Themeefy: Curation, Plagiarism & Good Responses

I periodically ego-surf. For the uninitiated, that’s doing Google searches of your name. I’m not ashamed of it. I check myself in the mirror before I go out, after all. What’s wrong with checking on your image online, periodically too?

On just such an exercise, I came across a website that had all my 55-word story posts. I rolled my eyes and looked for a way to contact the owners to tell them they couldn’t plagiarize my content.

The website was Themeefy, a content curation app (itself a premise, I’d find very interesting). One of their users had ‘curated’ this section of my blog. My guess is that a link would normally show an excerpt. But since the content was very brief, the entire posts showed up, one per page.

I tweeted to Themeefy:

Why are entire posts from my blog appearing on @themeefy here- http://bit.ly/xzl8M8 This isn’t sharing, it’s plagiarism. What do you think?

Less than an hour later, I received a response:

We are linking back to your blog, so it’s not plagiarism. However if you object strongly, we can delete this Themeefy Mag.

I replied,

Yes, please do. The entire post has been reproduced. It hurts the SEO of my blog to have it reappear elsewhere.

I received this message a bare five minutes later:

It’s done! :-) Please accept sincere apologies on behalf of the user.

I think this situation happened in a grey area. Curation involves the collection, tidying up, organizing and showcasing of content. Online, it’s a little tricky. Mirroring a website’s content hurts its SEO and seems to actually do the opposite act of devaluing the original. On the other hand, the internet and indeed, blogs work on the premise of link-love.

I’ve spoken often about things that don’t work, services that don’t deliver and people who disappoint on the social media. So I wanted to make a special note of this as a case where this did NOT happen. The situation was resolved well because Themeefy was:

  • Prompt with response: An angry person gets frustrated with inaction and angrier over time. By replying immediately, Themeefy saved the situation from turning sour.
  • Polite without being servile: All of Themeefy’s communication was polite. They also pointed out that they were not doing anything wrong but would take the Mag down, if I asked.
  • Flexible: By taking my concerns into consideration, even though I am not a user, they ensured that I would actually be interested in becoming a user.

‘Courtesy Of’ Doesn’t Nullify Content Theft

Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of the phrase ‘Courtesy of’. Here’s what my favorite online reference resource had to say about it:

  • done or performed as a matter of courtesy or protocol
  • offered or provided free by courtesy of the management

I think it’s abundantly clear from this that ‘courtesy of’ means that permission has been asked and given. I thought it might be useful to clear that up since there are so many misconceptions regarding this, online.

And now, here’s why I felt the need for an English lesson, first thing in the day.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

I wrote a post about women in sports. In addition to my blog, the post also appeared on Yahoo! Real Beauty(which licensed the content with all my permission and requisite legal terms).

A blogger decided to avail of the same post by simply copying the entire thing and reposting it to his blog. Of note, there has been no interaction between him and me before this so the question of his asking my permission doesn’t occur. When I found the post, I emailed him, tweeted him and left a comment stating what had been done and asking him to put in just an excerpt and a linkback.

A fellow-tweeter left a comment too. Mr.Copycat replied to her comment by email, stating that a linkback had been put in.The post now had a hyperlink on the (thus far) text link to my blog. But the entire post was still up there, my comments and my emails were unanswered.

The only way I could think of, to reach Mr.Copycat now was to respond to the email thread (which the other tweeter had kindly marked me on). It was only after that, that the post came down.

I took what I consider a courteous approach to the whole thing. But consider, would someone who claims to be an online professional (web designer) not know the difference between typing in a link and actually providing a linkback? How about the SEO devaluation of the original post (on my blog & Yahoo!) as a result? And most of all, the very obvious ignoring of my comments casts this in poor light indeed. This is a message to the thief – I’ve kept your name out of this post since you took the post down immediately. It would do you good to remember though, that the internet never forgets and potential employers may not want to work with a web designer who has been accused of cheating or stealing.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

And here’s case no.2 (of the three that I found this morning). I wrote a post about mobilephone apps that every urban dweller needs to have. The post also appeared on Yahoo! Real Beauty (under the aforementioned arrangement, on board permission-wise).

Now I find, a website called Andhra Pradesh Information Portal sees fit to copy the entire post without so much as a ‘May I?’ I don’t see a comments section so I can’t speak up about it on the site.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

This isn’t my first issue with content theft and sadly, I know it won’t be the last. Most tragic of all (to me), I still get responses along the lines of “Nothing can be done about it”. Notably, one person pointed out the ‘courtesy of’ at the bottom of the copied posts as an excuse for it not technically being a theft. I asked him, if someone walked away with his wallet and claimed that he had given it to them, if he’d still say that was technically not a theft. There’s no reason to not think of it that way. Just because it’s online, doesn’t make it any less criminal. Just because it’s an intangible (data) instead of a physical object like a wallet, doesn’t make the person who takes it, anything other than a thief.

