When content is king, theft is high treason

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It’s now firmly embedded in marketing culture that content is king. Good content makes for a great king that can lead your company to success. Bad content makes for a terrible king whose leadership makes the kingdom languish in obscurity until it perishes from lack of business.

So what, then, do we call content theft? Usurpers to the throne, high treason that meant the guillotine in centuries past. Content theft takes a variety of forms, from outright copy-paste duplication, to rewriting of others’ content with minimal changes (just enough to fool search engines), to the absconding of ideas (which is often the hardest to detect). Why is this such a problem? There is, of course, the issue of honesty and originality, but more important, if the ideas you’re creating are central to driving business to your company, then when someone is stealing your content in any form, they are effectively trying to steal your audience, from which comes your leads and revenue. That’s why I call it high treason – if we are all a community online that acknowledges content as king, then acting against that community and its head of state is high treason.

How do you protect yourself and your company from content theft? Defeating copy-pasters is relatively easy, especially if you embed your content with links back to your own site. Simple inbound link detection tools like Google Webmaster Tools can identify those links for you. Be sure to check the new recent links section every so often.

Defeating rewriters and plagiarists requires a bit more finesse, but are still relatively easy to detect if you employ what folks in the intelligence community used to call canary traps. These are unique little twists and turns of phrase, sequences of ideas or orders, screenshots that highlight ideas (and can be detected by software such as TinEye), all of which are unique to your particular writing style and thinking. You can, as some have done with press embargoes in the past, even give out unique documents if you’re trying to protect something sensitive, so that if a leak occurs, you can identify who leaked the news.

Of vital importance is third party authentication. After all, it’s relatively easy to back-date a blog post. Make sure you are always tweeting out links to your content at the time you publish it!

Once you’ve identified that a person or an organization has committed intellectual property theft, you serve a takedown notice. As with all things legal, do it in writing only, or it never happened. (many jurisdictions prohibit one-sided wiretaps or recordings of calls) Start with a friendly, collegial note indicating what you believe happened, provide supporting evidence, and ask for a concrete remediation, most often a “please take this down”. If that fails, then you should seek the counsel of an intellectual property lawyer.

Here’s an example that I had to use recently. I noticed that an organization had posted a blog post substantially similar to mine. I notified them by showcasing the two links side by side and providing a link to the original tweet that I posted on the date of its publication to authenticate that I was the original author by chronology and that Twitter validated the date and time. The organization apologized and immediately took down the content, and the problem was solved. In most cases, that’s all you’ll need to do. The reason is that with copyright law and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, penalties for copyright infringement are both civil (read: massively expensive lawsuits) and criminal (read: jail).

Protecting your content isn’t just a matter of intellectual honesty any longer like it was in grade school. Today, it’s protecting your bottom line, whether you’re a single blogger writing to get a job or a multinational conglomerate that’s a Fortune 10. Be vigorous in the defense of your original content!

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


4 responses to “When content is king, theft is high treason”

  1. Chris, welcome to my world! I have been ranting about IP theft for a couple of years now, ever since I discovered a major university’s media relations department had stolen one of my images to illustrate an obituary of one of their alumni. It was a conscious act, because whoever downloaded the copyrighted image from my Flickr stream opened it in a photo editing program and systematically removed all my embedded metadata, including the copyright statement. They knew what they were doing was wrong.

    A few years later, an architectural photo I made of the headquarters of a corporate client got stolen by a blog troll who had personal litigation with the company. He was stupid and left the metadata intact, so it was easy to prove.

    But it still points out how dishonest and disrespectful people can be when it comes to your personal intellectual content.

    They wouldn’t dream of taking your car from your driveway because they like its color, so why do they think it’s OK to take your online content for free?

  2. Just last week, I saw a content scraper defending himself, with the comment:

    “If you don’t want people to republish your posts, then limit the sharing on your RSS feed to just excerpts.”

    I wonder if these are the same people who believe that if a woman goes outside without head-to-toe covering, and gets sexually assaulted – well, that’s just what happens and she should have been more modest.

  3. Yes @ikepigott:disqus it is amazing how people will argue for their stupidity. This does open another dialogue of “where is the line of integrity when you spin a post/story?”

    We are inspired by each other and history, that is normal. What is so hard about giving attribution to the idea generator and then giving your perspective? Isn’t that what blogging is for?

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