Fighting Online Content Theft: Peer Pressure Can Work!

Posted on May 05, 2013
By Rhonda Hurwitz

It seems that almost every day we learn of some new instance of online content theft.

Some of it is unintentional – because people just don’t understand what content is OK to re-use and when. Sometimes it’s blatant thievery – people taking content that they haven’t created for their own purposes. So when it comes to fighting content theft, there’s a pretty wide range of battle tactics.

At one end of the scale is peer pressure. This approach is based on the idea that most people want to do the right thing and will do it if they understand what it is. Probably the biggest issue in content theft today is that people don’t think they’re stealing. There’s a sense that if it’s online, it’s free. Even those who know better but take content anyway, can hide behind the “I didn’t know” excuse.

One popular blogger who we follow, social media pro Neal Schaffer, has had several run-ins with blog scrapers recently. While it wasn't unusual for us to notice his tweets about copyright infringement, his response is pretty unique, and we want to share it with you.

Using the Power of Community to Defeat Online Pirates

Neal has a large community following him - on Twitter (@nealschaffer) and G+, as well as on the Windmill Networking blog. Whenever he encounters piracy of his content, he calls the offender out publicly in front of his community. He posts social media comments addressed directly to the infringers with links to the unlawful content. For example he’ll say:

  • You do not have permission to republish a blog post from my site - please delete ASAP.
  • I never gave you permission to republish my blog post. Please delete.
  • Why did u copy a blog post from my website without my permission? Please delete ASAP - you are in violation of copyright law.

He also calls his community to action. For instance, he'll say:

  • "John Smith, on his XYZ website, has illegally copied content from +Windmill Networking without our permission and published on his own website. This was apparently done with a plugin that is importing my RSS feed.

Please help in letting John Smith as well as any other people who see this post know, that it is illegal to copy content from another website without explicit permission to do so".

In the instances that we observed, the peer pressure of supporters’ re-tweets and posts on social networks - in addition to Neal’s notices - got the infringers to swiftly remove the content in question, in some cases with an explanation or apology.

Using the power of community to support your efforts - especially for cases of inadvertent or naive infringement - can help expedite the removal of offending content.

Technology Plus Peer Pressure: Another Powerful Combination

We had peer pressure in mind – along with a desire to help educate readers about copyright and the value of online content - when we created the iCopyright service for publishers and bloggers.

We simply used technology to automate the process of educating readers about copyright and each publisher’s or blogger’s specific terms of use. When a reader acquires a proper license for his or her use by clicking on the desired option - for example, re-posting on a blog - the specific license is displayed on the re-posted content. The licensee is less likely to exceed the limits of the license when it’s there for all to see.

So now you have a lower- and higher-tech example of how peer pressure can work to fight online content piracy. But sometimes, tougher anti-plagiarism measures are needed. For instance, when an automated bot scrapes your RSS feed, and the site owner doesn't respond to peer pressure ... what then?

In the near future we’ll be sharing what to do if you require heavier measures!

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