Let’s Talk About Who’s Stealing Blog Content

Let’s Talk About Who’s Stealing Blog Content

by Kerry Scott on 13 December 2012

Post image for Let’s Talk About Who’s Stealing Blog Content

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

I found my blog post published on someone else’s site. I’m so mad!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have heard it before. A lot. You can barely sit down in front of your computer lately without reading about someone whose content has been stolen. In some cases, it’s the usual splogs. In others, it’s apparently actual members of the genealogical community…like, people you know. People you’ve Facebook-liked or LinkedIn-endorsed or whatever. The splogs are part of life on the internet, but when people you actually know are stealing from you…well, now, that’s a problem we can solve.

Here’s the problem, though: Nobody will say who’s stealing from them. We have an epidemic of nice, and it’s providing cover for people who are doing shady things. I think we need to end the epidemic of nice right now.

Let me tell you what I will do if you steal my copyrighted content:

  • If you’re a splog, I will report you to your hosting company. I will not send you an email first. I will not educate you about copyright, or ask you to remove it, or spend one single second of my time interacting with you. I’m busy, and you suck.  That’s two reasons right there why those things aren’t worth my time. It’s faster and easier to just report you, and the sooner I do it, the sooner I can enjoy the satisfaction of checking back and finding that your blog has disappeared from the internet (which is usually what happens…the content disappears within 24 hours. Then I celebrate with ice cream. It’s win-win.) If you don’t know how to report a splog, GeneaBloggers has some great resources.
  • If you’re a real person from the genealogical community, and it’s clear that this is real theft and not an honest mistake, I’ll go get a can of pop. Then I’ll create a blog post. It will say, “On [DATE], I published the following post: [LINK]. On [DATE], I found the following on [YOUR FULL NAME]‘s website, [FULL NAME OF WEBSITE AND/OR YOUR COMPANY]. Then I’ll post a screen capture of my content on your site. That’ll be the end of the post.

See, that’s factual. I’m not calling you names, I’m not whining, I’m not playing reindeer games with you. I’m just presenting a document and citing my source. That’s what we do in genealogy. You can call all the lawyers you want, but if it’s a real screen capture that I haven’t altered or something, there’s nothing to argue about. The community can draw its own conclusions, and so can anyone who searches for your name on the internet. That’s accountability, and it’s a good thing.

I’m boggled every time I see someone saying, “Someone stole my content, and I’m really mad.” WHO stole your content? WHY won’t you say? For a bunch of people who talk nonstop about citing sources, we sure do make a great big exception for this, and I can’t fathom why. Are you afraid of lawsuits? What do you think someone’s going to sue you for, exactly? If you’re not name-calling or doing something else stupid, there’s no problem. In fact, back in my HR days, I used to hear, “I have a lawyer” about every 17 minutes. I usually said, “Okay, well, make sure your lawyer spells my name right.” Lawyers aren’t scary if you’re not doing anything illegal. It’s not illegal to post a screen capture of your copyrighted work on someone else’s site, and it’s not illegal to say where the screen capture came from. It might be illegal if you call that person a lying thief and total weenie (not really, but whatever). So don’t do that. Post the evidence, and let people think “weenie” themselves. (It might also be a good idea to turn off comments on your blog for this particular post, because otherwise you’ll have a mob of people who DO call your thief names, and that can be legitimately problematic. If I get that sort of thing in the comments of this post, I’m telling you right now that I’ll probably have to edit or delete them. I like facts, but not pitchfork-and-torch stuff.)

I realize that there are a few cases where people are actually suing, or planning to sue, or whatever. My site isn’t really commercial, but for those who are, I can see where that would be a real option. In that case, you should take your lawyer’s advice if she says not to say anything. My own policy, though, is that suing people is time-consuming and stressful and expensive and bad for my blood pressure, and since this website is not making me a ton of dough, it’s not really worth it. If I can out them for free, on my own blog, in a matter of minutes…well, I’d rather do that.

I think we need to stop providing cover for people who steal. We could solve this problem in very short order if we stopped being honest only in secret and started stating facts and citing them. If someone broke into your house and stole your stuff, and you knew who did it, you wouldn’t go on Facebook and say, “This unnamed guy I know stole from me and I’m so mad!” and then provide his name via super-secret email only. You’d call the cops, give his name, and press charges. You’d do that because the weenie stole from  you, and because you wouldn’t want him out stealing from other people. Why does that rule not apply here too?

