Monday, April 26, 2010

Dealing with Internet Plagiarism

Today I spent considerable free time (and in truth some employer time) dealing with plagiarism of one of my articles. On March 25, 2010 I posted Environmental Progress in the 1960s - the Courts to Around April 16 I did a check for plagiarism, selecting five articles at random. I do this by selecting a phrase or sentence somewhere in the middle of the article, and search for it using Google. Well, actually, before that I search for the article title through Google.

On this day I found my article posted at It had the full article, including attribution to me, the links included in my article, some links to Suite 101 internal pages (daily posts and writer's bio), even the Google ads embedded in the middle of the article, and even the Suite 101 contest code I put at the bottom of the article. The scraper didn't even bother to clean up the article or disguise it before he stole it.

I couldn't find a "contact us" link on the site. A whois search revealed the site owner's address, phone number, and e-mail, so I sent him an e-mail request that he remove my copyrighted material from his site. It bounced. I called the number of the owner, in Metarie LA. It wasn't his phone no. I didn't particularly want to spend 44 cents plus the cost of an envelope on a printed Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice, so I sent Google a complaint, hoping they would pull their ads from the rogue site. I received an auto-responder e-mail, saying my complaint would be investigated, but it might take some time.

I visited the site every couple of days only to find my article still there. In searching a little deeper I found the article of another Suite 101 writer there, also apparently stolen, and e-mailed that author. I also posted an alert to the Suite 101 forums.

Today I went back to the site for the first time in about a week and saw my article still there. I checked whois again--same wrong info. At the site I saw a link I'd missed before--the site's privacy policy page. I clicked it and saw it had a different e-mail address. So I sent off an e-mail asking that the stolen material be withdrawn. Within fifteen minutes I had a response: he pulled the work he stole from me, and I confirmed it was so.

In digging deeper I found articles from eight other Suite 101 writers, all verbatim. I e-mailed a number of those, and updated my thread at the Suite 101 forums. My intent was, once he pulled my article, I would cancel the Google complaint. However, having found nine articles there, and with other Suite writers finding copyrighted photos and some of their articles at other web sites he runs, I think I'll just leave the Google complaint in place.

This kind of operation is called "scraping"--pulling copyrighted material, posting it on your own site, hoping the original authors don't see it, and hoping you make enough from Google ads and/or page views to make it all worthwhile. The DMCA was written to prevent this sort of thing, but it takes the authors whose copyright is being infringed to police it. So we Suitees (as we call ourselves) have banded together in a posse to either put this guy out of business or severely inhibit his ability to make money: no Google ads, no easy income.

And it's too bad, because some of the articles he has posted make a lot of sense. I would like to read some of the material he has posted, but I don't particularly want to support his site.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Too bad there isn't a way to collect damages.