How Do You Stop A Content Thief?

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content theftA few weeks ago, my friend Mark Schaefer wrote a blog post about a problem that is all too common in marketing and communications: content theft

Like Mark, I’ve had my content stolen, too. (Actually, most of the people I know who actively blog have experienced it.)

It happens so often, I’d be willing to bet you have also either had your content stolen or perhaps even stolen someone’s content (either purposely or inadvertently.)

What is “theft?”

I think we can all agree that stealing is wrong.

But when it comes to stealing content specifically, people’s views seem to be a little less black and white.

For example, some people think it’s justified to use content created by someone else if…

  • The content appears to be in the public domain. (Yes, you can access a lot of content online for free. But that does not mean it is necessarily “in the public domain” or you can do whatever you wish with it. Hamlet is in the public domain, but that doesn’t mean we can replace Shakespeare’s name with our own and pass it off as our greatest masterpiece.)
  • It is difficult to vet the owner/creator of the original content. (Yes, it can take effort to determine the author of a piece of content — especially if you get it from a source which has stripped out the author’s name. But you need to do the homework anyway. There are no magical elves creating piles of content for you to use for free. Everything has an author, somewhere.)
  • The content seems generic. (Even the authors of bad, trite, played-out content deserve to be respected as authors. If I write a blog post about a topic which has been covered a million times before, it still required time and energy on my part to produce it.)
  • The author wrote it for free. (I’m not required to write this post for SteamFeed, nor am I being paid to do so. I do it because there is power in having my name attached to these words, and I can capitalize on that power when the content is seen or distributed. When that connection is severed, so is my payoff.)

Unless I’m missing something here, I can’t really see any good justification for stealing content.

But that certainly doesn’t stop people (and companies) from doing it anyway.

So how do we stop it?

Content theft is an alarming trend. I suggest we combat it with four tactics…

1. Watch your back.

For better or worse, posting content online is like leaving high-end electronics in an unlocked car: it’s risky behavior that may leave you open to theft.

So, be proactive about protecting your work. For example:

  • Add a Creative Commons license to your work if you are open to sharing it but want to set some boundaries.
  • Familiarize yourself with Copyright.gov’s Fair Use guidelines and consider adding a copyright notice to your content.
  • Regularly use programs like Copyscape to see if people are stealing your content.
  • Confront the people who steal your work. While I don’t advocate bullying, I do think publicly calling out someone for his or her theft (as Erika Napoletano did earlier this year) can be an effective way to telegraph the seriousness of the issue to the offender and educate the public at large about the problem.

2. Watch each other’s backs.

Even if your content has never been stolen, content theft is still an issue that’s worthy of your attention and time.

We need to care as much about our peers’ content being stolen as we do our own, because content theft hurts us all in the long run. So…

  • Speak out when you see it happen.
  • Share/promote the posts of authors who are talking about it.
  • Support the organizations who are working to stop it. 

3. Use strong words.

You may have noticed I didn’t say things like “violate copyright” or “plagiarism” in this post.

That’s because I think offenders sometimes hide behind those words to write off what they did as some sort of technical snafu or lawyer mumbo-jumbo.

Let’s be clear here: if you use someone’s content without asking, you have “stolen” it, and that makes you a “thief.”

Period.

I believe if people are going to emulate the behavior of five-year-olds on a playground, they should be labeled accordingly.

4. Stop telling companies to post gobs of content.

Yes, the more content you post, the more traffic you will likely get to your site. But the content arms race we have started in encouraging companies to post the MOST content (in the hopes of becoming THE source for content in their industry) is creating some seriously bad business practices, like…

We need to encourage companies to stop posting content just for the sake of posting content – especially when they are unable to answer questions about that content like, “Who is this content for?” “Is anyone asking for this content?” or “Is anyone actually reading (or more importantly, acting on) this content?”

We also need to be honest with companies that generating a substantial amount of content requires an equally substantial investment of resources. If they are not prepared to make that investment, then they need to adjust their expectations and aim lower, instead of chasing fantasy metrics and relying on quick fixes like stolen content to get them to the finish line.

So, those are my suggestions, ladies and gentlemen.

These four ideas will not stop content theft entirely, but hopefully they’ll get you thinking about other ways we can tackle this problem.

What would you add to this list? Please leave a comment below!

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Jennifer Kane
Jennifer Kane is a marketing/communications strategist with more than 15 years of experience working with B2B and B2C companies. She has nearly two decades of public speaking, education and training experience and speaks nationally on topics related to social media, content marketing and digital communications. She is Principal of Kane Consulting, a 10-year-old firm that helps companies use social media and other digital technologies to improve their marketing, communications, sales and customer service. Jennifer runs a popular business book club in Minneapolis and manages the "Spinal Fusions Suck" social community on Facebook. In her spare time, she thinks a lot about the zombie apocalypse and the awkwardness of writing about oneself in third person.
Jennifer Kane

@JenKaneCo

Consultant, strategist, author, educator & speaker with 20+ years of experience in marketing/communications. Passionately curious. Fairly sassy. Kinda dorky.
Yes: "Great Speakers Are Like Yoda, Not Luke Skywalker:" http://t.co/JQAgTnfJAD - 2 hours ago
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