Content Theft in a Recession

Defacing money just got epic.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Zawezome

Yesterday, I was talking with Angela Swanlund, a close friend of mine and respected writer, and discussing the economic situation and what it meant for writers.

Both of us, to varying degrees, make a portion of our living from paid writing. She sees the downward economy as a potential boon for writers and content producers, at least in the medium-term, with fierce competition driving up the need for high-quality work once some of the dust has settled.

Though I largely agree with her prediction, I do worry about lowering rates due to market pressures. Still, I agree that the need for content is going to remain strong and, hopefully, sites will be smart enough to not fall into traps of paying insanely low rates for rehashed content or trying to force a smaller pool of writers to produce more work than they can effectively.

However, there is one way the economy is likely to hurt writers, bloggers and the Internet at large. An increase in spam as well as an increase in plagiarism and content theft.

Though these past few years have not exactly been easy ones on bloggers in this area, things are poised to get a great deal worse and, in some ways, already seem to be ramping up.

The Nature of the Problem

When the economy goes south, people typically have less money to spend and that includes businesses and those that would ordinarily hire writers or purchase content to fill out their sites. This will have three effects:

  1. Individuals who were once gainfully employed will be seeking additional or new income. Many may be drawn to the alleged "easy money" of spam. This could, in theory, lead not to a rise in the number of elite spammers, but the amateurish ones.
  2. Companies will have less cash to pay for new content. This could force them to turn to alternate sources including legitimate ones, such as Creative Commons works, and questionable ones such as ghostwriting applications and gray/black hat writing services.
  3. Writers will have to compete heavily on the price front for new jobs. They already compete with dubiously low pricing from questionable sources, but with rates so low, many writers may be forced to take shortcuts, likely including some heavy copying and pasting.

In short, legitimate bloggers are going to be caught between two separate forces. The first will be new spammers motivated by the economic situation to branch out into new areas. The second is businesses, struggling to keep costs down, turning to sources of content that are questionable.

It is the business aspect of this that has me the most worried. Of the new field of spammers, few will have any success or last any length of time. The number of truly effective Web spammers could probably fit in a modest auditorium. Most, regardless of where they get their content, will fail and probably worsen their situation.

Businesses, however, have always managed to keep a distance from the effect of their own practices. Many Web sites have sought out work from dubious sources, such as bidding sites, paid an unreasonably low sum for the content and then, when it is discovered that the article was plagiarized, inaccurate or just flat wrong, they remove it and blame the author.

Many companies, through their actions, encourage and even force authors to plagiarize, but take no actual responsibility. Sadly, this practice is only going to increase as belts tighten.

Some Good News

The economic slide is going to be bad for writers, at least at first. Writers are already being laid off and having their pay cut. Couple that with an increase in plagiarism and scraping, there is a lot of reasons why bloggers should expect headaches over the next few months and, possibly, years.

The good news, however, is that the demand for quality content is not going anywhere. Someone has to fill the Web. Content production will most likely rebound before other areas. However, the shoddy business practices and the spam issues will likely continue long after there’s been a decent rebound. The reason is that businesses, once swooned by the lure of cheap content, are not likely to go back until they are shuttered by superior sites.

Sadly, the increase in plagiarism and spam is likely to never completely go away. Many will flood these areas but only a percentage will leave. Just what that percentage is remains to be seen.

But, in the end, it will be the legitimate authors and companies that do win. The sites we all know and love share one thing in common, good content. You can only get so far ripping off others and producing garbage. Though spam can turn out a quick buck from time to time, it doesn’t actually build anything of value. Something that almost always sinks it in the end.


The bottom line is this: Be ready for an increase in scraping and plagiarism. If you write high quality content, others are going to be looking for ways to get at it.

Now is the time to start thinking about how you can improve your detection, speed up your resolution and more efficiently protect your work. You may never be able to stop all of the spammers and scrapers, but you can certainly minimize their impact and help keep yourself going strong during these tough times.

For me, fighting plagiarism and spam has never been about stopping ever single bad guy, but about reducing the drag they have on good writers. It’s never been about producing a walled garden, but about weeding the one that blooms naturally.

This crisis is likely to breed a new slew of parasites and it is best that we be prepared. If we don’t we could find ourselves being slowed down by the very forces we’re trying so hard to float above.

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