Myspace: A Place for Plagiarism (Part Two)

This article continues where the first one left off. If you haven’t read that article, which was posted yesterday, March 16, I strongly encourage you to start with it. 

Why Myspace if Vulnerable

First off, in fairness to Myspace, they do comply fully with the DMCA and they are not the only such site out there. I plan on doing a host report on Myspace and several other such sites soon and, from what I’ve seen, Myspace is actually very cooperative. The only reason that I am mentioning them by name is because they are by far the most popular.

On that note though, the nature of these sites can make them very difficult for copyright holders to work with. First, the sheer number of ways one can publish content produces a challenge in and of itself. One can post a blog, publish info in a profile, put up picture, embed audio/video, use custom HTML or post comments on other people’s profiles.

Second, one’s ability to contact the plagiarist varies wildly depending on the site and the person involved. Some members post all of their contact information, including IM names and Email addresses, while others post nothing but vague personal information. Though most social networking sites offer some kind of personal messaging system, one usually has to be a member to access it and the reliability of such a system for handling communication as important as a cease and desist is suspect and, since no paper trail is produced, 

Finally, content spreads like wildfire through these sites and confusion often arises as to who the original author is. Sometimes people get the wrong idea about what they can and can not do with a work. Worse still, any conflict that gets started on such sites can spread rapidly as well, making one’s life very difficult.

These variables make handling plagiarism cases on social networking sites both unpredictable and difficult. Where once, a cookie cutter approach worked 95% of the time, now each case has to be treated as a unique beast. What works in case A can bring a disaster about in case B.

What to Do?

If you find yourself dealing with a plagiarist at a social networking site, you need to first seriously consider getting an account at the site. Even if you don’t use the account or the site ever again, seeing areas that are hidden to the general public could be a great asset, either exposing more plagiarism or offering new avenues of contact. Besides, when dealing with these cases it’s usually important to have all of the information you can.

From there, you have to make a tough decision. Notifying the admins, either through an abuse complaint or a DMCA notice, will generally get results but several hosts have proved very uncooperative and, in other cases, such a method fails to address the root of the problem.

On the other hand, sometimes contacting the person directly is easy and effective. However, contact information the person might not be available and, even if it is, making such a post puts you at risk of an unneeded backlash or attack. While fear of a backlash should never prevent someone from effectively protecting their work, one certainly shouldn’t introduce unneeded drama into their lives.

Personally, whenever I approach one of these sites, I follow the following series of steps to determine how to handle it.

  1. Examine the situation –  Take a look at how the work is being used, where it is being used and in what context. This is especially valuable if you allow some reuse of your work.
  2. Learn About the Plagiarist – Social networking sites make it easy to learn about the people who own the site. Learn how old they are, where they are located in the world and how they prefer to be contacted. All of this information can be especially useful if you’re going to write them.
  3. Study the Site – Read a little bit about the site itself, its terms of service and how it handles copyright infringement claims. Not only will this help you make a decision about how to proceed, but can offer you a direction if you do decide to contact the host.

From there, you can make one of the following decisions:

  1. Contact the Host – If the plagiarism is severe enough (the volume of work taken is very great), and the host is cooperative, then contacting the host might be the best solution. This is also the way to go if a cease and desist letter didn’t work, there is no contact information available for the plagiarist or if the plagiarist has not been active on the site in some time. Also, consider this method if the plagiarist is from a nation with loose or unenforced copyright laws as the host will likely be on more familiar soil.
  2. Contact the Plagiarist – If the infringement is relatively minor or could be a mistake, it’s probably best to contact the plagiarist first. The tone of the letter will depend on the situation itself, though most cases will still call for a full cease and desist letter. Regardless of the tone though, one should use caution when sending notices through on-site messenger services. Always request a copy of the letter for your own records and, if one isn’t available, make a backup yourself.
  3. Post a Comment – One of the more interesting options is the ability to post a comment. This can be an effective but gentle way of handling cases where the person posting the work is more likely confused than malicious. This can breed cooperation and help promote your own site some. Also, many times the person who posted the works will inform you of another site, often times a malicious one, that is posting your work and muddling the issue.
  4. Do Nothing – Sometimes, the best thing you can do is nothing at all. If the plagiarism is likely to cycle off after a few days and be very difficult to handle, it might be wise to walk away. An example of this would be a minor infringement in a comment on another person’s profile. In those situations, you would have to hassle an innocent bystander to get the works removed and contacting the admins would be an unneeded burden as the comment will likely cycle off in a few days. Walking away can be painful, but if you’re dealing with many instances of plagiarism, it frees you up to handle other cases.

Of course, even with these loose guidelines, there are always exceptions. With social networking sites, more than ever, it’s important to be flexible and look for inventive ways to solve problems. I resolved one stubborn case by notifying the heads of an online group he was a member of and another by informing admins of a variety of other rules the person was breaking.

By keeping your eyes open, looking for alternative solutions and working with both admins and other members, you can resolve cases on social networking sites with minimal time or drama. Still, though there’s never been a set way to handle plagiarism online, now there’s even more possibilities to consider.

Conclusions

In the end, though the shift to social networking sites changes the game, as any such shift does, it’s still very possible to get plagiarism issues resolved.

For the new tools that help both legitimate users and plagiarists alike can work both ways and help you track down/stop plagiarism. All that’s required is a little bit more flexibility and, sometimes, a bit of creativity.

Neither of which seem to be in short supply on the Web. 

[tags]Plagiarism, Copyright Infringement, Content Theft, Copyright, Myspace, Xanga[/tags]

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