Sunday, December 09, 2007

Plagiarism or a Service?

Annie in Austin, writing at The Transplantable Rose, recently found her posts copied on another site. She started placing a notice about the authorship and where the information was originally posted at the beginning and end of each post. That did not stop her content from showing up on the other site so she she wrote Tired of Sharecropping for .... about what was happening. Normally I would use her entire post title here but she used the other site's name and I will not give them any advertising here.

It seems that the other site was taking her content from her feed, reposting it in it's entirety in their forum. Not only her content was posted there but the content of many other garden bloggers too. (I haven't been through all of the pages yet but so far I haven't found any of my content there. If you have please let me know!) They have since removed Annie's content but the content of the others is still there. This is how they responded to Annie:

All we are doing is subscribing to your RSS feed. You are publishing an RSS feed for your blog. You have control over the amount of content that you are syndicating in your feed. RSS feeds are designed to help you distribute your content, and that's exactly what we feel we are doing. We are getting your content out in front of a wider audience, giving you attribution, and linking back to the original source.

I did check out the site and the posts came up without a date or author name. The original title was used and the name of the blog where the post originated was in shown in parentheses. The name of the person posting clearly was not the original author. All of the original photographs and links are there. If you read all the way through a post there was a link to "more" that took you to the page where the work originally appeared. Directly to the right of the beginning of each post is a Google ad box. So they are clearly trying to profit from the work of others and it is my personal opinion that they are not giving proper attribution.

Make sure you read Annie's post and all of the comments that follow. Then check out what Mr. Brown Thumb had to say here. I urge any of you who are unhappy about your content being found elsewhere to file a complaint with Google as he recommends. He also has information about shortening your feed. If you do not want to get a feedburner account but you do want to shorten your feed to avoid this type of theft you can do so easily by going to your settings tab and selecting site feed and resetting your preference to short or even none. You need to be aware that if you set it to none that those of us that follow your feed will no longer know when you have a new post. If you shorten your feed those that subscribe to your feed will have to click through to see your entire post, not necessarily a bad thing, but you may lose a few readers. In Mr. Brown Thumb's comments the other site responded with this:

That fact that we have struck such a nerve has gotten us thinking about how we do what we do, and clearly there is room for improvement. Starting now, we will provide more clear attribution in every post we syndicate via RSS, we will indicate in the post that it was from an RSS feed, and we will provide two links back to the originating content, one at the top of the post, and one at the bottom.
They have done this BUT now they no longer have the name of the original site in parentheses. They have not gone back and amended the older posts and there are so many that it would probably take them weeks to do so. The posts are still appearing in their entirety. Is this fair use or a service? Not to my mind, but I'm not a lawyer.

Over the summer Ancestry introduced the Internet Biographical Collection which caused much a lot of controversy among bloggers and website owners. They used web crawlers to find content, cached it and then added it to the collection. (Do a search for "Internet Biographical Collection" and "IBC" and you will find information on what happened and the differing opinions.) Ancestry's initial response at 24/7 Family History Circle was similar to the response Annie received: just added the Internet Biographical Collection which is a compilation of genealogy information across the web. For the first few days, the information was in the paid section of the site. Based on community response to the addition of the Internet Biographical Collection, has decided to make the database free. The site is also displaying a live link back to the source site where the information was extracted. The goal behind the collection is to help surface genealogical information that many people would not be able to find easily because it is often scattered among numerous websites across the Internet. We are currently evaluating the viability of this collection and whether it can meet its goals.
Outrage continued on both sides until Ancestry removed the database.

After things had died down a bit Craig Mason, writing at GeneaBlogie, wrote a series on copyright law that was very informative and I urge you to read all of it. It is very long (start at the bottom and work your way back up) so read a piece or two each day.

To protect yourself from having your site cached you can add code to your template. Do a search for "prevent caching" to find the code that will work for your site or blog type.

So how do we protect ourselves? We can't totally as there will always be those that try and profit from the work of others. In September I added a Creative Commons License or Copyright Notice to all of my blogs. Will this stop content theft? Nope! But maybe it will give those with something to loose pause. I certainly am not willing to stop blogging just because my content might be used in a way that I object to. For those that may be considering not blogging anymore because of this (OR for other reasons!) I would suggest that you make your blog private and invite those that enjoy your writing to continue to visit.