If you have any further doubts about this, please refer to the start of my post again. I seem to have inadvertently become a champion of the cause of anti-content theft. But I’m damned if I stay a hapless victim.

—————————————————————————————————————————

Update: I found another copied post on the same blog. (Original here, the copy has been taken down). Mr.Copycat caught me on gtalk and apologized. Then he said,

“can you tell me which are your content i have posted, because i will not able to know which are your content and which are of others.”

I told him that I refused to waste any more time chasing after him (my entire morning wasted in this) and that if I found any more of my content stolen, I’d take action accordingly. He asked for a day to take his blog down as he was at work.

Less than an hour later, I was besieged by gtalk messages by him (which I saw on my phone) asking me to take down my tweets about the content theft as he had removed the post. It got to a point of his accusing me of being unfair. Mr.Copycat apparently assumes that I’m sitting around waiting for him to take the post that HE copied down and can’t be bothered with patience. It’s odd, how impatient he got over a few minutes of negative publicity while he took his own sweet time to respond (not to mention all the time the copied content was up online). I made a dash to the nearest computer to talk to him and tell him to stop harassing me. His last words were,

“ok go to hell”

Just for that, Sandip Chavda, your name features on this blog. Respect is two-ways, idiocy (unfortunately for you) only one-way.

Stop Thief!: On Content Theft & What To Do

A week ago, I found one of my posts showing up in another place. (see the case here) I groaned. Copycats (1, 2) are not new to me but somehow one never gets used to the unpleasantness of the experience. Whatever one creates, whether it is a child or an article or a song or a dish, it requires putting a little slice of oneself into it. And to see that so easily lifted and carried away by someone else, cuts real deep.

Strangely enough, a lot of people don’t seem to understand this. I can only surmise that you don’t really ‘get it’ until it happens to you. In the past and this time too, I’ve had people telling me to ‘not make a big deal about it’, ‘to get over it’ and that it’s ‘commonplace on the internet’. That doesn’t make it any easier for me to deal with AND that doesn’t make it right. Try telling a parent whose child has been kidnapped or even treated unjustly that shit happens all the time and that they should ‘get over it’.

My M.O. in such cases is usually to notify the offender, in private if possible and then with a comment on their blog. Failing a response on these two, I take it public and blog/tweet about this. The reason I do this is very simple – when something is stolen from you, your first instinct is to shout “CHOR! CHOR!” in the hope that someone else will help you or at very least acknowledge that you’ve been wronged.

I was happy to note that support for such cases has increased in the blogosphere. A number of people RTed my tweet, shared their own content-theft stories and connected me to people they thought might be able to help. There were the scoffers, the ones who thought I was just making a big deal out of nothing. But happily, they were in minority.

I finally registered a complaint with Google (the offender’s blog being hosted on Blogspot) by filling in the copyright-infringement form. Within a day the post had been taken down and the copycat had apologized. I’m finding it a little difficult to believe that someone who’d advise people about the internet doesn’t understand the seriousness of content theft. Also the fact that there was no response forthcoming until I’d taken matters to a serious authority adds to my skepticism. Still, I don’t care to continue this conversation with him.

I’m going to let that post stay up there as a record of what did happen and how I dealt with it. The purpose is manifold. First of all, I don’t condone stealing and this is a warning to any aspiring copycats. Secondly, I’d like to go on record to state that this is serious, is a big deal and must be spoken about. Thirdly, I heard something that annoyed me greatly. A friend of a friend who spoke about this was known to remark,

“Where are all these supporters when these things happen to small-time bloggers?”

The implication of blogging being an elite club where the inner-circle members look out only for their own would be laughable if I wasn’t so angry. Blogging by its very nature, is democratic, allowing anyone to publish their ideas and thoughts. I don’t think of myself as a ‘big-time blogger’. By whatever strange parameter I’ve been judged as so, I wasn’t born to it and it didn’t come to me overnight. I’ve been producing a steady and varied stream of content for seven years now. It takes effort and time.

The other thing I’d like to point out is that having a sizeable readership and Twitter following meant that I had the means to tell people about it. People responded and undoubtedly that was a lot of moral support, without which I may not have proceeded. But the final action was taken by me, initiating the complaint process. And that’s an option that is open to anybody, irrespective of followership.

If you’re reading this, I hope you take away the following things I’m trying to say:

  • Content theft is NOT okay. Stealing is stealing, no matter who does it (a big publishing house or a blogger).
  • The medium is of secondary or no importance. Just because its online doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs. Just because it’s easy to copy does not make it okay to.
  • The creator of content is its owner, no matter how small his/her following.
  • It is possible to tackle an online thief. The big hosting/blogging services respect content ownership and will be supportive of genuine cases.
  • Just because a lot of people ignore it, doesn’t mean it’s okay. Talk about it, email your friends, notify your social network friends, blog about it, tweet about it.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,973 other followers

%d bloggers like this: