Curse of the Content Farm, er, Content

What I’m reading: Mornings Like These by Annie Dillard (found poetry)
What’s on the iPod: Summer Nights by Rascal Flatts

Code in da node – I have one. You know that feeling you get the day after a bottle of wine? That would be me. Yesterday was brought to me by Advil and lots of water laced with vinegar (my mother’s cure-all for colds and flu). It’s a heinous combination, but it’s my version of chicken soup.

Still really excited about how much fun Devon and I had with those who participated in our Webinar. I myself sat in this chair from 7 am to 5:30 pm answering questions and interacting. I didn’t plan to, but I was caught up in the great interactions we were having. A HUGE thank you to Devon for being such a super co-host, and to Colin Galbraith for offering his time on a UK Saturday night to babysit our tech issues.

I was thinking back to my post yesterday, and maybe it was the post-codeine stupor, but I realized that the blog content I was referring to was nothing more than the blog version of content farm drivel. Here was someone taking other people’s original work, rewording it, and calling it theirs. There was no legwork beyond going out and lifting it. And in this person’s mind, that may actually seem legitimate. I don’t know if the accused has worked for a content farm, but the method has all the earmarkings of it.

So if the precedent set by content farms – that writers think it’s okay to just reword someone else’s article and put their names at the top as author – is not challenged, does that mean it sets a precedent for all Web content? Egad.

So, content farm lackeys – if you want to know just how close to plagiarism and copyright infringement you are, here’s a little guide:

Rewriting an existing piece does not make it original. It makes it a bastardized, sub-standard copy. And it could land you in hot water (notice I didn’t say your content farm, for they’re going to shift the blame entirely to you).

One source is not research. I write blog posts for companies, and I use online sources sometimes. I do not, however, use one source exclusively. That’s the same as just rewriting something that isn’t yours.

Ideas are not copyrightable, unless the idea is patented or the basis of someone’s entire business model. How about just coming up with your own great idea? Here’s the thing – you may think calling it “Guerilla Freelancing” or “Freelancing for Dummies” is so brilliant, but I think the companies/authors who came up with those ideas will beat you in court.

If your “research consists of rewriting each sentence, you’re stealing. Seriously. Do I have to tell you that?

That said, Cathy sent me a link to what she thought was the offending website. It wasn’t, but I was interested in what I saw. All my posts were there. They were attributed to me, but they were republished. Not sure how I feel about it. And a lot of you are showing up there, too. That the guy’s name is Pariah is disconcerting enough.

What have you seen that skirts the lines – or even crosses the lines – of plagiarism and copyright infringement?

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Comments

  • Kimberly March 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Now that's just crazy. I wonder how he benefits from posting your articles on his blog? So he didn't even bother contacting you to ask permission to do this?

    Reply
  • Cathy March 29, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I would love to hear from someone who knows more about this than me (boy, does that open the floodgates). 🙂 But, about that link I sent you, Lori, I just can't believe what they are doing is legal. They are skating around it by linking to the original posts, but the sheer massiveness of it is appalling. Maybe we should get a heavy-hitter like Brian Solis (who is also on the site) involved.

    Did you notice this post is already there? So, somehow they automatically pull in your link.

    PS I guess I have quite a ways to go since I'm not included in his selections. LOL!! 😀

    Reply
  • Joseph Hayes March 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Wow, so this WorkSteal entity automatically picks up your RSS feed and republishes. Not a difficult thing to do, but boy is it insidiously offensive. He, she or it gets Google ad money and can hide behind the attribution and, oh that's right, everything online is free and what are you complaining about, we're making you famous. Such bullshit.

    Reply
  • Samantha Bangayan March 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Hope you're feeling better, Lori! =)

    Lori, you might have written about this in older posts that I haven't read yet, but I'm curious what your take is on "content farm lackeys" that actually put in the effort to write quality articles. I have a background in research, so I make sure to include at least five references (scientific studies whenever possible) when I write for content-creating sites. My advantage is that I can often afford to spend all day writing a 400-word article because the cost of living is so much lower here in Peru. =P Thoughts?

    Reply
  • Wendy March 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    A couple years ago, a writer (I can't remember who now), fought a site similar to this feed-hoarding one.

    It's been so long that I can't remember much about it, but it seems to me the writer claimed the site owner was making advertising money based on the content pulled from feeds. No permission was granted to have their feed placed on that site. I suppose this site is pretty much the same thing.

