The Worst Excuse for Content Theft

For as long as there have been printing presses, and likely even before then, there have been graphic designers. For as long as there have been graphic designers, there has been a unique problem: Copy is the last thing produced but it’s impossible to design a page without it.

It’s a chicken and egg problem that is worthy of philosophers, how to create a Web site, newspaper, book or anything when you don’t have the text in hand?

However, in the age of blogging, scraping and content theft, it’s also generated one of the weakest excuses: I wasn’t trying to steal your content, I was just trying to “work out my design“.

Though I have little doubt that many new bloggers do copy and paste work to test templates, including possibly the one above, there is no reason to steal content to test a template and the excuse is a weak one at best.

The chicken and egg problem of text and layout was solved five centuries ago and there’s no reason for anyone, especially in this electronic age, to have to copy and paste another’s work to test a site. There is simply a better and easier way.

The Designer’s Solution

The solution to the designer’s conundrum was realized in the sixteenth century when an unknown printer created a specimen book by scrambling type around in a semi-random fashion.

Dummy copy was born.

The idea is simple enough, take semi-random nonsensical text and put it in place of the real copy, to be added later, and use that to look at a layout and make adjustments. As long as it is about the right length and flows naturally, it can serve in place of real text until it is written.

The use of dummy copy is so commonplace in graphic design that there is a de facto convention for it, known as lorem ipsum. For most of history, lorem ipsum copy was set by hand or typewriter, more recently, graphic designers have had lorem ipsum text files on their computer to copy and paste from. Today, there are lorem ipsum generators to create as much, or as little, dummy copy as needed.

It’s copyright-free, standardized and readily available solution to the problem. It’s how designers have overcome it for centuries. Yet, for whatever reason, modern designers seem to not understand the concept of dummy copy and, instead, often lift straight from other Web sites, both infringing on copyright and making enemies among other Webmasters.

However, it’s a frustration that can easily be avoided.

Reasons to be Skeptical

Most people are, justifiably, skeptical when they find their work being copied and the one doing the copying claims to be “just working on their site”.

There are many good reasons to not take such claims at face value, including the following:

  1. Such sites are often up for a long time – Though the development of dynamic sites, such as blogs, pretty much makes developing a site offline impossible, there’s no reason that such a site should be in development for longer than a few weeks, especially with dummy copy in place.
  2. Other Elements are In Place – The text may not be there, but other elements such as advertisements and external links are. The site is clearly ready for business, the only thing missing is original copy.
  3. Content Available to Search Engines – If one checks the HTML code and the robots.txt file of most of these sites, they are making their pages available to for search engine indexing. One would think, if they were legitimate, that they would only want their original content indexed and not the dummy text.
  4. Sites are Scraped – While copying one or two posts by hand might be understandable for testing purposes, many of these “test” sites are scraped, often using professional scraping software. These applications are often very expensive and difficult to set up, very inefficient if the true intent is just dummy copy.
  5. No Attribution/Indication of Testing – Finally, most sites that claim to be just testing their layout never attribute the sources of the content they claim to use as dummy copy and make no public statement that the site is in testing. In fact, they are often actively sending out pings and trackbacks, how they are often discovered.

All in all, while some people probably do copy and paste entries and articles from other sites to use as dummy copy, there are many good reasons to doubt anyone that claims to do so.

Simply put, true dummy copy is so easy to find and create that there is no reason for anyone to use another’s work for that purpose. Anyone who does needs to rethink their strategy to avoid any potential problems.

How to Handle these Situations

Handling any case where the plagiarist claims to have made a mistake can be very tricky. No one wants to burn bridges unnecessarily, true motives can be hard to detect and, quite frankly, everyone makes mistakes.

However, the best way to handle them is to approach them like any other case. Use whatever cease and desist or DMCA procedure works best for you and, if the site owner claims to have made a mistake after you start, go into it with the same goal as always, to get the unauthorized use of your work to stop.

There is no need to issue apologies, you can’t determine their motive and you didn’t take the matter public. Get the work removed, make sure no one else’s content is being misused and move on. It’s that simple.

If it was an honest mistake, the lesson will be learned, if it’s not, at least your work is spared.

Conclusions

In the end, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to ever have to copy content from another site in order to test a layout. Designers have gotten by for centuries without stealing and there is no reason to start now.

If anything, dummy copy is easier than ever to find. If it can’t be found, all one really has to do is hit random keys on the keyboard until the appearance mimics what will be on the site later.

Either way, the process shouldn’t take too long and would be quicker than finding another post to copy and paste.

The bottom line is that dummy copy should be exactly that, dummy copy. A nonsensical temporary placeholder until the real text is produced. It’s an invaluable design tool, but it can cause a lot of headaches if you pull it from the wrong place.

When it’s all said and done, sometimes the oldest solutions really are the best.

Tags: Content Theft, Copyright, Copyright Infringement, Copyright Law, DMCA, Google, RSS, Scraping, Search Engine, SEO, Spam, Splogging, Splogs, Dummy Copy, Lorem Ipsum, Graphic Design, Web Design, Web Development

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