Online content often a victim of plagiarism

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In past blogs, I've recommended that IT pros increase their (positive) web presence by writing technical articles. This can be done in a personal blog or by writing-for-pay for technical publications. In light of a recent event that has been making the blogosphere rounds, I feel the need to make you guys aware of one the caveats of writing for money on the web: People will steal your stuff. Sometimes they'll steal it without really knowing the concept of plagiarism. They'll run your piece and retain your byline but on their site and without asking your permission in advance. Basically they're getting the content someone else paid for, for free. This would be a great business model if it were, oh I don't know, LEGAL. Also, it harms the bottom line of the online business that actually paid for the content, since most of those businesses depend on Google traffic and incoming links. Sometimes they'll take your content without your byline and run it on their site, with the underlying assumption that they wrote it. Also illegal. And weaselly. I have learned that there are an alarming number of people out there who believe that anything on the Internet is public domain. Here's a case in point: One freelance writer found this out the hard way. Basically she had one of her articles reused without permission or compensation by an online magazine called "Cooks Source." (Let me first say that if this mag was going to steal something it should have swiped an apostrophe from somewhere.) Anyway, when the writer wrote to the "editor" to point this out, she got this in return:

Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things. But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it!

First of all, you cannot be an "editor" and not know about copyright laws. Just can't happen. Secondly, what's with the attitude? This copying and pasting stuff happens enough that we here at TechRepublic have to get our Legal department to issue cease and desist warnings about once a week. Never underestimate the motives of another party either. One of our editors here told me that she just heard about an instance of someone stealing another person's Twitter feed, including a tweet about a pet dog dying. (I'm still trying to figure out a possible motive on this one. Is creepy a motive?) So there are two lessons here: Don't take content from other sites without the express permission of the editor or writer. Second, if you write something, Google yourself often. And then Google some words from your article to see if it's showing up elsewhere. Our Programming and Development blogger, Justin James, has in fact created an app for finding thieves of content online. Called Rat Catcher, the app is free for a 30-day trial. Another way to protect yourself online!

posted by Toni Bowers

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