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Run a plagiarism check lately?

Posted by Michael Bloch in web development (Saturday December 8, 2007 )

Plagiarism is the theft of ideas or texts, passed off as the work of someoneone else without acknowledgement of their true origin. It’s the bane of teachers marking student assignments and it’s certainly a scourge to those of us who run online businesses or write as part of our living.

You’ve worked hard on crafting your sales pages and articles – and chances are, especially if the content has been around for a while; someone else is using that content without permission.

Policing content theft is a really time consuming task. Forget going after the faceless sploggers (spam bloggers) – it’s a losing battle; you’ll never catch them and their infringement is likely to have little impact. Most people winding up on a splogger’s site can see pretty quickly that the page is garbage and usually splogs don’t rank too well anyway – it’s not such a threat.

Where plagiarism is definitely worth chasing is in the case of a direct competitor or someone who has copied an entire article, posted it to their own site and then gone as far as claiming authorship.

An easy way to track down instances of plagiarism is to either:

a) use a service such as Copyscape; which is free. You just enter the URL of an important page on your site, and Copyscape will attempt to find sites that have copied your content without permission, as well as those that have quoted you.

b) Copy an uncommon phrase from an article or page on your site and then run it through Google and Yahoo encapsulated in quotes.

You might be very surprised what turns up! In regards to chasing up the infringement, my article on pagejacking (a related issue, not so prevalent these days) contains a sample infringement note you can use.

Choose your battles carefully – bear in mind the time factor. For instance, it’s much wiser to chase an instance of plagiarism where the offender is in the USA and has a semi-popular site, than some non-ranking site based in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. Still, it doesn’t hurt to fire off a warning shot to those people too if you can find their contact details easily; in the hope they may take notice.

Unauthorized reproduction of your content is not only a slap in the face to your efforts, it can also impact on your search rankings for that page. While search engines are much better these days at identifying the original source of a page; if an offending site has generally better rankings than yours, they *may* rank more highly for searches related to the copied content.

Trying to chase up every instance of plagiarism will drive you nuts. A few years ago we spent a couple of solid weeks doing it and I could have spent that time far more wisely. Assess the threat from an infringement and stick to pursuing those that have the potential to negatively impact on you.


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