Preserving Evidence: 5 Tools to Make it Easy

The first goal when you detect plagiarism or content theft of your work is usually to put a stop to it.

However, doing so also means pulling it down from the Web and removing all evidence of its existence. Though the Web Archive may hold on to its copies, if it was indexed there, other caches will generally purge their copies of the work within a few days or weeks.

While that is great news for anyone who has been a victim of plagiarism, it can make keeping a record of what happened very difficult. That can make any later disputes over the takedown difficult to deal with. Though you can simply save a copy of the page or site to your computer, such archives are very cumbersome and provide little proof as they are easily manipulated and edited.

Fortunately, there are several tools available that help you not only preserve evidence of the infringement, but also greatly simplify your life by helping you organize and maintain your cached copies.

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Furl is a bookmarking service similar to del.icio.us or ma.gnolia. It lets you add items to your bookmark collection, tag them, rate them and make them either private or public. However, unlike most other bookmarking services, Furl allows you to also save a cached copy of the site.

The idea is that, if the site goes down, you still have a backup copy of the work available at your disposal. Since that is a common occurense when dealing with plagiarism, it makes sense to take advantage of the service and, with Furl’s tagging and rating systems, it is an almost ideal way to keep track of your plagiarism cases.

For example, you could rate the cases based upon how severe the case is, tag it with information about the status of the case and use the comments section to take notes about any actions you have taken.

If you decide to use Furl for this purpose, do be sure to set your default privacy to “private” to keep other members from viewing your history.

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Similar to Furl, Clipmarks is a social bookmarking service that lets you archive, tag and make notes on Web pages that you run across. However, unlike Furl, it focuses not on saving the entire page, but just on the most important elements.

It can be useful in cases where the plagiarism is only a small part of the page and saving the entire site is a bit of a waste. It can also help you prevent yourself from snagging other copyrighted works as you cache a plagiarist’s site, thus ensuring that you avoid any copyright issues as you seek to protect your own rights.

The limitation of Clipmarks is that it does not preserve the page as it actually exists and only saves the clippings. It can make it more difficult to tell “at a glance” what the site was doing and may be less useful as backup evidence. This largely stems from Clipmark’s focus on the social aspect of clip sharing and different target use.

Still, here is little reason to use both Furl and Clipmarks. Which one chooses will come down to a matter of personal preference and the types of works being dealt with. However, I personal prefer Furl’s ease of use though Clipmark’s targeting and extension are both very powerful and useful.

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If you want to take advantage of the on-demand caching services of a site such as Clipmarks of Furl without the hassle of creating an account, take a look at StayBoyStay (SBS).

The interface at SBS can not be any simpler to sue. You type or paste in your URL, enter your email address and a cached version of the page is saved almost instantly. You are then provided with a URL to the cached copy to place in your records.

What makes this tool interesting is that both the date the archived copy was created and a hash of the page’s content are stored in the URL. Though this makes the URL very lengthy and difficult to save, it also helps protect against any modification of the cached copy after it was saved.

You can also get a free account to add some administrative features and the ability to archive and hash multimedia content as well as Web sites.

The main drawback of StayBoyStay is that all archived copies are publicly available via their “Browse” feature. This raises some copyright concerns and could, in some cases, result in your cached copies being indexed in the search engines.

Also, there are a few bugs in the service. My attempt to sign up for an account resulted in the registration email never being received. Even a check of my spam folder did not find it.

However, if these otherwise minor bugs can get straightened out, SBS could be a powerful on-demand caching service that could greatly benefit Webmasters trying to record and preserve incidents of plagiarism, especially those who already have an offline means of tracking such cases and simply want a URL to an archive of the site.

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If archiving the site seems to be a bit excessive, then perhaps taking a screenshot of it would be a bit more appropriate. Though all major operating systems have an easy way to take screenshots built in to them or appropriate tools available for free, Webshots Pro makes the process even easier.

When you visit the WebShots home page, you are confronted with a form that asks you for nothing more than the URL of the site you want a capture of. After pasting in the URL, it is put into a queue and, after a set amount of time, the screenshot of the site is taken and made available for you to download.

Though incredibly simple, the process can take a very long time depending on how long the queue is. It is best to use the sites at odd times. Also, the screenshot only capturers the part of the site that appears in the browser, meaning that if the infringing material is deep in the body, it won’t be snapped up.

For most sites, it might be quicker and more efficient to use an internal screenshot tool to capture the site. I’ve already fallen in love with Mac’s built-in screen capture tools and have used “print screen” on Windows for years.

Still, Webshots may still have a role in capturing infringements, such as stolen Web templates, that are obvious in a simple screen grab and the user has a reason for wanting a standard-sized image for each infringement.

Consistency and simplicity are the perks of Webshots, speed and flexibility are not.

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a video clip must be worth at least a million. Though not a site itself, Wink is a freeware application available for Linux and Windows that allows you to record videos from your desktop.

Wink can be very useful in cases where you need to record more than one page of information and showcase how deep the infringement runs on a particular site. It enables you, rather than grabbing a dozen or so screenshots or archives, to create one short video highlighting all of the relevant content.

It can also be used to grab a series of screenshots, either on command or once every few seconds, and the version for Windows has the ability to record audio over the video as you record it.

Though Wink might be overkill for most instances of plagiarism, it can be a useful tool for documenting large-scale infringements and storing them in a format that you can easily archive and preserve and hard to manipulate.

Of course, it also does a great job taking screencasts, which is why I am using it as my preferred application for the job.

Copyright Issues

As with any service or tool that enables you to copy and publish works owned by other people, there are obvious copyright concerns with these services, especially if the cache is made publicly available.

The best thing you can do is keep these cached copies for your own personal use, especially if some of the content on these sites is not under your copyright. When using these tools, sure to set your copies to private, if possible, and do not store them in places that could be publicly accessed.

Though the Google Cache was ruled to be fair use, there is no need to push boundaries in this area, especially with sites that disallow archiving. It is worth the time and energy to be safe.

Conclusions

Whether you handle a large volume of content theft cases or only a handful, it is important to keep good track of what you do and what the specific infringements are. However, preserving the plagiarism in a manner that is both practical and likely to carry weight in a dispute is difficult. Fortunately, we have a variety of tools at our disposal to help us do exactly what.

But what makes all of these tools so interesting is that none were built with plagiarism in mind. Furl and Clipmarks were meant to be social bookmarking services, StayBoyStay was designed to offer permanent links to content, WebShots is targeted at Webmasters needing screenshots to display on their sites and Wink is aimed at creating screencasts.

All of these tools were built for unrelated purposes but can play a major role in recording and preserving past instances of plagiarism. Their unintended positive uses can be a great boon for Webmasters struggling to keep track of plagiarism and cover their own bases as they battle content thieves.

To that end, I am eternally grateful.

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