What all bloggers need to know about plagiarism: An interview with Jonathan Bailey

Large copyright graffiti sign on cream colored wall
Creative Commons License photo credit: Horia Varlan

Jonathan Bailey is the man behind Plagiarism Today, a site that aims to educate copyright holders and web content publishers about plagiarism-related concerns. Online plagiarism is one of those issues that all of us should have, at least, a primer-level understanding of, yet few of us do–myself very much included. Jonathan–who goes to great lengths to disclose that he is neither a lawyer nor attempting to provide legal advice in any capacity–now manages CopyByte.com, a startup that aims to protect the rights of copyright holders through violation detection and enforcement.

What does the average blogger need to know about re-posting the content of other bloggers?

One needs to be aware that, currently, everything is copyright protected the second it is fixed into a tangible medium of expression. So once as a blog post is saved to a hard drive or a server, it is copyright protected. It doesn’t matter if a notice accompanies it or not. As such, when reposting content from other bloggers, you need to obtain permission. You can do so directly by asking for it or indirectly, such as finding bloggers that use Creative Commons Licenses that allow reuse. You can, however, copy and cite sections of a work for the purpose of commentary and criticism. This is called fair use and is a book unto itself. But it is important to be aware that limited copying for certain uses is permissable under the law, even without the OK from the copyright holder.

Where can bloggers go to find images to use on their blog, and how can they identify images that are not protected?

There are many different sources bloggers and others can go to find images for their site. There is a wonderful WordPress plugin called PhotoDropper (http://www.photodropper.com/) that searches Flickr for usable photos and embeds them into your site, with correct attribution already applied. You can also do a Creative Commons search on Flickr itself or even one in Google Images under their “Advanced” search feature.

You can also seek out free stock photography sites such as sxc.hu that are designed for users to post images they wish others to make free use of. There are also public domain photo libraries as well, meaning the copyright has expired, and you can also look at Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page) for more great images, though you need to make sure you are using the works in accordance to their license.

What does the typical instance of online plagiarism or copyright violation look like?

I don’t think there is a “typical” case though there are many common violation types.

Some cases are borderline, a blogger might take more text than can be comfortably called a fair use or use an image in a way that may be infringing. There are accidental cases where bloggers don’t understand the law or otherwise feel they have permission to do what they want.

But then there are egregious ones. Common are spam blogs that scrape content from RSS feeds and republish them on garbage sites and human plagiarists that just copy and paste articles from where they see fit.

There is no typical case of copyright infringement, but they do seem to fit in several types that are all worth watching for in at least some capacity.

How can bloggers discover plagiarism of their work?

Bloggers who have a full RSS feed for their content should try FairShare (https://fairshare.attributor.com/fairshare/). Just give the site your feed and subscribe to the one it spits out in return and it will alert you to matches of your content it finds.

For images, Tineye (http://tineye.com) is probably the best source and for static, non-rss, content I seem to have good luck with Plagium (http://www.plagium.com) as it does great match detection.

All of these products are free.

What new challenges to protecting content do you see on the horizon for bloggers in 2010?

Challenges are going to come from two different areas most likely.

First is content syndication. We already do a lot of syndication through RSS but it is becoming still more common with social networking/news sites. As we syndicate our content to more and more sources, tracking it becomes harder and harder and separating the good from the bad even worse.

Second is the shift to non-textual works. As video and audio become more popular detection is going to be even harder. Though it’s easy to detect text works, search engines were not built for image matching. As such, image matching tools for laybloggers are still in the early stages and no options exist for video and audio that is practical for an amateur.

Whether it is to understand the use and audience or to enforce copyright, new tools have to be developed to track this material.

You can visit Jonathan Bailey’s Plagiarism Today and follow him on Twitter.

Ian Greenleigh
Author | Turning data into stories | Sr Mgr, Content & Social Strategy, Bazaarvoice | Former baby
  • http://www.briancuban.com Brian Cuban

    Some great points. I have some bloggers post the entirety of someone elses work and think they are ok because they also linked to it. Also a big issue is the ripping off of content with minor changes in an attempt to create an original work.

  • http://www.afmarcom.com Angelique

    An additional comment about photos: If you know that you’re going to want to post photos and graphics regularly, especially if you want to use free images, do this:

    1. Start to collect a stockpile in advance. It can take a while to ask for permission and track down public-domain photos.

    2. Pick up some Photoshop skills, or become friends with someone who has them. That way you can polish photos you take yourself and you can create your own graphic images.

  • http://www.sasstown.com Cecilia Nault

    Thanks for all the references provided to attempt to get up to speed on this although I ashamed to say how far down my to do list this is going to go. Is there a date for a quiz to help me “find” the time ?
    .-= Cecilia Nault´s last blog ..The Hurricane & The Homeless Guy =-.

  • http://jbcmedia.com Jason Crouch

    Ian – Great interview, and I found a couple of nuggets that I can use right away! I signed up for Fairshare before finishing my reading of the post. I will be sharing this one with my network today. :)
    .-= Jason Crouch´s last blog ..“Twitterville” by Shel Israel =-.

  • http://www.blueridgeballroom.com Linda Schlensker

    I have always given credit because I started out in print media. You’ve given me some better and easier ways to do it and I thank you. I haven’t worried so much about my own content because I wanted the information out there and didn’t really care who got credit for it. You’ve given me pause to rethink. Thank you again.

  • http://www.plagiarismtoday.com Jonathan Bailey

    Glad to see that the interview was able to help so many of you. Please, if you have any questions or need any help, feel free to drop me a line. I’m here if I can assist!
    .-= Jonathan Bailey´s last blog ..3 Count: Who Dat! =-.

  • Ian Greenleigh

    @Brian- Thanks for stopping by. I’m sure you’ve dealt with this kind of think a lot!

    @Angelique- Both great tips.

    @Cecilia- Just take it one thing at a time!

    @Jason- I saw that you shared it on your network and checked out FairShare. Jonathan’s recommendations were superb!

    @Linda- Giving credit shouldn’t be as hard as it is, and hopefully Jonathan’s recommendations are going to make it a bit easier.

    @Jonathan- I can’t thank you enough for providing so many great answers. Let’s keep in touch.

  • http://www.paraphrasingmatters.com/ Chris Gayle

    The first step to a successful Google search is to NOT use the title of
    your work. Many plagiarists, to hide their activity, will change the
    title of your work while keeping the body intact.