Post the evidence. Cite your source. That’s how I roll, and I wish that was how everyone else rolled too. I think this problem would go away in a heartbeat if we just stopped whispering.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. If you take legal advice from some chick on the internet, you’re probably an idiot. 

Photo by dullhunk

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Stumbleupon Email

Other posts you might like:

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeannette December 13, 2012 at 10:29 am

Love it! Nothing wrong with hitting it direct and to the point. It isn’t just your field you would be amazed how much this goes on. Copyright, intellectual property what is that? :0)

Reply

Jenny Lanctot December 13, 2012 at 10:48 am

Hear hear, Kerry! I work for a lawyer – and seriously, lawyers are NOT that scary. Their paralegals, on the other hand …

Anyway, if someone steals my stuff (and honestly, I’m starting to get a complex because none of my stuff has been taken), I’m going to let EVERYONE know who it was. If your conscience doesn’t tell you it’s wrong to steal my stuff, my conscience will SO not tell me it’s wrong to out you for it.

Reply

Kerry Scott December 13, 2012 at 11:12 am

The thing is, it’s not even just about outing people. It’s about evaluating the evidence. If I hear through the grapevine that Chris Smith stole Pat Jones’ post, but I don’t see it for myself, how can I decide whether Chris is a thief or not? It’s no different than taking an internet family tree and believing every leaf. I don’t do that.

We should all want to see the evidence before we decide who’s guilty.

Reply

Mariann Regan December 13, 2012 at 10:49 am

I like your approach. A lot. To counter the “epidemic of nice,” you advise posting “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Jack Webb used to say on the ancient Dragnet TV shows. You make a lot of sense. I’ve copied this URL and the one from geneabloggers, in case this ever happens to me. As a university prof all my life, I have serious feelings about plagiarism. Which is what this is.

Reply

Mary Trogg December 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

Marvelous post. I’m just getting started in the blogging world and so far only my photos have been “borrowed.” I am amazed by the ridiculous excuses I’ve been given. My favorite was from a university professor, no less. Seems he just happened to take a photo within minutes of one my mother took sometime in the 1950s.

From now on, no more nice little old lady.

Reply

Caroline Gurney December 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

Very well said, Kerry. You have approached the issue with your usual wonderful mix of common sense and humour and I agree with every word. I have been longing to see names named but that is the prerogative of the people whose content has been stolen. In the meantime, it is easy enough to copy a sentence from whatever has been plagiarised, paste it into Google with inverted commas round the text and click Search. Using Google to find stuff out is also a skill we genealogists should have. And when you do find the offending website, oh fellow sleuths, please make sure you unfriend, unlike, unlink, uncircle and unfollow the owner straight away. If these people cannot play nicely in the genealogy sandpit, we should not continue to treat them as friends or colleagues.

Reply

Jennifer Geraghty-Gorman December 13, 2012 at 11:39 am

Kerry,

Thank you for this post. I agree with you wholeheartedly, having recently ‘called out’ both Glasnevin Cemetery on Facebook and Ancestry.co.uk for allowing the posting some of my photographic work on their sites without my permission, and without even a hint of a nod toward giving credit.

Glasnevin quickly resolved the problem and apologized profusely. Ancestry initially ignored me.

I find myself angered by the fact that multi-nationals such as Ancestry collude with unscrupulous researchers to allow materials which clearly bear copyright watermarks and metadata to appear on their sites. They relinquish responsibility, and then require the legitimate owner of such materials to jump through hoops in order to have it removed.

After sending three emails to Ancestry, the first two of which were ignored, some of the materials in question were removed. A final email was sent to their legal department, and followed their copyright infringement protocol to the letter. I fulfilled their little list of requirements, including providing ‘offending’ URLs, proof of ownership, and an electronic signature, and had my own property removed from the Ancestry site. Disgraceful.

Cheers to you,
Jennifer

Reply

Kevin Subra December 13, 2012 at 11:46 am

I’m not sure if I would even get around enough to know if my content was stolen. Great points, nonetheless, Kerry. Thanks.

