Myspace: A Place for Plagiarism? (Part one)

I’ve spent much of the past day catching up on protecting my own works and handling incidents of plagiarism involving them. I have handled, literally, dozens of cases in the last 24 hours and have many more to do. 

However, during all of this, I began to notice a new trend in online plagiarism, It seems that the preferred avenue for plagiarists is shifting once again. Instead of blogs or personal home pages, plagiarists are following the rest of the Web and moving more into social networking sites, the king of which is Myspace.

This presents new challenges for plagiarism fighters and opens up both new possibilities to plagiarize and new possibilities to fight back.

A Brief History

Though plagiarism online is probably as old as the Internet, it hasn’t always been such a nightmare for content creators. At first, Web sites were difficult to create and only the most knowledgeable and best-positioned could create one and doing so took a great deal of work. The early sites were plain, tedious and usually only consisted of content deemed "worthy". Few, if any, would waste such effor to plagiarize others.

As the Web evolved, personal home pages became a reality. Anyone with a Tripod or Geocities account could set up a site and showcase it to the world. While this brought some plagiarism with it, the search engines were much simpler (thus eliminating the need to have lots of content) and the effort required was still fairly high. Though anyone could create a site, it was a time-consuming task only attempted by the more technically adept. So, though the Web was exploding, plagiarism wasn’t a major deal, save for artists that produced Web-page friendly graphics, which were often stolen for use these new Webmasters.

However, the rise of message boards and forums changed the game. Now anyone, with the click of a mouse, could publish content to the Web and have a built-in audience. This extension of the classic newsgroups brought on a wave of plagiarism felt strongly by poets and other short-piece writers.

This translated, somewhat slowly, into the idea of blogging. Blogging provided the same point-and-click functionality of forums but with the benefits of having your own site. Where forums were usually moderated, sometimes very strictly, blogging provided a kind of independence that that helped bring on a new wave of citizen journalists and, sadly, the scourge of splogging or spam blogging. Plagiarism, both written and visual, began to take off. Search engines compounded the problem by making content even more valuable and pushing the plagiarism problem to writers of longer works including articles and even lengthier stories.

Now, with social networking sites, the problem has reached a new level. These sites have blogs built into them, but also offer a chance to post photographs, audio clips and videos in the page itself. These sites, like blogs, are largely unmonitored and operate, in many regards, like traditional personal home pages in terms of enforcement.

Basically, that means if a problem isn’t reported, there’s no hope of it being stopped.

While this brings about a new age of personal expression, it brings with it headaches for authors and other content creators, even those that allow reuse of their work. Enforcing copyright and preventing plagiarism in the Myspace age is a very different proposal than even the blogging one.

The Shift

When I first started tracking plagiarists of my work, which is mostly poetry and short literature, about three years ago. Most incidents, around 75%, were on personal home pages and the rest were on message boards with a few full domain sites thrown into the mix.

Then, cease and desist letters worked very well. Most personal sites included contact information, including email addresses, and those cases that could not be resolved that way were handled by contacting abuse teams or notifying message board admins.

As of a few months ago, that same majority, once again about 75%, were owned by blogs and diary sites. Personal home pages, social networking sites and forums shared the rest with the usual sprinkling of domain sites on paid hosting. 

This changed the tactics considerably as many blog sites don’t publish contact information or even offer their users the chance to do so. Where once well over half of all cases were resolved with cease and desist letters, contacting admins, either via abuse reports or DMCA notices, became the most effective method.

However, within these past few days of searching, the percentage has shifted again. Now, approximately 40% of all plagiarism incidents I’ve noticed are on social networking sites, another 40% on blogs and the rest is occupied by a mix of personal Web sites, forums and domains.

This has caused my tactics to shift once again. Since social network sites offer more avenues of contact, cease and desist letters are becoming more common again. However, more than ever, each host and each case has to be taken on its own account No longer is there one dominant method of handling plagiarism, but a strange mixture of several methods ranging from filing a DMCA notice to simply posting a comment.

Because, if this latest evolution of the Web means anything to content creators, it’s going to mean that we have to be more flexible and more adaptable than ever. There is no longer a single solution that fits all cases.

This concludes part one of this series. The second part will be posted tomorrow.

[tags]Plagiarism, Copyright Infringement, Content Theft, Copyright, Myspace, Xanga, Social Networking, Web 2.0[/tags]

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