Hat tip is the new rip off and the content shock

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If you doubt whether we’re reaching a content shock, a point where the creation of content is a questionable exercise in value (even when it’s outstanding), look no further than this example of what gets the love in social media.

The other day, I was surfing through my Facebook News Feed and I saw a story that piqued my interest, on 22 ways to creatively save space and hide ugly items. The story first appeared from a friend who shared it, and it looked like this.


Pretty cool. I scrolled to the bottom of the article and noticed there was a very brief link and attribution (“hat tip”) to a story on another site.


Someone had taken this story, mixed up the order of the 22 items, and reshared it as “original content”. I started to feel bad for the creator of this list of 22 items, because clearly it had taken them some time to assemble… or had it? At the bottom, another “hat tip” link, which led to…


The previous page had taken from this page and remixed the order again, a copy of a copy. As far as I could tell, this was the source list.

This is the content shock in action. The originating site was now two remixes away from what was actually being shared, and the remixes would fail a grade school test in plagiarism, hat tip or not. Was it worth it for the original content creator to do the work and publish the content when blatant copies are reaping the rewards? At some point, the cost/benefits will have flipped for the original content creator vs. those who have the deep pockets or the traffic to rip off (“hat tip”) great original content.

This happens to all sectors of content, all verticals, as evidenced by this post by friend Tom Webster. Plagiarism is a symptom of the content shock – the cost/benefits of ripping off someone else’s content are higher than creating your own.

How do you solve this, if you’re a legitimately valuable content creator who wants to protect your work?

First, make sure your content is inarguably yours. Find and develop a style of imagery and writing that sounds like you and only you. Use unusual words and phrases like “hat tip is the new rip off” that are easily searchable in Google so that you can identify simple plagiarism. Consider trying out tools like Copyscape to monitor, and Google your own stuff frequently.

When it comes to images, develop a unique style and watermark, ideally in such a way that’s difficult to eliminate, making it part of a graphic. A hideously bad example of this would be to superimpose a chart over a photo of you, for example. A less obvious way to do that is with digital watermarking tools, some of which are built into applications like Photoshop, or even using steganography tools to embed copyright information into images. You may not necessarily want to do this for every image, but it’s worth the extra steps for big, important stuff.

Finally, develop and grow your social network. The more eyes and ears you have out there who know what your stuff looks like and can alert you when they see something questionable, the better. I can’t attend every conference in the world, but by having lots of friends and allies, lots of people are listening on my behalf (and I on theirs). I can’t read every piece of content shared on Twitter, but with 75,000 of you out there reading, chances are we cover an awful lot together. (and thank you for being part of it)

As the content shock weighs ever more heavily on publishers, expect more to behave badly (especially those who actively denigrate journalism and journalist integrity standards), and keep an eye on your content!

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3 responses to “Hat tip is the new rip off and the content shock”

  1. Great insight Chris. You have a great sense of story.

  2. Excellent post Chris. In many ways it remind me the old dictum for “beautiful and functional”, a principle can be employed in almost every modern business situation. I like particular your remarks about stenographic and watermarking subject (sorry about your experience, but things, happen, as you would know!), and tools can copyright bulletproofing your original creations! I’m not quite sure, that these tools can work well, and still you have the “writer’s freedom” you need for produce supreme content (just a thought!). All and all, an excellent approach. Thank you for sharing, Chris.

  3. Great advice on the watermark and ‘steganography’ tools (thanks for the link as I knew the concept but not the correct word 😉 especially as we are inundated through the streams. I always make significant effort to find the original for credit ( I use the h/t frequently) but if it is cumbersome to find the originator, I usually won’t share so making it easier for the reader is a win-win.

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