Reply

Kerry Scott December 13, 2012 at 11:52 am

The best tool for this is Google Alerts. Most people have one for their names and the names of their blogs, but you can also set them up for a sentence or long phrase in a blog post. That way, if someone uses that post, you’ll get an alert.

My content is so specific to me that I’m a pretty undesirable candidate for stealing, unless one is starting a website about cranky people who like less-than-professional language. But back in my early HR blogging days, I had a TON of content stolen. I got mad, and then I got efficient.

Reply

Suzanne Lucas December 15, 2012 at 12:07 am

You know, Google Alerts does not work well for me. The only alerts I ever get are from the articles I write at CBS. Nothing else shows up, ever. Not even when I was quoted in the NYT, which you would think Google would consider worth scanning for their alerts.

Reply

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG December 13, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Excellent. I plan to follow your example.

Reply

Chris Byrnes December 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Hear hear! I am new to the genealogy scene on the interweb and was astounded at the complaints of plagiarism around the community. And then flat-footed and dumbfounded that there was no proof being presented; just a lot of complaining. Why wasn’t there any citation of the offending blogger or whomever?

I’m all for calling out the IP thieves, whether they be genealogists or Harvard students. I’m the first to admit there’s never been one original thought come off the tips of these fingers onto the screen, but I always give credit where it’s due. I’m just uninteresting enough to be unmolested my these folks.

But I applaud your plan and if I ever find myself in a similar situation, will follow your lead. Thanks.

Reply

Peggy L. December 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Bravo! You have said it about as clear as anyone could, and I commend you for it. Enough if enough. People know what they’re doing when they steal content. Let’s make sure they don’t get away with playing dumb.

Reply

Cheri December 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Thanks so much for the advice. I have been researching for almost 30 years but have just jumped into the blogging world. Hopefully I will never have this problem but if it happens to me I now know what to do!

Reply

Suzanne Lucas December 13, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Kerry,

I think I love you. In fact, I want to be like you. Except I don’t like dead people. i don’t like living people either, which is why I’m still in HR. (To any dead people reading this comment, I like *you*. Just not *other* dead people. Please don’t haunt me.)

I’m cracking up about telling people to get their lawyer to spell your name right. I cannot count the number of times that someone has said to me, rather threateningly, “I’m going to call my lawyer!” I always, always, always responded with, “Super. That’s a great idea.”

Normally, it shut them right up and made it much easier to resolve the situation. I knew we had every i dotted and every t crossed, so call your lawyer.

Reply

Kerry Scott December 14, 2012 at 9:09 am

Were you on the Society for HR Management message board back in the olden days (like, 1998) when there was a thread that came up with clever retorts for when somebody says, “I have a lawyer?” My favorite was, “I have a kitty.” And that’s even before the LOLCats were invented. I don’t remember who came up with that, but that dude/dudess was a visionary.

I also loved when they had a lawyer contact me, and the lawyer turned out to be their cousin who only does divorces or drunk driving or probate. I had a guy who stole thousands of dollars from the company, and then threatened me with his brother-in-law lawyer, who I recognized from those commercials that run during Jerry Springer. It was the cutest thing ever.

Reply

Suzanne Lucas December 15, 2012 at 12:06 am

You are so lucky. A Jerry Springer advertising lawyer!!!!

I, unfortunately, always worked for super large companies that had in house labor and employment attorneys, so once they did actually get an attorney, all communication went through the lawyers.

I will say, in my 10 years in corporate HR, I only saw one employment case actually make it to court and we won. Good companies don’t fire without making sure everything is legal first.

Reply

Dee Blakley December 14, 2012 at 6:14 am

I found one of my blog posts, cut up in pieces, posted as “stories” on someone’s Ancestry family tree. My blog post discussed several of my ancestors, so the tree owner just snagged each paragraph and posted it as one of her “stories” on each relevant family record.

I sent two complaints to Ancestry, after I contacted her about each record and asked her to either remove the story on each record, or, if she felt my stuff was just too good to be ignored, just post a link to my blog and delete my content entirely from her records.

It took about two weeks. I was never contacted by Ancestry with any follow-up to my contacts to them. The Ancestry tree owner’s excuse was that when she landed on my blog post as a result of her Google search, she didn’t see the big, honking bold print on the static entry at the top of the blog that says, “The written content of this journal is copyrighted. Don’t use it without my written permission.” She just copied and pasted and went on her merry way.

