Thursday, May 27, 2010

Alert: Plagiarism on the internet is rife

If you publish on the internet expect to be plagiarised.

At university plagiarism may be considered grounds for expulsion. However, in the real world of the internet it is very common for others to take people's work and call it their own. Whilst this is common, I personally don't believe it is right.

I have often found within an hour of publishing a post on the internet that someone has taken my content and called it their own. If you write a blog for your business with the hope it may promote your business, then also be aware your content may copied to promote others, and if their presence on the internet is stronger than yours, then your content will promote them and not you.

I'm happy for someone to take a short extract (a sentence, a paragraph) from my site and link others to the source. I think we'd all agree that is acceptable etiquette on the internet and how on the internet we help each other.

However when people start taking more than a paragraph, or sometimes the entire contents of a page and copy it to their site, then to me that isn't appropriate behaviour.

Here is an entry from a Facebook user which I feel is a good way to use a small amount of content from another site. Only a small section of the content is used and a link is provided to the site providing the information. This approach helps both the original poster and the new poster.

On the other hand, here is a blog post from another site. If you check what I've written you'll see they have taken my material, edited it to make it look like they wrote it and called it their own. No credit. Pure plagiarism. I would find it hard to trust and deal with a site that works that way. To me it reinforces the saying "judge a person by their actions, not by what they say".

Just received an email
Friday, May 07, 2010
Subject: Thank you for buying iTunes Gift Certificate!

Just before I deleted this email from my spam filter, I just thought I’d check it out. Whilst I was quite certain it was a scam, I also think many people will be tricked with this free offer of an iTunes Gift Certificate.

The body of this email contains the following:

You have received an iTunes Gift Certificate in the amount of $50.00 You can find your certificate code in attachment below.

Then you need to open iTunes. Once you verify your account, $50.00 will be credited to your account, so you can start buying music, games, video right away.
iTunes Store.

There’s no company logo – and the next clue is the email contains the attachment and in the attachment is the program file iTunes_certificate_197.exe.

Alarm bells ring when someone sends an .exe file as an attachment – you’ve been warned

Honestly I was quite surprised/shocked to see people so openly copying other people's material and then with a bit of editing putting it on their site as though they wrote it themselves. The iTunes email was an obvious scam. Exactly what this site is doing I'm not sure, but I would certainly avoid them. At least the site said something true which is "Alarm bells ring" and if you see a site copying another site's material that should certainly ring some alarm bells for you.

In the past I've seen IT businesses in New Zealand and Western Australia take whole pages from my site and include it on their own site as their material. As a business practice an IT business copying another site's material is crazy. If you can't trust them on how they act on the internet, how could you trust them with your confidential information on your computer. A local council once took a graphic from my site that I took months to get approved and simply added it to their site without seeking permission. Copying of material can be done by anyone and any organisation both private and government.

More recently I've noticed an increasing number of skeleton sites taking material using automated methods. The aim appears to quickly generate material to generate advertising revenue, or a better position in search engines. The real concern is some of these site may end up containing malicious material such as links to malware and that could mean my material is being used to trick others. That too me is a real concern. The lesson here is if you use standard tools on the internet such as well know sites, then the chances of your information being copied increases significantly with automated tools.

I previously loved supporting Open Source projects and spent hundreds of hours building open source material. However sites like Firefox and Google Chrome simply came along and took the material I produced and gave nothing back. That is what open source appears to be about, but it is not the way I work. The real problem is when those who take don't contribute back to those who give, they end up killing off the source of their material. After nearly eight years of participating in open source I no longer support or contribute to open source as a result.

If you run a business and publish material on the internet, be aware that others may be using the material that you spend hours to generate.

If you use other people's material I personally feel you should link to the material and give the original creator the credit and some of your energy. Including too much is a sure way to kill of those that help you. Knowing that an 80 million dollar business like Mozilla/Firefox and a 21 billion dollar business like Google is benefiting from my work with no return for me, simply meant I stopped developing for open source. I'd estimate there are half a million to possibly millions of Australians using my material and the benefit to me financially was less than $150. I really believe if we help each other we all grow. These who simply leech off others without giving something back to them will simply cause the developers of the material to stop producing.

By all means link to other's material. Provide the minimum amount of text from the other site. A sentence or a paragraph. Don't copy whole sections of their site without their permission. You wouldn't want others to do it to you, so don't do it to others.

The good thing with the internet is plagiarists copy and if they found your material on the internet, you can often find the copy of your work. That probably won't help you, but once you know others are copying your material then you can adjust how you use the internet.

For anyone who is thinking about dealing with a site, do a search using parts of sentences of material from their site using Google, Yahoo or Bing. If they've been copying material from other sites and calling it their own, you'll most likely find the source and you'll then know the site to trust.

I hope this information alerts other small businesses of the considerable level of copying of content which is occurring on the internet and enables them to take that into account when they produce material for their site.

- Kelvin Eldridge

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