What Plagiarists Want: Why Your Content Isn’t Safe

Hiding ImageWhen it comes to posting their content online, many people, it seems, feel that they are protected not by copyright law or technology, but rather, by a feeling on anonymity.

“No one would want to plagiarize me,” Someone once said to me, “I’m nobody and my work isn’t that great anyway.”

It’s easy to see why people think that. There’s an estimated 2.4 billion people using the Internet right now and a large percentage of them of them, whether through social networking, blogging, posting videos or uploading images, are leaving content behind. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would target one particular, blogger, photographer or other content creator among millions.

However, this idea that plagiarism is targeted stems from the debunked idea that plagiarism is a form of flattery and that plagiarists are little more than unscrupulous editors looking for the perfect work to claim as their own.

That’s simply not the case.

As stated in the article above, plagiarists aren’t looking for the best work or even great work, but rather, work that meets their needs. Unfortunately, for most, quality isn’t on the list of things that a plagiarist needs so, even if you are completely right and your work isn’t good, it doesn’t mean that it’s safe.

But if plagiarists aren’t looking for quality content? What are they looking for? Every person who sets out to find content to lift is in a different boat, but there are a few common themes that seem to hold true. By knowing those themes, you can understand just how much risk your content is under and, most importantly, see why it’s almost never completely safe.

What Plagiarists Want

Simply put, if quality work was the highest priority of the online plagiarist, they would likely be better off creating their own content or at least licensing something of known quality. Finding truly great and truly relevant work online can be as difficult as writing new creations from scratch, giving them little reason to take the risks.

This is why the selections of plagiarsts aren’t, typically, made out of a desire to find the highest-quality work. Rather, they’re motivated by different factors.

  1. Convenience: Works that are easier to find are more often targeted by plagiarists. The same as a high Google ranking will attract a large number of legitimate searchers, it will also attract those with more nefarious intentions who don’t want to search any further down the results.
  2. Dimension: It’s important that a work be the right size for the plagiarist. Whether it’s mirroring the desired word count, being an image long enough to use or a video/audio file that’s long enough to play the needed ads. The work involved has to be the right size.
  3. On Topic: A work has to be appropriate for the use, whether it’s a blog post or a photo, it has to be right for the desired subject. In this regard, generic works often are more vulnerable because they can be applied to more topics.

In short, the desires of plagiarist are more pragmatic. They want a work that fills their need and they want it quickly. If the work is of high quality and obscure, so much the better, but online plagiarism is more of a numbers game than a quality one.

A plagiarist is probably better off trying to lift hundreds or thousands of works in hopes that one or two succeed than trying to improve their averages with a great deal of effort and care. In fact, this is probably part of why so many plagiarists don’t bother to use humans at all.

The Rise of Machine Plagiarism

Scraping has been a big topic on this site since it started, most recently the rise of whole-site scraping. But it’s a point that bears repeating, plagiarists, spammers and other infringers have been making use of automated scraping to fill their pages for some time and, as their bots and other tools grow more intelligent, the problem will grow with them.

With bots, it’s trivial to capture large amounts of content from all over the Web, store it in a database and republish what is needed. For example, a spammer might grab millions of pages of content from the Web and, if they want to create a site about a specific keyword, only republish articles that have that term.

There, the only requirements a work has for being plagiarized is that it was grabbed in the spidering effort and had the necessary keyword. You can’t predict what keywords a spammer might target and if your work will have it somewhere.

This also completely removes the human judgment element from the equation. The people who plagiarized, or at the very least infringed, your work likely never saw or read it. There’s no praise or compliment, just sheer bad fortune.

In short, any content you post online, given enough time, will almost certainly be plagiarized by someone somewhere. If Google and other search engines can find your work, so can spammers and other plagiarists. If they can find your work, it’s only a matter of time before it fits one of their needs.

Bottom Line

To be clear, there are some human plagiarists out there who do lift content for personal aggrandizement. They do seek out high quality content to fill their portfolios and personal sites but, these days, they are the exception, not the rule.

Most plagiarists, whether they are humans or machines, are simply looking for the content that fits their need and can be reused quickly. Plagiarism online is a numbers game and it’s best played through quantity, not quality.

So, before you wonder why anyone would plagiarize your work, ask yourself why they wouldn’t. After all, if your work is good enough to appear in Google, it’s good enough to meet the needs of a plagiarist trying to trick Google.

However, more to the point, to a plagiarist, content is content and quality is, at most, a secondary concern. Whether you’re being too hard on yourself or being realistic when you say “No one would be interested” in your work, it doesn’t matter.

Interest, human interest, simply doesn’t factor into the choices plagiarists make.