9/13/2009

Online Plagiarism and what you can do about it

Lazy, unethical people who republish RSS feeds and similar content and surround it with advertising for profit abound. In general this is an annoyance, but you probably can’t do much about it.  However where I believe this “crosses the line” is when somebody deliberately copies all of  your original content, removes all identifying links and author attribution, and then republishes this wholesale on their site or blog for expected profit.

This happened to me recently. This person, Calla Degennaro, residing in Larchmont N.Y.:

Calla M Degennaro
7 Rebeau Dr
Larchmont, NY 10538-1337
(914) 834-0236

--  republished not one -- but two of my articles written and originally published on  eggheadcafe.com, without permission:

http://tusforyou.com/fluent-nhibernate-automapping/

and

http://tusforyou.com/silverlight-3-note-taker-app-with-local-storage/

You can see that this person has carefully removed all identifying traces of where the articles originated and who wrote them, but kept 100% of the content, completely unaltered. They even downloaded my zipped code sample files and re-hosted them!

What can you do about this? Well, Copyscape.com has some good guidelines:

  1. Look for contact details on the offending site and send a polite message asking for the material to be removed. If there are no contact details available, try emailing webmaster@ the domain.
  2. Use a Whois service to find out the website owner's name and telephone number and contact them directly. Enter the domain name in the search box and the contact information should appear towards the bottom of the page.
  3. Contact the web hosting company used by the site and inform them of their customer's abuse. This information is also available through a Whois search.
  4. Send a formal 'Cease and Desist' letter notifying the offending party that they must remove the stolen content from their site. Some sample letters are available on the web.
  5. File a notice of Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement with search engines such as Google and others to have the offending site removed from their search results.
  6. If you need proof of infringement, you can use the Internet Archive to show that the content appeared on your site at an earlier date than it appeared on the offending site.

 

How to file a DMCA notice with Google:

Infringement Notification for Web Search and all other products

To file a notice of infringement with us, you must provide a written communication (by fax or regular mail -- not by email, except by prior agreement) that sets forth the items specified below. Please note that you will be liable for damages (including costs and attorneys' fees) if you materially misrepresent that a product or activity is infringing your copyrights. Indeed, in a recent case (please see http://www.onlinepolicy.org/action/legpolicy/opg_v_diebold/ for more information), a company that sent an infringement notification seeking removal of online materials that were protected by the fair use doctrine was ordered to pay such costs and attorneys fees. The company agreed to pay over $100,000. Accordingly, if you are not sure whether material available online infringes your copyright, we suggest that you first contact an attorney.

To expedite our ability to process your request, please use the following format (including section numbers):

1. Identify in sufficient detail the copyrighted work that you believe has been infringed upon (for example, "The copyrighted work at issue is the text that appears on http://www.legal.com/legal_page.html") or other information sufficient to specify the copyrighted work being infringed (for example, "The copyrighted work at issue is the “Touch Not This Cat” by Dudley Smith, published by Smith Publishing, ISBN #0123456789").

2. Identify the material that you claim is infringing the copyrighted work listed in item #1 above.

FOR WEB SEARCH, YOU MUST IDENTIFY EACH SEARCH RESULT THAT DIRECTLY LINKS TO A WEB PAGE THAT ALLEGEDLY CONTAINS INFRINGING MATERIAL. This requires you to provide (a) the search query that you used, and (b) the URL for each allegedly infringing search result.

For example, suppose (hypothetically) that you conducted a search on google.com using the query "google", and found that the third and fourth results directly link to a web page that you believe infringes the copyrighted text you identified in item #1 above. In this case, you would provide the following information:

Search Query:
google

Infringing Web Pages: 
www.infringingwebsite.com
directory.infringingwebsite.com

If you are sending a large number of URLs in one removal request, please also send an electronic copy of the notice to removals at google dot com.

3. Provide information reasonably sufficient to permit Google to contact you (email address is preferred).

4. Provide information, if possible, sufficient to permit Google to notify the owner/administrator of the allegedly infringing webpage or other content (email address is preferred).

5. Include the following statement: "I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described above as allegedly infringing is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law."

6. Include the following statement: "I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed."

7. Sign the paper.

8. Send the written communication to the following address:

Google, Inc.
Attn: Google Legal Support, DMCA Complaints
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

    OR fax to:

(650) 963-3255, Attn: Google Legal Support, DMCA Complaints

Please note that in addition to being forwarded to the person who provided the allegedly infringing content, a copy of this legal notice will be sent to a third-party which may publish and/or annotate it.  As such, your letter (with your personal information removed) will be forwarded to Chilling Effects (http://www.chillingeffects.org).  You can see an example of such a publication at http://www.chillingeffects.org/dmca512/notice.cgi?NoticeID=861.  A link to your published letter will be displayed in Google's search results in place of the removed content.

The above is courtesy of Google’s information page. Now the nice thing about getting a DMCA notice honored by google et. al. is that when somebody makes a search that would bring up the offending content, they get to see the notice instead – a double whammy!  If they are hosting Google Adsense ads, that account can get pulled too. So, it’s possible to really put the hurt to these crooks.  I’ve already taken the first step with our friend Degennaro. The next step will be a DMCA filing.  Online plagiarism is a crime. It’s one thing to republish somebody’s original work with a link back to the source. But the above example is where I draw the line. Hope this helps.