"Borrowing" Content: How The Little Guy Can Fight Back

The problem: big publishers "borrowing" stories from smaller publishers, redrafting them, and republishing them. Because the bigger publisher has greater domain authority, "their" story achieves higher rank.

Can you pick "who made who" in the following examples?

Of course, the publishers of these specific examples may not of been aware of each others existence. Great minds can think alike. But there are so many examples of coincidence out there, one suspects it isn't all purely a matter of chance.

Whilst borrowing of ideas is nothing new, if you're a publisher, content borrowing can wreak havoc with your seo strategies. The big and powerful sites dominate, and the little guy often gets relegated. Google's linking algorithms reward the already rich, and make them richer.

The sad reality is that whilst the web started out with the intention of being a democracy of information, it now closely resembles the power structures of the offline world. By the time you read this article, it has very likely been reproduced without attribution.

Here are a few ideas on how the little guy can fight back.

1. The Power Of Relationships/Distribution

It is said that business can be boiled down to two essential elements: to sell something for more than it costs to produce, and the ability to nurture relationships.

If you're a publisher, you can leverage the relationship you have with your readers in order to protect you from "the borrowers". Once you readers, and indirect competitors, are aware of your work, it becomes harder for your competitors to talk to that same market, using your ideas.

Think about what you can do for your readers to instill a sense of loyalty. Give them something of value. Make them feel indebted to you. Give people a stake in your success.

Consider allowing people to republish your content under certain conditions. i.e. when you have sufficient page rank, allow others to copy parts of your work, so long as they link back to the original. Such a policy might turn those who would ordinarily steal from you into allies who supply free link juice.

2. Branding

Try to make your content an identifiable part of your brand.

For example, part of your brand might be your a stylistic approach to writing. It would be very difficult to directly rip off Dave Barry, because he writes himself into his articles.

Typically, the more generic a piece is, the easier it is to borrow, so try to weave something unique to you, or your site, into the article. Perhaps use arguments and points that rely on a link to one of your previous articles, in order that they make sense.

3. Launch Hard

When you create a new site, or a new piece of content, shout loud about it.

Use all the channels. Twitter about it. Email your subscribers. Submit your article to aggregation networks. Pitch your article to other publishers with whom you've built a strong relationship, and who you know will link back and credit you.

In tight communities, like the SEO world, it will be harder to rip you off if you've made yourself visible in all the channels the community uses.

4. Create A Publicity Storm

If you're very sure of your ground i.e. someone has blatantly copied and republished your content without permission, you could create a lot of media mileage by outing them. If they won't acknowledge you, then their direct competitors might be very open to highlighting the borrowers contemptible practices. Use the same approach you do when you launch hard.

Say it often, and spread the (negative) message wide. Done correctly, a publicity storm might generate more back-links links than the original article. In any case, they'll certainly think twice about taking your stuff in future.

5. Fire Fight

Another approach is the cavalry charge.

Contact the publisher, contact the people linking to them, have your friends write about the culprit. Do it each and every time someone steals your work. Do it on Twitter. Do it on their site. You could even hire an army of cheap Mechanical Turks to do the job for you.

You can find links using Yahoo's Site Explorer, duplicate posts using Google Blog Search, and Technorati.

6. Become Big

The problem with the above approaches is that they can take a lot of your time.

Where you really want to be is so big that your direct competitors wouldn't dare take your stuff. The smaller upstarts who take your stuff won't be able to rank against you anyway.

This last point is where I'd put most of my efforts. As frustrating as it is, the web is a very difficult environment in which to enforce copyright. Spending a lot of time fighting that fact won't make the interweb leopard change it's spots.

It's like the spam reporting approach. Do you spend all your time dobbing in spammers above you in the vain hope they'll all disappear, or do you beat them by building an authoritative, trusted domain?

Nurture those relationships to help you get there :)

Published: February 2, 2009 by A Reader in seo tips


February 3, 2009 - 12:33am

There's only one long term solution - CREATE BETTER CONTENT! Chasing down the re-packagers of the world is a fool's errand. No one's gonna give a shit about some site with 10 subscribers bitching that they were ripped off, and these sites can probably bury you in legal fees. On top of that "Do No Evil" Google doesn't give a shit about who wrote it first. They certainly don't have a level playing field when it comes to duplicate content. I suppose Google's justification is these sites got "big" due to providing better content/user experience. In a nascent market like search I'm not sure that's true.

February 3, 2009 - 7:21am

Robert Barr here. I am the author of "Give Windows Away for Free." It was a guest post that I was asked to do for Drea over at BusinessPundit.com.

While the post obviously hit a nerve, as most who commented assumed the OS would be crawling with ads, I assumed most would be able to imagine a world where the ads where targeted, and much less annoying, think Adsense in Gmail.

Regardless of the success or failure of the post, they are my words, and I stick by them.

Robert Barr

February 3, 2009 - 10:29am

An excellent post. It is interesteting to also note that an ISP has been in the (UK) news recently over their website trial called 'Phorm' - which monitors user behaviour with the view of being able to target ads more accurately. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/02/privacy-civil-liberties

Stir into the mix the news regarding Facebook and user data and the possible scenario emerging could see big business making the web a less 'open' place to be ut is this really the best way of putting the user at the heart of the internet?

February 3, 2009 - 12:01pm

I think they want people to be convinced that their interests are looked after and remain ignorant to the fine print. It is what the traditional "free" media model depends on.

February 3, 2009 - 8:33pm

Your article raises important points about things that affect SEO. Borrowing content from small, lesser known sites to boost the power of big, popular sites will only make these more famous while leaving the smaller sites that are trying to become big by the wayside. In politics, the answer would be simple--redistribute the wealth. Socialism. Is that what is necessary in cyberspace? Should content be shared equally, or, at the very least, should websites that borrow content be forced to give credit to the site they got it from? Before posting copy on the internet, could you somehow be forced to submit it to a plagiarism test of sorts, in which the computer automatically scans the net for the exact same wording in large chunks? Or is anything like that impractical given the fact that there are 20 billion websites floating around out there?

February 3, 2009 - 11:15pm

The idea was not strictly plagiarism...but just copying ideas. Frankly I would not hope for a central test before content could be published. Socialism might not be the right answer either. But I do think the value of copyright on most works is decreasing by the day...so you have to be able to cause a bit of a ruckus on the social network when someone loots your stuff...you have to introduce opportunity cost into the equation.

February 4, 2009 - 5:39am

I have had to deal with this issue on more than one occasion. This inspired me to write a post called Combating Online Plagiarism. A couple of other suggestions which I cover in this post are 1 contact the plagiarists hosting company. The DMCA (digital millennium Copyright Act) requires by law for the hosting company to take down the plagiarists website. The other thing you can do is contact the search engine (mainly Google)and file a complaint with them. Google may remove the plagiarists site from their index entirely.

February 4, 2009 - 12:25pm

The point of the above post was NOT just about plagiarism...it was about borrowing ideas...not word for word content.

February 6, 2009 - 11:26am

Well someone once told me that there are no new ideas. I guess to some degree this is true. Sometimes people will come up with exactly the same idea, sometimes they'll copy it. But that's just the nature of the beast. Create the integrated circuit and someone creates the microchip. I think the real trick here is to make sure that no matter what happens you just keep plugging away until you define your own microchip - point 6.

February 9, 2009 - 4:46am

@rhcerff - Ironically, even the idea that there are no new ideas have been lifted from other sources all the way back to the bible & before (Ecc 1:9-14)

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