Now we come to the question of whether or not we want to shorten or eliminate our feeds or prevent our material from being cached. I have four different blogs with four different goals so I personally have different answers.

On this blog I post pictures of my family and I don't want those pictures showing up on somebody else's site. I also write about school bus safety and that information I want to share with as many people as possible. So here I will shorten my feed and be more aware of how far into a post I place pictures. I do have a private, by invitation only blog, that I may start using for all of my family posts in the future. I have to give that some more thought. I will allow caching so that my bus safety information remains available.

My Sister's Garden
is pretty much closed for the season and as I team blog I want to talk to Country Girl before I make hard and fast decisions there. She is having some internet problems but I hope sometime next year she will have them worked out and share some of the amazing renovation work that she has done on her old farm house. For right now I will shorten the feed. We enjoy being part of the garden blogger community and if we don't keep our blog public how will anyone be able to stop by and answer our questions????

The whole point of Apple's Tree is to make connections and interact with other genealogists so I will not be making any changes there at this time. Having my work stolen is a definite concern but as a genealogist I am happy to share my research and (limited) knowledge with others. I just ask that my efforts be acknowledged. If you can take what I have and build on it to both of our benefit feel free but please to not take my work just to make a profit for yourself. I have gained so much from this blog that I'm not willing to make any changes right now.

The fourth blog that I maintain is for the School Bus Training Team, Inc. I have posted a copyright notice there. As a non-profit corporation we want to get our message out there. I will be talking to the Board of Directors about the potential for our content to show up in an objectionable location but right now I don't foresee any changes there. I may shorten the feed at some point in the future.

There may be other ways to protect your content that I am not aware of. I hope that anyone thinking about removing their blog will think twice and worst case go the route of an invitation only blog as I would hate to not be able to benefit from your knowledge or share your smiles in the future.


  1. It's a thoughtful post. These things have been under consideration for me, too. I recently found one of my travel posts at another site.

    The reality is that the theft of information on the Net was really only a matter of time. I don't mean to be a fatalist, but it is true.

    What irks me is people stealing photos of other people's kids. All we can do is be very, very careful. I recently read that photos uploaded to Google are at the express authority of Google (no surprises there). They can do what they want with your photos indefintely. Flickr can do so until you take them down. I can't remember about the other sites. Sigh.

  2. Here I am back from reading Annie's post and what an eye opener! Thanks to both you and Annie for bringing this to my attention.
    I received an e-mail from Luba Spichkin today and will know better how to answer her now that I know about the situation.
    Thanks for this informative post Apple! You've done your good deed for the day :)

  3. Hi Apple,

    Between your links, Mr Brown Thumb's and Cold Climate Kathy's - the amount of reading is overwhelming, especially at this already-hectic time of the year.

    I'm conflicted, too - hated to have to shorten my feed, but I did it.

    The little notice that I added may not have stopped my posts from appearing at the unnamed site, but I hope some casual reader may have picked up on what was going on if they saw those lines.

    I'm on Ancestry, but work on genealogy rather sporadically, so I completely missed knowing about the collection and subsequent discussion.

    Thanks very much for this post, Apple.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  4. What a good post. I'm going to do one more on the subject and then be done with this mess. It will be about who to contact when someone takes your material.

    Nice blog you got here.

  5. I'm overwhelmed with posts to read, but from what I see here, I need to go do a bit more reading. The part about the pictures (especially of my grandkids) really makes me pause. I shortened my RSS feed quite some time ago. Not sure if that affects readership too terribly much..
    Good post..

  6. I hope that all that has been written on all of our blogs and those that are referenced in our posts will help others decide how to best manage their blogs and feeds. There is an awful lot to read and consider. For right now I think shortening our feeds is enough. The reading and digesting can wait until after the holidays. I may have more to say of this next year and I know that Mrs. Mecomber is looking into watermark options for our pictures and I'm sure she'll be posting on that at a future date.

    When the whole Ancestry thing came up the genealogy bloggers really came together as a community and that sense of community remains strong. It looks like the same thing is happening with the garden bloggers.