    Reply
  • Jenn Mattern March 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Cathy – Unless they get permission, it's definitely not legal. A lot of people mistakenly believe that if you offer an RSS feed (for people to READ your material in their private reader of choice) then you automatically grant republication rights. And that isn't true. I regularly have these kinds of sites remove my material or get shut down for the theft of their "aggregation."

    That said, I know there was a site in the niche a couple of years back where the owner DID ask permission. I can't recall if this is that site or not. Regardless, I gave them 48 hours to remove my content. Even if permission was granted then there was never an irrevocable license granted to anything, it would have been before other contributors were involved on my site, and before there was a great deal of monetization (and I don't grant permission for people to monetize my work).

    I'd suggest anyone who has stolen content email the guy with a takedown notice. I usually give them 48 hours, but you can give them however long you want. If they fail to deal with the issue after that, report them to Adsense (you can get their adsense ID by using "view source" on any page with ads). That'll get their entire adsense account suspended for violation of terms of use if caught monetizing copyrighted material without permission. Then you can file a dmca notice with their host to force the content to be removed if the site owner won't do it on their own.

    Like I said, I can't recall if this is the site that asked for permission quite some time ago. But clearly they aren't asking everyone for permission as Lori didn't give it, and that's illegal.

    Reply
  • Jenn Mattern March 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I don't usually like to leave links, but here's an article I wrote about hunting these folks down online (getting their host info, etc.) and dealing with them, for anyone who wants to report them.

    http://allfreelancewriting.com/2010/03/11/specialties/blogging/stop-content-thieves-dead-in-their-tracks/

    Reply
  • paula March 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    a lot of the celebrity profiles and articles i've written about certain actors and series tend to wind up on fan sites. the sites are usually good about attribution, even including the specific issue of the magazine.

    fans will find the material no matter where it is, so as long as the attribution is clear and they're not passing it off as their own or charging a fee for people to access it, i tend to let it slide.

    what i don't like is when places that charge subscription or download fees – like two not-to-be-named sites that offer paid access to scholarly essays they don't own the rights to, then skirt the issue by claiming they purchased the rights from the anthology that bought one-time reprint rights to the essays many years ago. [yeah. that's the nutshell version of my copyright infringement story that blogger ate yesterday. the websites claim they purchased rights from the anthology publisher. the anthology publisher didn't have the right to do that, but pretty much told me, 'tough.' turns out they'd settled a class action lawsuit a year or so earlier.]

    Reply
  • Eileen March 29, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Years ago, I wrote a regular newspaper column, which the newspaper paid first rights for. After that, the rights reverted back to me. But this newspaper also put all their newspaper copy into Lexus-Nexus. I would periodically find people who lifted out my column from L-N and reprinted it. For some reason, they thought they had that right. Then, when I called them on it, some called the newspaper editor to complain, who told me frankly they weren't going to do anything to protect my work, because their paper as a whole was not copyrighted. Needless to say, I soon ended my affiliation with that newspaper. The only gratifying thing is, 6 years later, readers still complain that my column is no longer published.

    Reply
  • Cathy March 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Jenn-thank you as always for the great information. So, even though they link back to the original post when you click on the "Lori" link, it's considered republishing?

    Reply
  • Lori March 29, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Kim, he benefits from the ads on his site. And hey, if he wants to republish my stuff, I'd say he owes me a good chunk of that ad revenue, wouldn't you think?

    Cathy, IF it's legal, it's only barely so. He's never shown up here. He doesn't read here that I've seen (subscriber lists and visitor paths).

    You've got it, Joseph. Just take my stuff and I should be grateful – right. Like I'd be grateful that someone is lifting my content and making money from it. Clueless, isn't he?

    Samantha, let me answer you separately. Hang on….

    Wendy, there's the problem. With sites like Bloglines, etc., you have to opt in. With this, you're lucky if you know about it.

    Oh, he's getting a note, Jenn. It's going to be a cease-and-desist note. I can't wait to hear his excuse. And thanks for the link – I welcome the relevant ones. 🙂

    Not sure I'd let it slide, Paula. It's still theft.

    That's one lousy newspaper to work for, Eileen. They should protect copyright like a child. What stops anyone from lifting their content and circumventing their paid subscription model? Just dumb.

    Reply
  • Lori March 29, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Samantha, you ask a great question. If you work for a content farm and are trying to do the right thing, my opinion is you are grossly under-employed. Get out. Please. You can do better. With a background like yours and that amount of detailed research, you should be commanding 1,000 times or better what those places are paying you.

