Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
 
Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery

Hello, my name is Tobold, and I am the author of this post. Why the heck would I need to introduce myself on my own blog, after 5 years and over 2,000 posts? Because there is a significant chance that you are not reading this on my site, but on somebody else's site who simply copied and pasted my content. If you are reading this on a site whose URL is not www.tobold.com or tobolds.blogspot.com or some RSS feed reader pointing to these sites, then you are reading a copy. Not necessarily an illegal copy, because my terms of service that clearly state: "You do have the right to quote me, and use my posts partially or in full, as long as you attribute them correctly as having been written by "Tobold" and link back to the source.". But if you read this on a website which is making money by advertising, or selling gold, or any other means, I can assure you that I won't see a single penny of that money.

There is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that dates from before the digital age. Why imitate if you can simply copy? Internet traffic is driven by content, so people who want a lot of traffic, which can be turned into some revenue stream, but are too lazy to create content themselves, simply copy the content of others. Happens to a lot of bloggers. As this blog is not a commercial venture, and I'm mainly interested in getting my ideas out, I'm making life especially easy for the copiers: I have the full content of my blog posts on RSS feed, so people who can't access the site itself (usually due to a firewall at work) can still read my posts via a feed reader. What I write in my terms of service about copying doesn't really matter, because even if I explicitely would forbid copying my content, I would not have the means to enforce that. If I was a bit more childish I could find the sites that copy me, and make blog posts saying "<insert copiers site here> is a bunch of ripoff scumbags", just to see that post copied on the site I'm insulting, as this copying is nowadays fully automated in most cases. But honestly, I don't really care if somebody copies me, as long as I get full credit for having written it. So as long as whereever you read this is linking back to my blog, I'm fine with it. If you see this on some site under a different author's name and no link back to tobolds.blogspot.com, then it is real plagiarism, and not just a copy.

But whether the copy is legit or not, you have to ask yourself why you are reading a site that doesn't produce its own content. Is it some sort of "news aggregator" site, making it easy for you to read the posts of several blogs at once? Wouldn't you rather set up lets say Google Reader to follow all of your favorite blogs? Are you aware that even if you don't click on the ads of that site, you might create some advertising revenue for somebody who isn't the author of the content you are reading? Are you comfortable with directly or indirectly financing plagiarism?

There are ethical forms to link to the content of others. All blog entries in the form of "I've read an interesting article on XXX's blog. "<Quoted Paragraph>". And here are my own thoughts on the subject." are perfectly fine. But if a site basically just consists of some code that automatically creates a page from the RSS feed of others, the ethics are a lot more questionable. And if the name of the original author and link back to source are suppressed, the action becomes downright plagiarism. There are even sites that copy my content, run it through a parser which replaces some words with the help of a Thesaurus, and thus create a less traceable copy!
Comments:
We have a phrase in these parts. If I take the polite version of the short version of the work-friendly version, it comes out, "screw them."
 
"I have the full content of my blog posts on RSS feed, so people who can't access the site itself (usually due to a firewall at work) can still read my posts via a feed reader."

There are always trade-offs. I'd suggest stopping this practice.

I use a "news aggregator" site as you call it that collates some blogs of a topic that I'm interested in. When new blogs start in that topic, they are often quickly added to the aggregator, which means I'm exposed to related material that I wouldn't have been otherwise. I scan the headlines and presented synopsis to get an idea if I want to read a specific post.

Would I rather create my own aggregation of blogs on the topic? Not at all, I like the inadvertent discovery that the "news aggregator" site gives me.

I also tend to not ask for help finding something in a store, especially a book store, because I like the discovery that comes from browsing...
 
I would have to disagree with the above commenter who suggested to stop putting the full content of your blog posts on an RSS feed. That's the only way I read blogs at work and home alike. I have no desire to open each blog page seperately to read the full post. I read very few blogs that don't have their posts in full. Yes, there is a trade-off, but I would think only having partial posts on the feed for this reason would be similar to a game company like EA putting a stupid insane DRM package on their game disc to avoid pirating - they assume their customers are criminals right out of the gate.
 
Just so we are clear, do you mind sites like mmowtf? (delete that if you don't want it mentioned here)

I like that site because not all blogs update daily, and rather than visiting 10 different sites, I can go to one and see who has made a post. If the post sounds interesting, I'll go to the actual website to see what comments have been made as well. I come here directly each day, but only because I know you post every day, and it's always worth reading, but that's just not the case with every blog.

Just curious, as I know my blog gets posted on that site, and I don't mind at all.
 
I have this problem with a number of splogs (spam blogs) as well. I think they're more geared for search engines to be honest. They don't likely have many subscribers themselves but if they can rank well with a bazillion search terms, they're going to pull in a crazy amount of traffic. In my research, I read a Wired article where one guy made $70,000 in three months from his network of spam blogs.

It makes me a little sick to my stomach that the web is so easily exploitable and the only thing keeping myself from that kind of cash is a set of strong principals and values. Well, nice guys finish last I guess.
 
Snafzg is right, those sites are usually built to attract search engine traffic and other than that don't have many visitors or subscribers. You could report those sites to Google as duplicate content and stuff but it won't help. The good thing, it doesn't have to hurt you either: in blogger, go to your blog Settings > Site Feed, and add a link to your blog in the RSS footer. Most of the scrapers don't remove those links, and while it won't give much benefit it's still a link back to the original site. Although you don't use tags on your site, I usually link a few times within the post to my old posts or tags/categories which is another way to get at least some credit.

Basically, don't fight it cause you will loose, rather try to make the best of it.
 
I'd echo Horns comment - I see more and more blogs adding a small entry (sometimes much larger, supposedly wittier, ones) to the footer, so that they appear in the feed reader on when scraped. That seems like a neat compromise.

On the subject of full feeds, I much prefer those, and have actually unsibscribed to a few blogs which didn't offer them, as I found it extremely frustrating (clicking a link, frustrating, how silly - but true).
 
I just wanted to say that I found this post highly amusing, only because I've never thought to feed something like this into the scrapers. Bravo.
 
I'll certainly leave the RSS feed on full. But I just added a link back to the blog at the bottom of the RSS, thanks for that advice.
 
I am a huge fan of google reader. I have steadily built up a roll of blogs I enjoy. Some I discovered on my own and some were linked or quoted by blogs I read. I can read it at work or home, it's all neatly in one place and works well for me. I also agree that I much prefer full feeds. The ones that don't I more often the not can't get to from work. Sometimes the topics are of interest but I invariably forget to go back to it when I get home so they go unread.

I very much enjoy your blog Tobold even if I don't alway agree with your opinions,its always worth the read.
 
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