She and I had several private messages through the Ancestry server. Initially, she thought she’d just keep the content and put a little line in there saying this originally came from a blog called Shaking the Family Tree.

Slight discrepancy on the spelling of the actual blog title…I asked her why she thought my content was free for the taking. She had no good answer to that, and now has a link to the blog, with no content displayed.

Reply

Kerry Scott December 14, 2012 at 9:04 am

Do you think she was genuinely cluefree, or did she know perfectly well it was wrong?

I get that members of the general public truly don’t understand copyright. In that case, I wouldn’t necessarily put them on blast right from the get-go. But when I’m hearing that members of a professional genealogical association and/or other folks who have been around this block for many years are doing this…well, no mercy. If someone’s truly guilty and in a position where they absolutely know what they’re doing is wrong, that’s a problem.

Reply

Dee Burris December 14, 2012 at 11:47 am

Oh, she knew.

The excuse was that because she didn’t bother to check out anything but the entry she landed on, she didn’t see that there was a copyright asserted. If she had seen that, well heck, she’d never have done it.

To which I suggested she might want to roam around websites where she lands from Google searches, checking them out if for nothing else than whether or not they are credible.

Reply

Cathy von Hassel-Davies December 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I love this post. You are right on and I love how you will be handling this.

Reply

Jo Graham December 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Good solid advice, Kerry. I will keep a note in case I need it!

Reply

Jade December 16, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Excellent presentation, Kerry, and great models. The straight-on approach really is the best.

Reply

Becky Wiseman December 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I think your approach might be okay for a repeat offender. However, in the case where someone takes and uses blog posts as “stories” in ancestry trees or on find a grave, I think a little discretion and courtesy would be advised on a “first offense” situation. Some people are truly clueless when it comes to grabbing stuff off of the internet.

I recently had such a situation, which I wrote about on my blog, after notifying the person who had used a considerable amount of my content on their online tree. I didn’t “out” the person because I didn’t think it was necessary. The problem was resolved to my satisfaction and I think the offender realizes that it wasn’t a proper thing to do. However, if that same person does it again, perhaps I’ll put your suggestion to use!

Reply

Kerry Scott December 17, 2012 at 10:04 am

I’m primarily talking about people from the professional genealogical community here (as it, people who are members of APG and/or longtime genealogy professionals who know perfectly well that this is wrong). Those are the cases I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, and those are the ones that I find most egregious. If I see Joe or Jane Q. Public out there doing dumb things, I’m not necessarily going to unleash the hounds on them. I think that ends up being counterproductive, and it’s kind of like killing a fly with a cannon. But if you’re a professional genealogist charging others for your work in one way or another…well, then, I have little sympathy. There’s a big difference between stealing out of ignorance and stealing for profit.

Reply

Becky Wiseman December 17, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Yes, I agree on that point – if professionals are taking content without approval or attribution then they, quite simply, aren’t being professional and deserve to be “outed” – even on the first offense. No excuse for that.

Reply

Howland Davis December 17, 2012 at 9:19 am

Before I step on someone’s toes, etc., let me ask two questions:
1. If I see some blog that I would like to partially reprint in a genealogical chapter electronic newsletter (I am the editor), I have tried to contact the blogger for permission. I say that I will source the blog with the name, date, title and link. Sometimes I get a response and a thanks for checking; other times nothing. What is my next step?
2. If I went to the Internet and found pictures of ancestors and ancestor’s gravestones which I copied to a book that I am compiling for the family, I need to go back and obtain permission to republish from the original picture taker, right?

Reply

Kerry Scott December 17, 2012 at 10:01 am

I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but:

1. If you don’t have permission, you don’t have permission. You can’t use the blog post. You can use a few short quotes from it, but the whole blog post, if it’s copyrighted, is off-limits. The fact that you tried doesn’t count (although kudos to you for trying, because many people don’t).
2. Same thing for the pictures; if you don’t have permission, you can’t use them. In my experience, most people will say yes if you ask though.

This site is very handy for this sort of thing: Is It Protected By Copyright?

Reply

Chris Byrnes December 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

I hate to be nit picky here, but the one thing that stood out for me in Howland’s post was the fact that the photo was his ancestor too – wouldn’t that have some effect on his ability to use the photo?

