The theft of ideas and content

If you regularly read SQL Server or other technology blogs, you know that the blogs can be a wonderful way to stay connected. You can learn about the latest innovations in the technology, you can keep abreast of the recent services packs and vulnerabilities, you can even learn of techniques to improve performance. The benefits of reading blogs goes on and on. I’ve got a long list of SQL Server related blogs that I read almost daily.

Additionally blogs are a good way to keep up with others on more personal level. When you read somone’s blog, you get a sense of who they are and what they are like. You almost feel like you know them. And that can be a good thing.

Stealing another’s work

But there’s been a disappointing yet growing trend in SQL Server content on the web over the past few years – the outright theft of blog content.

Initially, the plagiarism was of a more traditional style. It was typically committed by people who wanted the accolades associated with writing really good content without the effort of actually having to write it. Maybe they didn’t have the knowledge or skills to write? Maybe they did have the knowledge and skills but not the time? Who knows? But for whatever the reason, they intentionally decided to steal someone else’s work and place their name on it.

Plagiarized content of this nature would usually show up on personal blog sites. Some of the more cavalier plagiaizers would actually submit the stolen content to sites like SQLServerCentral.com and receive payment for it, hoping that their ill-conceived acts would go unnoticed. I know Steve Jones regularly has to deal with this situation.

A more subtle theft

Recently, it seems that there another breed of plagiarism that has popped up on the Internet. This form of theft is much less obvious, much less overt.

It seems more and more sites are attempting to drive traffic to their own sites with content that is not their own. They do this under they guise of being content aggregators. They may even believe that they are offering the community a service by collecting the a bunch of disparate sources of information and presenting them in one unified place.

However, they are deceiving themselves and their readers. They are, in my humble opinion, stealing content for the explicit purpose of driving traffic to their site. Perhaps they do this for ad revenue? Perhaps for the sense of accomplishment in creating a site that has millions of hits? Whatever the reason, the ends do not justify the means.

A rose by any other name is still a rose

Many, if not most, of these so-called aggregators, do not give credit to the author, they do not link back to the original source of the information, and they are not up front about their techniques for acquiring the content.

When you take the work of another and use it without the authors consent, you are plagiarizing. It’s that’s simple.

The right way

There are, of course, many aggregators that syndicate content legally with the author’s permission and consent. SQLServerPedia.com is a great example of this. They ask authors to select and submit their works. They link back to the original works. And they give credit to the author. This is the right way of doing things.

So how does this affect me?

If you enjoy reading content that others have created and want to see that content continue to flow in the most convenient way possible, you can help. Notify authors with their content has been plagiarized. Even if you are unsure whether it was used without permission or not, let the author know. They will appreciate hearing from you.

If you are an author and you’ve noticed that your content is being used without your permission, you have rights. Brent Ozar (@BrentO on twitter) has some good information on his site about plagiarism and what to do about it.

I’m actually taking his advice now. Last week I discovered that several of my blog posts are being used without my consent. Take it from me, this is not a pat-on-the-back. It’s not a I-should-feel-flattered-that-someone-liked-my-stuff-enough-to-rip-it-off. No, it’s an annoyance.

What do you think? Are aggregators plagiarizing? Have you had issues with plagiarism? I’d like to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Joe

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13 Responses to The theft of ideas and content

  1. Steve Jones says:

    Thanks, Joe, for a great post.

    It’s a battle out there, and one that requires judgment. I think aggregation is good, and it works, but it can’t include a republication of the content, even with credit or attribution.

    If you do not have permission from the copyright holder, than you can include a short summary, I’d say 250 words or less and a link for aggregation.

    The more disturbing trend I’ve seen is people building their own blog and copying word for word someone else’s posts.

  2. Paul Randal says:

    Excellent post, and I couldn’t agree more.

    It really annoys me when people rip-off my content blatantly, and just this week I came across a new ‘aggregator’ that was tweeting links to *their* website with my blog post titles. I don’t see why we need multiple aggregator sites – it just further confounds newbies when they’re looking for content.

    For me, it’s doubly annoying – as Kimberly and I post a lot of content on our website and make a big thing of the site being totally free of advertizing. The most we get from having all the info out there is people recognizing our company – but mostly its about the community. And then for people to make use of the free content to build sites that either profit from advertizing or build their own kudos – very bad form.

    Anyway, enough ranting. Nice post Joe.

  3. pinaldave says:

    I think I am fine with aggregation however, as Steve suggested it should be less than 250 words.

    I am facing another problem here as my most of the post are less tahn 250 words already so I request them 150 words, if they say can not do that, I just do not allow it or file DCMA.

    Btw, I really liked your take on this subject. Please keep it up.

  4. Karen Lopez says:

    I’ve also found instances of our content being re-published elsewhere, without permission and without attribution.

    I’m tired of playing whack-a-mole with these sites.

    I wonder, though, how one steals an idea?

    I guess one could mis-represent an idea as being an original thought when it isn’t, but that’s not stealing an idea.

  5. Paul Randal says:

    @Karen Stealing an idea is where you blog about something and then within 2-3 days there are a bunch of blog posts about the exact same topic expressing the same opinions as your blog post and claiming they just thought of it too. It’s happened to me quite a few times.

  6. I am sure that I don’t really have to voice my opinion on this subject since I have been so out spoken about it on Twitter and in my own blog posts, but excellent post Joe. I am with you 110% on this subject. I make it a point to write key things and publish them where it is free to be read by all. If I wanted to someone to make money on those works it would first be me.

  7. brento says:

    The aggregator thing is just infuriating. At SQLServerPedia, we bend over backwards to make sure we’re promoting the authors as much as possible. Seeing people just rip off authors without any attribution or promotion, totally for their own gain, has gotta be the biggest bummer on the Internet.

  8. Paul Randal says:

    SQLServerKudos is the latest one to annoy me – I suddenly noticed tweets from it about my blog posts but pointing to their (advertizing laden) site. Grrr.

  9. Jack Corbett says:

    Excellent post Joe. This is definitely a tough subject. In my own personal writing I try to be careful when providing content so that I am not re-using someone else’s content without proper attribution.

    It’s definitely worth writing about and keeping awareness up.

  10. I agree with your position, Joe – but in general, I’m of the opinion that anyone who visits those aggregators will also be surfing around independently and will discover the plagiarism for themselves. That doesn’t make it right, but it probably does mean that the aggregator will likely lose readers as fast as it gets them.

    @Karen and @Paul – ideas and facts aren’t “protectable”, nor would you want them to be. I can only assume that just about everyone feels the same as I do about granting a company some kind of monopoly protection related to a specific gene sequence…

    Stronger copyright and patents aren’t “good” by definition. Both concepts need to balance granting a monopoly against the public benefit of spreading information. And I think we can all agree that spreading useful information is a big part of why we’re here. But it sure is nice to be asked first, and attributed.

  11. Lakisha says:

    Well done ariclte that. I’ll make sure to use it wisely.

  12. Letting christmas fade off to the past and going thru some of my bookmarks…I was here before because I have this blog bookmarked…. But Ido not recognize it, so you must have made some serious changes in the design?

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