2006: A Look Back

This time last year I was compiling my predictions about content theft and plagiarism in the new year. Looking back on them, some of the predictions were right, some of them were wrong.

However, the most interesting part in reading through those predictions is looking back over the year that was and remembering what was, in many ways, a turning point for content licensing and plagiarism issues on the Web.

So, before we look ahead to 2007, here’s a quick look back at 2006, starting with those predictions made one year ago.

Prediction 1: Decreased Splog Plagiarism

My first prediction was that search engine spammers would ease away from scraping and transition to content generation and other techniques.

While it’s almost certainly true that fewer and fewer spammers are scraping original RSS feeds, they’ve transitioned more to Technorati and Google Blog Search feeds that provide better keyword density and use less original content.

While this is certainly great news for bloggers that have fewer instance of having their entire site scraped, it creates a new set of content licensing challenges that will have to be met later.

Prediction 2: Increased Synonymized and Translational Plagiarism

This one is really impossible to determine with any certainty due to a lack of effective search techniques to detect such plagiarism. Though there is some evidence of translated plagiarism becoming a bigger problem overseas in the academic world, there’s no word yet on if it has made its way to the Web yet.

I would say that it hasn’t made it to the web in a major way given the ineffectiveness of automated translation tools, but Google’s hint about translated text not being duplicate content may indicate a growing problem in this field.

Prediction 3: At least 24 Plagiarism/Copyright Scandals

This turned out to be wrong, though it was close and, if one looks hard enough there are easily 24 scandals to be found.

Still, it seemed to be a slower year for plagiarism in the news. Though there were several major plagiarism scandals this year, including the Kaavya Viswanathan scandal, it just didn’t quite reach the numbers of the year before.

By in large, journalists, major bloggers, authors and other artists did a better job of avoiding plagiarism (or at least not getting caught) and that kept it out of the news. However, there were still major controversies and lawsuits to keep things interesting.

Prediction 4: New Copyright Protection Products will Surface

This one turned out to be about dead on. Several new services did come up, most did turn out to be snake oil and a few seem to be poised to rise above the muck.

The problem is that the ones that have the potential to change the landscape of things aren’t available for use yet. Blogwerx and Attributor, a company I will be writing on in the new year, both are poised to bring new tools to Webmasters but their products have not been released for even beta testing.

With little doubt, these companies will play a major role in content theft issues in 2007.

Prediction 5: Rise in International Plagiarism

Another one that is almost impossible to determine. Though there is little doubt that plagiarism has become more international due to the globalization of the Web, most plagiarism still seems to come from fairly domestic sources.

Also, since most major Web hosts remain entrenched in the U.S. of other Western nations, there’s no sign of a radical shift overseas in this matter.

Prediction 6: Aggregation Debate

This one definitely panned out and in a major way. Content aggregation has been a hot topic this year and pushed even farther by the misuse of Technorati and Google Blog Search feeds. Even Rob Scoble got involved in the debate this year.

The discussion was brought to the surface even more by services such as Dapper, which aggregate sites often without permission.

Prediction 7: Shutting Doors

Previously I had predicted that at least one major site and many small ones would close their doors due to scraping or plagiarism issues. I was half right.

Though several independent operations shut their doors due to plagiarism and content theft issues. MamaTulip being one of the better known names, no major outfit closed down. After talking with several editors at major online publications, the realization sank in that larger outfits have both the manpower and the resources to handle plagiarism and content theft, both directly with legal tools and indirectly with different kinds of material.

It seems that smaller and independent bloggers/Webmasters are hurt much more by it.

Other Themes

This year also saw the development of several other, entirely unforeseen, new themes in content theft and copyright issues. They include:

Content Licensing: It was a true breakout year for content licensing. Many new services opened up to help bloggers and Webmasters to make money or gain exposure from their content.

Bitacle: Bitacle became a flashpoint of anger for the blogging community when it started scraping content from all the RSS feeds it could gather. It earned an evil reputation for displaying ads around content, not providing attribution and licensing content under new Creative Commons Licenses without permission.

False DMCA Notices: False DMCA notices came to light in a big way this year. The attention is owed to one Michael Crook who filed several such notices over an image he did not hold copyright over in a misguided bid to silence critics.

Conclusions

Overall, it’s been a very exciting year for plagiarism, content theft and copyright matters. A lot has happened and things are changing at a very rapid pace.

The general theme of the year seems to be one of productive dialog. Unlike years gone by, the talk has been much more civilized and focused on finding a balance between the rights of copyright holders and the rights of users.

Hopefully that trend will continue and more advances will be made in this field.

Maybe some day, a site named Plagiarism Today won’t be necessary at all.

Tags: Bitacle, BlogBurst, Content Cop, Content Theft, Copyright, Copyright Infringement, Copyright Law, Diehl, DMCA, EFF, Lisensa, Michael Crook, Numly, Plagiarism, RSS, Scoopt, Scoopt Words, Scraping, Splogs

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