I’ve been involved in battling online plagiarism for nearly 13 years now. The Internet has changed a great deal in that time, with new technologies, new fads, new means of expression and old ones that die out.
But no matter how much the Internet has changed, the plagiarists have, for the most part, stayed the same.
Online plagiarists, typically, gravitate to sites that offer three things:
- Easy to set up a presence
- Provide ready access to an audience
- Little, if any, expense
While these things are tempting to just about any potential webmaster, plagiarists typically put more emphasis on them than most. Though complete control over a site is appealing to many who want to make their mark online, the work involved in creating such a site and building an audience from scratch is less likely to interest someone who is already taking shortcuts.
This has meant, typically, plagiarists have followed the path of least resistance online. In the mid-late 90s plagiarists typically took to personal home page services. As forums and communities became more popular they were targeted by plagiarists due to their built-in audience and low threshold for participation. with the rise of blogging, that too became a target, especially with free blogging services.
Now though, plagiarists are increasingly turning to social media and bloggers are starting to feel the pinch. For example, a group of food bloggers recently banded together to battle what they call a “firestorm” of Facebook pages that lift their content, including recipes, descriptions and photos.
The problem is so drastic that they even created a group on Google+, named Protect Intellectual Property Online (PIPO), to swap information and deal with bad actors.
But why is this happening now? Facebook has been around since 2004 and has had over 500 million users since 2010. Typically, these types of changes happen much more quickly. Why did it take years for plagiarists to truly seize on Facebook?
The reason is fairly simple: Facebook has only recently become an acceptable replacement for a website, at least in some situations, making Facebook than just a place to talk with friends and turning it into a place to get noticed by the public.
The Public Side of Facebook
The truth is that plagiarism has always been an issue on Facebook. The problem is that, with so much of the content being posted behind Facebook’s walled garden, most content creators have been either unaware of the issue or largely ignored it.
In short, Facebook has traditionally been a place to interact with a relatively small group of friends, not the public at large. This has minimized both the opportunities to discover infringements and the impact of them.
However, Facebook Pages have started to change that. Though they’ve been around for years, they’ve traditionally been marketing tools, added on to existing sites. Infringing material on them probably came from the site it is associated with.
However, for at least four years now, there have been significant debates about whether or not having a full site is necessary. Though some believe it isn’t, most agree that, if you want a professional online presence, you need to have a standalone site.
Still, for those who don’t care about having the most professional presence possible, Facebook Pages are very appealing. They’re free, quick to set up and come with a built-in audience to build from, namely one’s existing friends.
In short, someone considering starting up a Tumblr, a blog or joining an online forum might find a lot of appeal in a Facebook page instead.
This appeal is only going to grow if Facebook Pages become more acceptable as a primary Internet presence. That will draw more and more people to create them, including both legitimate users and plagiarists.
The Good News and Bad News
The good news in all of this is that Facebook is a large, established company that, for the most part, has been a good actor in dealing with copyright infringement. The company has a solid DMCA policy and works to remove infringing material quickly in my experience.
Facebook isn’t a small start up that’s quickly gained popularity and will be overrun if the copyright notices come pouring in. They have the resources to handle the problem.
The bad news though is that Facebook is a domain with a great deal of trust and any plagiarized images or text that appear will largely trusted by Google and other search engines. Any public Facebook page with plagiarism that’s indexed could spell trouble down the road.
This is why it’s important for webmasters to keep an eye on this trend and be aware of it. While it’s still too early to tell exactly how big of an problem it’s going to be, Facebook pages are definitely going to be a growing concern in regards to plagiarism and one with the capability of doing a lot of damage to legitimate sites.
To be clear, Facebook hasn’t changed and the features that are being used have been around for years. However, attitudes about Facebook Pages are beginning to change and that is sending more would-be webmasters to set up such pages, rather than just creating a site elsewhere.
Unfortunately, some of those webmasters are going to eschew using the “share” button or simply posting links in favor of simply copying content and reposting images. Some of this is due to a lack of understanding about ethical sharing on Facebook, but a lot of it comes down to people just wanting to build their presence off the work of others while giving nothing back.
It’s a trend to watch out for and not just for food bloggers. Any niche that attracts amateur webmasters will likely see a growth in this direction.
So while the next competitor for your financial services firm, most likely, won’t be creating a Facebook Page instead of a site, the next site on RC cars, geocaching or electronics repair may very well be. Whether it’s original or a plagiarism.