How Plagiarism Today Got Started, Grew Up and Became a Business

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One of the most common questions I get asked is not about plagiarism or copyright, but about my site and my business, CopyByte. Generally, people, especially other bloggers, want to know how I got started, how I grew the site and, most importantly, how it became a business.

Though I don’t consider Plagiarism Today a smashing success, it only receives a modest amount of traffic and certainly hasn’t made me rich. It has gained me a great deal of mainstream media attention, a chance to speak all over the world and, most importantly, the ability to work full time for myself.

So, if you’re interested in how this site got started and how it got to where it is, the basic story is below. However, if you’re wanting a story about copyright or plagiarism, you’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow.

How I Started PT

Before I wrote word one for this blog, I had dealt with plagiarism for nearly five years and had resolved over 500 cases of plagiarism of my work (that number now sitting well above 700). Prior to running Plagiarism Today, I ran a moderately successful literature site where it seemed many others felt it was acceptable to reuse my work with their name attached.

To be clear, I was never bothered with attributed use of my work. Many sites featured my poems, stories, etc. with attribution and received nothing but thanks. But those who claimed it as their own were dealt with as swiftly as they could.

During that time, I tried many techniques but ended up focusing my efforts on effective detection and resolution of such matters, something I quickly became very good at.

In 2005 I set up a Google Reader account and became interested in blog reading. I realized that plagiarism fighting, though not a particularly large part of my life at that time, was something I wanted to stay on top of and sought a blog on this topic. However, after days of searching I failed to find one that fit my needs.

So, at the encouragement of my better half, Crystal, I decided to create one. Viewing it more as a side project, I set up a blog named Plagiarism Today as a hidden subfolder and planned to blog in private for a few weeks to see if I had the interest to keep it going.

My original plan of three months private blogging was cut short. Not only had my interest in the topic only grown as I continued to write, but, being unfamiliar with WordPress, I had been pinging out all my posts meaning that the “test site” was getting real visitors (and even a surprise link on the USA Today website).

So, after a month of private blogging, I moved everything over to the domain and published it live. On August 2nd, 2005, Plagiarism Today became full site.

However, in that post, I would come to rue saying “the hard part is already done” because, as I would find out, the hard part was just beginning.

The Growing of PT

PT’s launch was very unfortunately (or fortunately) timed. It was launched a mere 27 days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans, my home town, flooding the city. Though my home was spared in the storm, my life was tossed into upheaval. For weeks after the storm I had little else to do but work on Plagiarism Today and work I did.

During this time, Plagiarism Today became a good catharsis. I had lost my job to the storm, feared for my home and was worried about friends who had stayed behind. Focusing energy on PT was a way to put that out of mind for a bit, since there wasn’t much that could be done about it, while still building something good.

This time and energy did begin to pay off. Traffic to the site was starting to grow and interest was trickling in from the outside. However, the real explosion was yet to begin.

Gaining Traction

In the early days and weeks of Plagiarism Today, I had a pretty simple means of reaching out, I would do it myself. I had several RSS feeds and blog alerts letting me know when other bloggers were talking about copyright and content theft issues and, if it was something I felt I could help with, I’d chime in with a comment or an email to see if I could help.

There was never a charge for this but it started getting me a decent amount of attention and more than a few blogroll mentions. Still, traffic was just a trickle and it remained there for almost a year.

Then, just shy of a year of when I started work on the site, it received its big break. One of the people I had helped had her case featured in the Boston Globe and the writeup included a lengthy mention of me and my site. A flurry of media attention followed, including several other major publications, and traffic went through the roof, nearly shutting down my server.

Traffic has continued to be strong since then, growing steadily over the years. Though the site is easily eclipsed by other blogs, it easily became one of the most popular in the niche.

However, I never really expected to earn any revenue from Plagiarism Today and making it so that I did, much less make it a full-time job, took a great deal of time and more than a little dumb luck.

Going from Blog to Business

At this point I was still looking at Plagiarism Today as a side project and I never charged any money for it. Though I did some experiments with monetization, mostly through advertising, they failed miserably and were all stopped after just a few days or weeks.

Through all of this, I was working on Plagiarism Today while maintaining full-time jobs, sometimes with up to 70 hours per week.

However, in early 2007 I started to get emails and eventually phone calls from companies who were interested in what I was doing online and wanted my advice in making their products and services better. Specifically, two companies started emailing at about the same time and both brought me on as consultants, one even flying me out to San Francisco to meet with them face to face.

This was the genesis of a part-time consulting career. I would do work in the evenings and sometimes, with my boss’ permission, take calls on my lunch break or during down time at work. However, as was the nature of post-Katrina New Orleans, I spent my time bouncing from short-term job to short-term job.

However, after having settled down into what I thought was a more permanent position and then having it swept away very suddenly (and early into the job) I was, in a word, crushed. It was then that Crystal pulled me aside and convinced me to try going full-time with my consulting.

With nothing better to do, I sent out an email to my clients telling them I had more hours available and, sure enough, most came through with a need for more services.

All in all, the rest is history. There’s been good and bad, mistakes and triumphs, good times and bad times since then, I’ve remained full-time working as a copyright and plagiarism consultant.

The line of offerings for what I do has been expanded as needed by my clients. My background in English combined with my skills with plagiarism detection tools prompted me to add plagiarism analysis to my line of services, including expert witness and related work. I also do public speaking and have begun to branch out into speaking at schools and universities on the topic as well.

However, the primacy focus of my business, or at least what has made the most money, has been content enforcement and content strategy. Tracking content, understanding how it is being used, getting unwanted copies removed from the Web and then monitoring for results. I’ve focused my efforts on small to medium-sized creators because it’s who I want to work with and where I get the greatest amount of personal satisfaction, though I could almost certainly find more money by chasing larger companies and organizations.

Bottom Line

In the end, I am eternally grateful for everything that this site has brought me over the years. Because of it I’ve been able to quit working full-time, travel all over the world, do something I’m passionate about for a living and spend my days helping people.

And for that I want to thank everyone who has helped me over the years including my family, in particular Crystal, who without their support I would never have had the courage or the endurance to go this route. I’d also like to thank all of my friends for their encouragement and for enduring my babbling about copyright at parties and other events.

Most importantly though, I want to thank all of you, the readers, friends and clients who have made this site great. Whether you’ve been a visitor, left a comment, became a client or participated in any way, I appreciate your time, your attention and your support. Without you, this would not have been possible.

With that in mind, I’m looking forward to what the future holds. While this look back has been nice, it’s time again for me to look ahead and to whatever might be in store for Plagiarism Today, CopyByte and myself.

It’s very exciting stuff.

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