Plagiarism is nothing new, but as we enter 2018 it is easier and more tempting than ever. The pace of business and the copy-and-paste ease of the Internet have made plagiarism simple -- there's no time for considering the ethics. Blogging and social media love content that is short and sweet, so citing sources is not a high priority. And sharing is encouraged, right? They have buttons right there. But that doesn't mean the content is up for grabs.

If you or your company creates original online content, this milieu puts your intellectual property at risk. As an example, at Decision Toolbox (DT) we pay a creative team that invests time and effort in developing content designed to attract and engage candidates for job searches. Few people think it would be fair for another company to use content we paid for to compete against us. Yet that is exactly what happened: Our content was copied, verbatim, and used by the competitor on a popular employment website.

Not a Victimless Crime

Suppose the competitor used that content to find and present the candidate that was hired. They would get credit (and possibly a contingency bonus) for the hire, and DT would look ineffective. That act of plagiarism could cost us a client.

There are other potential consequences. Greg Secrist, writing on SearchEngineJornal.com, explains that stolen content can rank higher on search results than the original, or that that the stolen content can appear while the original is left out altogether. That is, you might pay a marketing professional to create the content, but someone else is using it to lure business away from you.

The problem is significant enough that companies offer services to prevent, identify and remove stolen content. Google, for example, provides a function in Webmaster Tools that allows an author to request that pirated material be removed from different Google services. Google takes these requests seriously, and repeat offenders can be banned from Google search results.

According to TheVerge.com, Google received more than 75 million copyright takedown requests in March 2016, the largest number to that point. These covered a variety of content besides writing, such as pirated music and movies, but it clearly highlights the problem.

Protecting Your Content

There are copyright laws to protect content owners, but many feel the laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), are outdated. Mark Schultz, writing on TheHill.com, argues that the DMCA was appropriate back when web pages numbered in the millions rather than billions, and mass sites like Facebook, iTunes, PayPal and others didn't exist. He claims the law is now "utterly naive."

But you can be proactive about protecting your content:

  1. Include a "terms and conditions" page on your site covering uploading and downloading content to and from your site.
  2. Use tools like Google Alerts and Copyscape to monitor when and how your content is used on other sites.
  3. Use Google Search Author to establish authorship and get credit in search results.
  4. If you are a victim and want to fight back, get a screenshot of the pirated posting, including the offending site's URL. Then email the site's webmaster and politely but firmly ask them to remove the content.
  5. If that fails, you can threaten to file a DMCA takedown request with the search engines (Google, Bing, etc.), and sometimes the threat alone does the trick (no one wants to be banned from Google searches!). If that doesn't work, you can move forward with the filing.

Content theft is going to continue, and it will become more and more prevalent. One of your resolutions should be to put a content protection strategy in place this year.