Some Bad Advice

When it comes to matters of content theft and copyright infringement, everyone has an opinion. If you have a problem with your work being plagiarized, you’ll find no shortage of advice on how to handle it. All you have to do is conduct a search, post a forum or ask a neighbor to get more than an earful about what you "should" do on the matter.

Unfortunately, much of that advice is complete garbage.

The truth is that most people, as good intentioned as they are, just don’t have the experience or the knowledge to offer solid advice. Even I, after three hundred cases of plagiarism and counting, am still learning a great deal on the subject. Much of what I post here comes from new lessons I’ve learned and I find that my strategies are constantly shifting as both the environment changes and I learn new techniques to help handle plagiarism faster, better and easier.

Still, there’s some advice out there that needs to be shot down immediately. So let’s take a respite today from finding ways to stop plagiarism and discuss ways NOT to do it.

You Can’t Do Anything About it

We’ll start with something of a softball. Many people will swear that there is no way to effectively combat plagiarism online. They’ll tell you that it’s too expensive, too time consuming and that the law is not in your favor.

Poppycock.

As anyone who reads this site knows, handling plagiarism, if done right, is not time consuming, does not require a lawyer and can be done well within the bounds of the law. Only someone with very limited knowledge on the subject would even suggest that you are helpless.

Personally, I haven’t spent a dime to fight plagiarism (beyond the thirty dollars spent to register my copyright) and I spend approximately fifteen minutes on each case. I have never required a lawyer, though I do contact several that are my friends if needed, and have found that the major tools for fighting plagiarism including cease and desist letters, DMCA notices and abuse reports, don’t even require a legal background.

If you are plagiarized, you are far from helpless and anyone that tells you otherwise, to put it bluntly, simply has not done their homework.

Spread the Shame

A lot of people will encourage you to go out and make as much noise as possible about the theft. There are even shame forums, databases and Web sites that exist solely to aid in this quest. Regardless, even though shame can certainly have a place in stubborn cases, it’s a largely ineffective strategy that takes a lot of effort to execute and it creates a lot of negative publicity for all involved.  

Though the desire to "hurt" a plagiarist is certainly understandable. One has to think about the long haul. A strategy that can not be repeated effectively as often as needed is useless. Also, since most plagiarists are just looking to generate traffic for their site, shaming them might actually help them in their cause. 

For me, shame has always been a port of last resort, something to try when everything else has completely failed. However, given the number of simple, effective and professional ways to handle a case of plagiarism there should be little reason to turn to it.

One area in which shame might help though is as a deterrent. Posting information about plagiarists you’ve successfully stopped can give others pause before hitting the "copy" button. Despite that though, using it to actually resolve a case of ongoing plagiarism is both risky and unnecessary. it’s possible to resolve plagiarism incidents while taking the high road and sparing yourself a great deal of headaches.

Send a DMCA Notice to Google 

This is probably the most common piece of questionable advice I see given out and, though this isn’t necessarily bad advice, it’s usually given at the wrong time. Yes, sending a notice to Google can get them removed from the search engine, however, it does absolutely nothing to resolve the case of plagiarism.

All such a notice does is get the offending site removed from Google, cutting off a major stream of potential traffic. Google does not, usually, contact the plagiarizing site (despite saying it makes an effort to do so) and many sites can get blacklisted from Google and be none the wiser about it.  

The problem with this advice isn’t that it is necessarily wrong, it definitely can work, but it’s usually mentioned as a front-line effort to be done in lieu of other steps, including contacting the host, that can do more to resolve the situation.

Given the fact that nearly 80% of all plagiarism incidents I handle are resolved through some kind of host interaction, telling someone to first contact Google just doesn’t make any sense. Generally, people want their content taken down, not just removed from the search engines, and that’s what hosts do.

Furthermore, there’s something of an ethical issue in making Google the copyright police of the Web. The Internet is a community and giving too much power/responsibiity to one organization is dangerous for many reasons.  

In general, sending DMCA notices to Google, while certainly an important tool to know about and keep in mind, is a step that should be reserved for cases in which both the plagiarist and the host are uncooperative and minimizing the damage is the best one can hope for. I, personally, have never sent a DMCA notice to Google to get a site removed from its search engine (though I have sent several to Google to get content removed from their Blogger service) and have no plans to do so.

Conclusions

In truth, this is a somewhat limited "Bad Advice" piece in that there is a lot of questionable advice being repeated daily.  Some time in the future I plan to reeturn with a second "Bad Advice" piece as I collect another group of oft-repeated misguided guidance. 

There are several good advice pieces out there and many of the ones containing some questionable advice also have some great ideas that can be incorporated into your strategy. I still read all of the advice that I can get and not just because I run Plagiarism Today.

Simply put, there is no advice that is 100% right for everyone. We all have to pick and choose what advice we take and from where. But while there is no perfect solution, there are steps which should almost always be avoided.  

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Copyright, Google, Law[/tags] 

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