Yesterday I blogged about my experience at the 2009 Small Press Expo. That post was commented on and retweeted by several readers, which I appreciate. It was also reposted on three websites of varying legitimacy, by other people and without my permission. That, I’m not so cool with.
Repost #1 – John Lessnau’s Traffic-Building Scheme
I don’t know John Lessnau, but his blog’s author bio states that he “create[s] web sites and web services that are evolutionary and revolutionary because there is too much warmed over crap on the Internet for my liking.” More succinctly, his Twitter profile explains that he drives “web traffic and fast cars,” so his revolutionary evolutions must be working. And while his recent tweets indicate that, like most of us, he’s not a fan of spammers, he apparently is a fan of aggregating articles from around the web and re-listing them in some kind of information buffet — my own included.
Lessnau’s About page cites him as the founder of two apparently successful text link ad services, which may explain his propensity for mining other people’s work for his own fun and profit. And although I’m flattered that Mr. Lessnau (or perhaps one of his text scrapers) thought yesterday’s post was worth including in his list of “Articles About Making Money as of September 28, 2009” (as opposed to considering it more of the “warmed over crap on the Internet”), I find fault with his presumption that I (or anyone else) would naturally enjoy being linked to from his infoglut menagerie.
Mr. Lessnau states that I (or anyone else who’d rather not have their work scraped to his site) can use his automated contact form to request that my blog be removed from his “RSS resource list.” Funny; I didn’t realize that the default online procedure was to build ad networks around other people’s work unless they choose to opt out. In that case, I’d also like to opt out of any service that repurposes my video, images, audio, likeness and name, please.
(And yes, I realize he uses a picture of Tom Waits as his author photo. That’s beside the point.)
Repost #2 – PulpLit.com
Another blog-as-traffic-misdirector ploy, PulpLit reposted the first 491 characters (or 79 words) of yesterday’s blog post — oddly cutting themselves off mid-word — and then supplied a link to my full article. Classy.
Their About page says: “Our objective is to provide our users with the most comprehensive database of sources to the comics publishing world.” While I’m not really sure what that means, I’m also not sure who PulpLit is, since the only “author” they list is someone named admin. (He’s the guy / girl / mongoose who “wrote” my blog post.)
Best PulpLit design choice: at the bottom of my hijacked post’s page, their three-column format is filled with the exact same column (of similarly “aggregated” material), three times over. That’s the comprehensivest.
Repost #3 – CelebrityTwitterGossip.com
This one is my favorite. Not only did they repost my entire article (without attribution), but they kept my original hyperlinks (and then added their own keyword links via AdBrite). Alas, not all of their automated scraping goes so smoothly. At least they had the good taste to use the same blog template I do.
So… What Do We DO About Plagiarism?
In Lessnau’s case, he at least invites people to opt out of his text scraping scheme (even if they never opted in). The other two sites are no different from thousands of other ad farms, spam ovens, linkbaiters and domain squatters out there; I just happened to notice them because their spiders noticed me first. This wasn’t the first time it happened and it won’t be the last.
You might ask, “But who gets hurt in this situation? It’s just one website duplicating free content from another.” Which is technically true, except that:
- No one asked my permission to reprint my own work,
- No one credited me as the author of my own work, and
- All three of those sites are conceivably pushing ads based upon my work.
Not that I’m expecting to make money off blog ads. (If I were, I’d have installed them already.) But my words are making pennies per click for someone else out there, and I’m not seeing a peso of it.
The web’s inherently permissive culture, in which information is free and intended to be shared, remixed and reconceived, is unfortunately very exploitable by the people most inclined to abuse loopholes in the system — or to steal other people’s work outright. And as much as I reject the strictures of copyright, it’s clear that something has to be done to prevent the bottom feeders from profiting at the expense of actual creators. Creative Commons is a step in the right direction, but it still doesn’t stop things like Douglas Coupland’s conceptual theft from Ze Frank.
The onus of accountability shouldn’t be on the creators; it should be on the thieves. I’m not entirely sure how we’re supposed to stem the tide, but I do have three suggestions:
- Be vigilant in monitoring where your own work turns up online. If you’re not credited, or if you feel like your work is being misused, demand that it be removed from the site.
- Since most of us would go broke filing DMCA takedown notices every time a robot, scoundrel or multi-level marketer stole our work, I’d also like to suggest the creation of a Bloggers Legal Defense Fund (unless something like that already exists — anyone have any such links?)
- License your own work. You don’t have to be George Lucas to manage your creative assets all the way to fame and fortune. If what you’re writing, filming or otherwise creating is good (or relevant) enough to be plagiarized by someone else, it’s good enough to be licensed for reprinting in other sources. Think of it like “guest blogging,” but you’d actually get paid. (And at least you’d have a tiny war chest built up for litigation during those times when an informal request isn’t enough to make things right.)
Anyone else have any ideas on how we can keep the bastards from winning?
UPDATE (9/30): In a stroke of irony that only the Internet could produce, this post itself has been listed as one of 50 Posts About Working with Video on the Web as of September 29, 2009 by Perry Multimedia. If you’re wondering, Perry Multimedia’s services include “any form of project you may need help with that would utilize web sites, audio, video, CD Rom/DVD, video conversions, or even designs or copy for print or other forms of desktop publishing.” So, really, every form of communication possible.
Doubly interesting: that list of 50 blog posts was scraped by something called The RSSdoodle, created by (drumroll, please)… John Lessnau! (See Repost #1 above.) Lessnau describes this widget as “yet another plugin that will bring relevant content to your blog in an automated fashion.” Evidently, this “relevant” content can even include blog posts that expose said content as a legally-questionable sham. Download yours today!