Reply

Kerry Scott December 17, 2012 at 11:59 am

It wouldn’t have any effect on the copyright. A clearer example might be a photo taken of my kids by a professional photographer. That photographer earns her living by taking photos and selling the prints. The photos are of MY kids—but SHE owns the copyright. It wouldn’t matter if she wasn’t a professional photographer; if she’s just some chick with a camera, she still owns it.

The subject matter has no bearing on the copyright. The content creator owns the copyright.

As a practical matter, even in cases where the photo is very old and out of copyright, if it belongs to your distant cousin who you just found on the internet, the decent thing to do is to ask if you can use it. 99% of the time, they’ll say yes. People aren’t usually stingy; they just want to be asked first. It’s like if your coworker needs some Sudafed, and you have some in your desk, you’re probably going to give them some if they ask…but if they’re just going through your desk and taking your stuff, that’s not cool.

Reply

Jon December 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Thanks for this enlightening post. I’ve certainly heard about content stealers, but never realized how prevalent it is. Every time I post an entry to my blog, I always wonder if someone might be reading it to get ideas or actually use the content.
And I thought I was just being paranoid……..

Reply

Nick February 5, 2013 at 10:29 am

I totally agree. As an SEM|SEO I see my work getting stolen all the time… and it sucks. If you have images that are stolen directly from your site you can find who is using them with this tool: http://www.tineye.com
As well, you can set it up that if someone is using the images from your site, you can replace any stolen image with something… naughty.. that will only appear on the thiefs site. They usually stop stealing your images rather quickly.

But, here’s another tip: While you can get the offending a$$holes site taken down with their host, go to Google and get their domain deindexed. This means that if they decide to steal another site and plop it on the same domain, good luck getting found in search.
Here’s the link (you’ll need to be logged in to your Google webmaster tools) : https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/dmca-dashboard?hl=en

Reply

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG February 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I have recently reported the theft of about 30 posts to Google, owner/sponsor of Blogger. Google removed the posts from the thief’s blog, but other posts remain. I also talked to someone at Amazon whose ads appear on his blog. Sympathy, but nothing more. The thief has a number of blogs and most, if not all, have stolen content on them. How do I get him removed from Blogger?

Reply

Kerry Scott February 5, 2013 at 2:28 pm

If I’m understanding you correctly, your posts have been removed from the spammer’s site, but the posts of other genealogy bloggers have not. Is that right?

If so, and if you know whose content appears on the site, you might want to give those folks a heads up. Otherwise, you may want to contact Thomas MacEntee at GeneaBloggers. I know he’s done lots of heads-up posts to the community in the past when this has happened.

Reply

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG February 5, 2013 at 2:58 pm

That’s correct. I did contact one other blogger whose content he stole and also contacted Thomas MacEntee, who posted a message on Facebook. About 30 posts were stolen from my blog. With Google’s format for reporting such things, it took almost 2 hours to list them separately on their form. I added a comment that he appears to have stolen the content of many. I don’t know if Google is lax or doesn’t care or what.

Reply

Nick February 5, 2013 at 1:47 pm

If they aren’t your work, not a lot you can do about it. Normally they shut down a thief, maybe they are getting lax? Don’t know. But, here is the link to Blogger DMCA:
http://support.google.com/bin/request.py?contact_type=lr_dmca&product=blogger

Another suggestion is to include also create a “copyright” page on your website and place information about how you handle copyright violations. This is where it might get weird for some people. Add to your copyright violation page a statement that the offending party will be billed $100 per day for use of the work until removed. Doesn’t Getty Images send copyright C&D letters along with $$$$ invoices all the time… why can’t you?

So if you think about it (long enough), when they don’t pay, and most often they won’t, it is now an expense to you and an income to the offending party. So couldn’t you then send a 1099 to send the owner of the website (if US)?

PLEASE NOTE: Check with a qualified CPA for this and all business and financial matters. DO NOT take my advice I’m (most likely) crazy and probably wrong.

Reply

Laura Hedgecock March 6, 2013 at 10:30 am

Good post, though it’s sad that it’s necessary.

btw, the sign on my front door says “Never mind the dog, beware of the kids.”

Reply

Harper's Keeper April 2, 2013 at 9:33 pm

First time reader here. Interesting post. I am pretty new to genealogy and had no idea plagiarism was so rampant.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: