitors to enjoy.

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  1. By Marc posted on July 3, 2007 at 3:41 pm
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    Looks like the link to the Brazilian blog entry you mentioned is gone now. Looks like it was already taken off. :/

    Reply

  2. By Chris posted on July 3, 2007 at 6:16 pm
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    A warning for us all. There is always the temptation to want to take what other people have written and use it for our own gain. Your story is a reminder of what is feels like on the other side.

    What I tend to find in the blog world is that most of the information in the various niche’s is very much the same anyway.

    It sounds like this person got a bit lazy and didn’t want to have to go through the hard work of creating their own version of things.

    Reply

  3. By Jonathan Bailey posted on July 3, 2007 at 8:21 pm
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    Marc,

    It definitely looks like it was taken down. I wonder if it was done at the request of the host or the reseller. However, since it was still live when this article went up, it most likely was due to the attention.

    Chris,

    Indeed, I agree this is likely a case of laziness rather than malice. If they had quoted it and linked the original, it would have been fine. There are great ways to make a blog using other people’s writing and not step afoul of copyright law, many people do it.

    It just requires a little work on the part of the creator, that’s all.

    Still, it is definitely a warning, but also a reason to be hopeful…

    Reply

  4. By Andy Merrett posted on July 4, 2007 at 1:55 pm
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    I notice that the site which I complained about in the past – igizmodo.com – has now died. Whether through the owner not paying his fees, or by my complaint to the ISP, I don’t know, but it’s gone!

    Reply

  5. By Tony Hung posted on July 4, 2007 at 3:05 pm
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    Yep … its funny how one of the arrows in the copyright quiver is to start publicizing it, isn’t it?

    Thanks again Jonathan. Your copyright skillz are teh awesome! ;)

    Reply

  6. By Valeria Maltoni posted on July 4, 2007 at 4:18 pm
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    Jonathan — A riveting story, thank you for bringing us along.

    Tony — shining a light on things usually has the desired effect on the shadows, it disperses them rather quickly. That’s why it’s so important to be on the up and up on things, someone will figure it out. It’s much better for your brand reputation to play nice (i.e., by the rules).

    Reply

  7. links for 2007-07-04 «  Mac²July 4, 2007 at 5:20 pm
  8. By Jonathan Bailey posted on July 4, 2007 at 8:47 pm
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    Andy,

    It is strange how it works, perhaps for another article I should discuss ways to tell who took the site down as this seems to be a larger issue than I thought.

    Tony,

    I am in your internets… fixing your DMCA…

    Valeria,

    Very welcome for the story! Glad that it was riveting!

    Reply

  9. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on July 4, 2007 at 9:01 pm
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    There are several splogs which scrap Blog Herald Content and I’ve been working to have them stop as well, often with little success due to the same problems you’ve found, Jonathan. Taking that extra step to track the host from the reseller is brilliant and will help me break down some of the brickwalls I’ve been facing on this issue.

    Thank you!

    Reply

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