Was my writing stolen?

Was my writing stolen?

I invited Briana Myricks to write this guest post.  When I heard her story, I knew that all writers – not just blog writers – will relate to what she experienced.  I am curious to hear your comments once you have read her post.

Have you ever written a blog post that you put your figurative, or even literal, blood, sweat, and tears into? If you are a blogger, chances are, you have on numerous occasions.  Most other writers have, too.  What about a post you spent hours researching and perfecting to be not only logical and understandable, but also fun and entertaining? Writers and bloggers everywhere are probably nodding their heads in unison. Think back to how proud you were when your hard work was noticed by your peers, your supervisor, and even other media. When your writing was featured in roundups and bigger blogs, you probably patted yourself on your back for a job well done. You were getting the recognition you’ve always thought you deserved.

Now think of a time when someone stole either your idea or your work outright. How furious were you? If you’re a blogger and your content was scraped onto a spammer blog, you may or may not have even flinched. But what if your work showed up on a more authoritative site with a large readership, a more expansive reach, and higher SEO value than your site? You wouldn’t feel too good, would you?

A few weeks ago, my childhood came to an end with the final movie installment of the Harry Potter saga. I felt that I had learned so much from the Hogwarts students, and was compelled to blog about it. I took to StupidCents, a personal finance blog that I’m a staff writer for, and explained to readers the financial lessons I learned from each Harry Potter story. I spent hours doing research and writing the post, wanting it to be accurate and a quality post, rather than simple link bait. My diligence paid off; the article was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance, the Best of Money Carnival, and even Canada’s largest national newspaper, Globe Investor. The post is the most popular on StupidCents.

Friday, I was going through my RSS reader and found that Business Insider’s War Room had a post about financial tips from Harry Potter. I was excited, assuming that my post was also featured on the huge news site. As I read the article, I saw that there were several points that I mentioned, but another person as the author with no credit to my article. I was livid! Was Business Insider stealing my content? I left a comment voicing my suspicion, and I consulted several friends and colleagues to compare the two posts. After reading both posts, they felt that although my post may have heavily influenced the one featured by the War Room contributor, it was not stolen. I felt a little better about it. I was put a bit more at ease when the author pointed out differences in our articles with a reply to my comment.

This situation got me thinking: how many other times has this happened in the blogosphere? No doubt, there are sites that exist specifically for content scraping. Content farms, where high quantity and low quality are the name of the game, were also known for taking quality articles from other sites and passing it along as their own. Thankfully, Google’s Panda update has discredited thousands of those sites, including content farms like Associated Content, AllBusiness and HubPages. Of course, there’s going to be articles that echo many of the same lessons, much like there are so many articles offering mostly the same tips on “how to save money on gas”.

What are the odds that you get several of the same personal finance lessons from 4,195 pages (from the US edition of the Harry Potter books) and 19.6 hours of film?!

Another issue is when your content is featured word for word on a higher authority site. I was in this situation a year ago. I wrote a post on my now defunct Internet marketing blog about why “Facebook Quit Day” was a flop. I was a tiny blog getting very little visitors, and a small blip on the Internet radar. I was also a member of Social Media Today, and had my blog feed imported. My article was featured on the website, word for word, and received tens of thousands of page views…on the Social Media Today site. Sure, there was a link to the “original article” but who’s really going to go to a little known blog to read the exact same article on a bigger site? Even the number of tweets was more than I could imagine but I didn’t prosper, as my Twitter profile was not connected to the auto-tweet. So was Social Media Today not stealing because they linked my original article? It’s tough to say.

It’s understandable that people look for research online and can come up with similar ideas, or even base their posts off another one. I even understand that as unique as you may think your idea is, someone could have the same idea as you without it being content theft. Internet publishing still doesn’t have the same rights and protections as physical works like magazines, newspapers and books. However, if you are using another story or someone else’s ideas in your creative work, always give credit where credit is due. It’s common courtesy at the very least.

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9 thoughts on “Was my writing stolen?

  1. Hi Briana,
    As bad as scrapper sites and copiers are, there is a silver lining for WordPress bloggers. The plugin RSS Footer Links was designed for specifically for scrapper sites who pipe in your RSS feed to create posts for their scrapper blogs. It adds links to the bottom of the post back to the original post along with any other links you choose to add.

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    1. Thanks for that tip, Tom. I am going to test the plugin on one of my blogs now.

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  2. Hi David,

    I share your pain, I really do. I’ve been scraped and ripped off too many times to count. I’ve even had whole blog posts sold by other copywriters to unsuspecting clients which is plain illegal any way you look at it.

    Any reputable author should credit inspiration, not only as a common courtesy but also as best practice.

    However, I disagree with your comments about Social Media Today. I, too, have some of my blog posts published on the site. Like you, the posts garner far more traffic and social media activity than I ever get on my own blog. But here’s the thing; you imported your feed to Social Media Today and, by doing so, gave them explicit permission to republish anything they want from your blog. They’re an aggregator site and make no bones about it. They always give writer credit and always provide a link back to the original post. You can’t play the game then complain you were mistreated. You weren’t. People will discover your blog and more of your posts if the content is compelling enough. Frankly, getting published on Social Media Today isn’t easy and their editorial process is tough. You should be grateful for the opportunity they’ve provided. If you’re not, remove your feed and you won’t have to deal with them anymore.

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    1. @Sarah, thanks for the feedback. Just please note that this was Briana’s experience with her writing, not mine. But I’ll come back and rant about my own experience when I feel like it. ;-)

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  3. This hits home like a ton of bricks. I’m getting really frustrated at the moment. I write articles and press releases for my company partly to help with SEO.

    All the content is original and where I source data from an authority I link to that site.

    Lately, I keep seeing my content which has clearly been spun and making very little sense on numerous low rank article sites, the trouble is my company name still comes up in the text and I’m concerned that it is being associated what what now looks like garbage. I also wonder if this is detrimental to my site as far as the search engines are concerned.

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    1. @Stewart If your content has been machine-spun, you probably would not want “credit” for the mess they make of it. I spin my own article for article directories, since most of them prefer not to get duplicate content, but I take great care to manually spin; with the exception of an occasional typo, they do me proud.

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  4. @Tom: Thanks for that information! I’m going to keep that in mind and make sure I take care of that ASAP!
    @Sarah: I completely agree with you. When it first happened to me, I did some research into what others had to say about Social Media Today and saw that, indeed, that’s what I was getting myself into. I’m now grateful, since it still led to some people coming to my site.
    @Stewart: I agree with David; you probably don’t want your name attached to articles that were spun and no longer make sense. I hope the problem gets solved soon!

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  5. I wonder if it would be easy to change our RSS settings so that only the first 200 characters or so of a post are included in the RSS feed, making it harder for the whole blog to be scraped.

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