    Look over on the left for the tag "Writers worth." Under that tag you'll find articles titled "Worthy Tip: This Job Not That Job." They're meant to be guides to help you drop the low-paying work and move up the food chain.

    Mind you, I present alternatives sometimes that aren't super paying, but they're exponentially better than what a content farm pays.

    And please, stick around. We're happy to guide you!

    Reply
  • Kimberly March 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Ah, ad revenue – of course! Yeah, if your original content increases traffic to his site, adds to the "quality" of his site or means more ad clicks, he certainly DOES owe you something.

    Reply
  • Jenn Mattern March 29, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Cathy – Yes. Attribution does not make it legal, and that's a common misconception these content scrapers have. Any republication or derivative work created from your article is a copyright violation w/o your permission. At least if it's in full. If they're just putting a small snippet with a link to the full article on your site, it's a bit different — still sleazy business, but not necessarily a copyright violation (depending on how much they publish).

    Reply
  • Cathy March 30, 2011 at 2:36 am

    Hey Jenn-thanks-that's what this guy is doing-he has the blog title and the start of the post and then you click on the link that takes you back to the site. Seems to me I had to click in two places to get back to Lori's post.

    I understand that if they scrape the post (even with the attribution) that that is illegal, but this guys skates around it. Look at the list he has on the tab of "writers" and the volume of their post titles and links.

    Reply
  • Fiona March 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Wow – who needs to study, you guys provide a better education than any course ever could.

    Lori – It's a crappy way to learn something when it's affecting you but I still appreciate that you're all sharing stories so the rest of us kow what to look out for.

    I'm being more circumspect both in what I'm writing and reading and that's even knowing I have nothing to be guilty of.

    Cheers, Fi

    Reply
  • Lori March 30, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    It is a bit of a shock, Fiona, but I'm glad to know about it so I can put a halt to it. I sent him a cease-and-desist. Today, one post and the link to my name remains. That's not good enough. It all comes down or he'll be getting served.

    Reply
  • Jenn Mattern March 30, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Cathy — The double-click thing is a bit more questionable, as is the fact that he's publishing these to monetize them. If a site has an RSS policy that forbids using their feed to republish things, he'd still be in violation of their terms and have to remove it on request.

    More importantly, he's covering some very short posts there as well (such as intros to podcasts) and publishing almost the full post. That would more likely be a direct copyright violation. So short alone doesn't always protect him.

    There's also recourse beyond removal. For example, he monetizes the site with Adsense. And Adsense policies blatantly forbid you from using their ads on any site where you publish others' copyrighted material without a license to do so. So even if not every post is a copyright violation, the fact that some are puts him in violation which can lead to suspension or cancellation of the account (and ads from that account on ANY website he runs).

    So thinking he's skirting the legal issues doesn't mean he fully is.

    It's also important to consider fair use issues. Using a limited portion of something CAN be fair use. But that doesn't mean it always is, especially if it doesn't meet other fair use requirements (and in this case not only is it commercial which makes it questionable, but there's also the potential for a direct impact on the copyright holders if he's pulling subscribers from their site to his — which in turn hurts the main site's revenues if their traffic is affected).

    It's also important to note that fair use really isn't an excuse to do something. It's only a defense, meaning it only comes into play after you're sued when you try to use it as an excuse. But if you don't meet enough fair use requirements, that defense won't necessarily hold up. That's why there are no hard and fast rules about how much someone can use, how they can use it, etc.

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  • Jenn Mattern March 30, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    On a side note, I'm happy to say that it appears my own site's feed was removed after my 48 hour takedown request.

    Reply
  • Lori March 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Jenn, thanks for such a great comment. You make some very solid points, which coincide with what I understand the Fair Use policy to be.

    1 – His is a commercial interest as he's earning money via ads.

    2 – He is republishing without permission.

    3 – In some cases, he is not using a "snippet" of content as he called in in email to me. He's using full posts, and he's using several snippets from one source. In nearly every case.

    4 -His republishing of writers' works, even with the lame excuse of "driving traffic" to each of our sites (because some are click-throughs to the source sites), clearly does not benefit any of the writers he's lifting from.

    I've started a poll to see just how many people have come here via his site. I can think of one, and that's only if he himself visits.

    Reply
  • Wendy March 31, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Is it so hard to delete those feeds from the site? Why does it still have one post and your name? Even Jenn's has one post remaining. It's from a couple years ago, but still… Like you said, all means all. Period.

    Reply