Fighting Copy-Paste Culture Is A Losing Battle
I’ve already explained my rationale why you should embrace the use and reuse of your content – authorized or not. There are benefits here on multiple fronts, especially since it’s something you’re not likely to contain. In a digital world it’s always more strategic to focus resources on that which you can control and ignore or try to leverage that which you cannot. This is a tough lesson the music and newspaper industries are going through today.
We’re living through a digital renaissance, where copy-paste is the default and to restrict or fight such activities goes against the very fabric of the web. However, the other day I noticed smart friend of mine Valeria Maltoni sharing the following frustrated comment on Twitter:
Folks, its 2010 — time to stop scraping posts
To which created a larger conversation between a few others. I responded with the same points I used in my previous argument, but I’d like to summarize them and go through a few more today as promised to both Valeria and Wayne:
You’re fighting a losing battle – if people want to steal your content, they’re going to. There’s no point in playing digital whack a mole with content scrapers. You could use a tool like Copyscape and scour the web for unauthorized use of your content, then pursue them to remove it. But even if you start to send take-down notices, there’s no guarantee that’s an effective tactic to stop this. You likely don’t have the resources to do this across every infraction, and even if you win it is a Pyrrhic victory. Further, people who know better don’t even read scraper sites, and in time the true sources of content become apparent.
Google knows what the original content is – Google is smart, I’ve never seen them rank a site that scraped my blog content higher than the original post. If this is happening to you, you likely have technical SEO complexity and should work to resolve it. In the end, sites that are made up of purely duplicate content fail from a search standpoint, and the engines are only getting smarter at sorting the wheat from the chaff daily.
Why not put the scrapers to work? Add something like an RSS footer plugin to WordPress, this way when your content is scraped, a link to your original post is scraped along with it. Now you just turned it into a positive: if others stumble upon your site away from your source, it’s free promotion for you. Even if you’re not using this plugin and others are scraping your content and keeping the links within posts, you win.
Digital success is all about making copy-paste easy. As an artist I’ve been having great results with “letting go” of my content through tactics like purposely seeding it on file sharing sites free. Only by making copy-paste easy was I able to broaden the reach of my art. As Eric Friedman wisely notes, copy and paste is the best social media tool. Why not make this as easy and encouraged as possible in a way where you’re credited how you’d like to be?
Likely, those “stealing” your content are not inherently evil – most probably just don’t know better. You’d be surprised at the number of people who run blogs or websites and don’t realize it could be considered poor form to copy-paste entire articles without crediting. However, so many of them are more than happy to include a link back to your original post if you ask. It is my belief that most want to do the right thing and work with content producers. That’s why I try to actively encourage reuse through a creative commons license, which encourages others to use (and link) back to this blog. Sure, not everyone follows the rules, but quite a few do. If I didn’t have guidelines explaining how to reuse properly, those who are reusing in an appropriate manner would either not use my content at all, or would do so without credit. Even if this only encourages a few to do it the right way it’s a win.
As Techdirt pointed out in 2005, this isn’t a real problem. And their blog has 600,000+ subscribers, so it seems like all those scraper sites didn’t stop their success. They focused efforts on producing remarkable content as opposed to worrying too much about scrapers. Here’s a quote from their post, which also reinforces the last point:
However, when that’s happened to Techdirt we’ve discovered two things — and both suggest that all this debate is a waste of time. First, when we shoot off a quick email to the sites asking for proper credit, we almost always hear back with an apology, from some “new” blogger who isn’t quite sure how it all works, and they usually fix things right away and start giving us credit. It helps, by the way, that we first thank them for finding our content valuable enough to reuse, and then ask nicely for proper credit. However, much more importantly, the sites that (1) don’t credit properly and (2) don’t respond to such emails almost always disappear within a month. Why? Because no one reads them. Who goes out and finds some nameless site that’s obviously reposting content?
You’re putting your work into a medium where if it’s interesting, it’s going to get copied. Digital content producers and media outlets need to make peace with this. There is no efficient way to stop it and it’s likely not worth the effort. Isn’t the whole point of publishing digital content to have your ideas shared anyway? Wikipedia’s content gets copied all the time. Yet they’re still the #4 most popular website according to Google. What does this mean? Keep publishing quality and, you’ll become referential and users will credit you, not copycats.
It’s not really about your content as much as it is about the context. That’s why I think people are more interesting than brands of media. I’m less interested in where that content is published and more interested in who created it. And it’s obvious that true scraper sites don’t have real people behind them.
I know it’s frustrating to some of you, but the reality is we live in a copy-paste society. And it doesn’t matter what type of content creator you are, if you can find a way to embrace copy-paste, you put yourself in a far more advantageous position than those who fight it. DRM and other forms of control are failure. You can waste resources taking legal action or sending take down notices to those who copy and paste your content without permission, or you strategize ways to put them to work for you and leverage them.
The choice is up to you – however as a digital marketing strategist I’ll leave you with this piece of advice. There are limited amounts of hours to spend in online marketing, and it pays to make them count. Is worrying about scrapers really the most prudent use of your time?