Offering Embedding to Prevent Plagiarism

YouTube LogoOne of the hallmarks of the “New Web” has been the embedding of multimedia. Where hotlinking was once a dirty word, now you can find services that allow you to embed images, audio and video.

This has proved to be a boon for small Webmasters and bloggers. Where previously including multimedia on one’s site required a large amount of bandwidth and storage space, those services can now be offloaded and embedded after the fact using custom HTML.

However, it has had a secondary, unforeseen benefit. By making works easy to legitimately embed, it has reduced the amount of plagiarism while helping content creators keep their work at a central location, even as it is being viewed at dozens of sites across the Web.

More than just a great tool for webmasters, embedding has proved to be useful for multimedia content creators as well, providing their work with a high level of exposure while maintaining a resiliency against plagiarism that textual works simply do not enjoy.

Path of Least Resistance

Boxstr LogoIf you found a video and wanted to get it on your site, which of the two following methods would you choose?

  1. Extract/Download the video, edit it for size, format and possibly to remove credit/title slides. Then re-upload it to your server, or another service, and embed it into your site.
  2. Simply copy a few lines of HTML and drop it into a new post or page.

While both are practical solutions to anyone with a modest amount of computer knowledge, the latter is much easier, requiring only a few seconds of time, while providing consistent and quality results to your viewers.

If there is one thing that is well-understood about plagiarists, it is that they usually take the path of least resistance. They copy articles because it is easier than writing them. They ignore CC licenses because it is easier than following them. They scrape articles with scripts because it is easier and faster than doing it by hand.

Though plagiarists have many motivations, there is always an underlying thread of taking the easy route. If that is the case, than embedding is by far the easiest route of them all.

This is not to say that the people who use YouTube and other embeds are simply lazy plagiarists, but that would-be plagiarists are, in some cases, herded toward a more legitimate route simply by offering a means of copying that is far easier than taking it by force.

It is a novel concept, but one that seems to work at least fairly well.

Benefits to Content Creators

Though offering an image or a video up for embedding might seem to be a step in giving up control of the work, it is actually quite the opposite.

Consider the following:

  • When offering an work for embedding, you can still remove it at any time.
  • You control the user experience, including how it is displayed.
  • All traffic to the work is tracked at the original source, despite appearing on multiple sites.
  • Likewise, all advertising revenue from the item still returns to the source.
  • It is possible, in most cases, to track what sites display the work and participate in discussions there.

Though many would prefer that all views of the work take place in a set location on their site, it is generally not practical. Once a work reaches a certain popularity, it can be safely assumed that others are going to want to share it on their sites and profiles.

If they lack a legitimate way to do it, many will turn to copyright infringement and possibly even plagiarism, depending on their motivations.

This, in turn, results in a complete loss of control over the work, with multiple copies existing with different names affixed to them. This not only fragments the audience, but can hurt any advertising efforts and destroys any attempt to track viewership.

By giving up the exclusive right to display your work on your own site, you can actually better consolidate your audience in many cases, using the actual media file, not your site, as the touchstone.

The Fly in the Ointment

Flickr LogoThe problem with this system is that it does not always work.

Images, particularly, are still vulnerable to plagiarism as it is easier in many cases to just save the work and re-upload it. Even though services such as Flickr make it trivial to embed images into other sites, image copying is still rampant.

A recent example of this occurred when a strip from the Webcomic XKCD appeared on college humor, initially without attribution and while bearing the College Humor watermark. The matter drew a great deal of attention and was eventually resolved.

However, even videos are not entirely safe. Many people download and copy online videos to either to move them to their favorite service, such as taking clips from Revver and putting them on YouTube, or to profit from them on their own site.

In that regard, video game site Screwattack has had to repeatedly ask users not to download and post clips to other sites and encourage users to help “police” the matter. This is despite the fact that all Screwattack videos are easily embedded into other sites.

Likewise, Yahtzee’s Zero Punctuation video series on the Escapist Magazine has seen a similar problem with people ripping out the video file and uploading it to other sites without permission, removing all of the ads along the way. Once again, the player for Zero Punctuation offers an “embed” feature with every post.

Clearly, while ease of use is a major factor in determining how others will use your content, it is not the only one. Others will continue to be motivated by other elements, including a desire to use their favorite service, a wish to boost their own views, a need to take credit for the work and even simple monetary greed.

These factors may combine, in many cases, to ensure that a work is used inappropriately, no matter how easy it is to legitimately use it.


Clearly, making multimedia works available for embedding is not a cure-all for content theft. However, though hard numbers are not available, it does seem to lessen it and create new opportunities for content creators.

However, the one thing it does beyond any doubt is end one of the pro-copying arguments, that people just want to “share” the work with others.

While that argument is generally a stretch to begin with, when there is a simple and legitimate means to share the work in a way that continues to support the creator, it speaks volumes when it is not followed.

Much like Creative Commons helps to separate the sharers from the plagiarists, embedding has the same effect.

In that regard, it lets you focus your time and energy on fighting the true bad guys, not well-meaning, but misguided, fans.

That, in turn, frees you up to make more content while helping push your work to an even larger audience.

For most, making content available for embedding is a clear win-win.

Want to Reuse or Republish this Content?

If you want to feature this article in your site, classroom or elsewhere, just let us know! We usually grant permission within 24 hours.

Click Here to Get Permission for Free