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Automated Theft of Intellectual Property

A few days ago I wrote about a piece of my intellectual property, an article I wrote and posted on DaileyMuse.com, being stolen, plagiarized, and posted on another web site under a different authors name. I hadn’t been looking for my work elsewhere, I was simply browsing the access logs and visiting other websites that stood out.

As a result of finding my work posted elsewhere without my permission, I contacted the owner of the website by email and provided 24 hours to remove the content before I pursued legal action. Just before the 24 hours had expired, I received an email from the website owner containing a single word: “removed.” I took a look at the offended website and the infringing content was indeed removed. Before receiving the email confirming the removal of the stolen article, I was busily preparing a DMCA Notice to send to HostGator, the Internet Service Provider hosting the offending website. I was preparing instructions for the provider to remove the article or to take the site offline, both actions being within my right under the DMCA guidelines.

While the compliance and quick response of the website owner made further action unnecessary, the issue remains that he does employ the use of an automated search bot that “harvests” content from other sites or blogs, makes several changes to wording and sentence structure, and posts the modified content as his own on the website. This is a clear infringement of the intellectual property rights belonging to the true authors of the works, and judging from the number of new articles posted on the infringing website, I would venture a guess that my content is not the only victim of this automated search bot.

Published articles, graphic artwork, video and audio files are commonly used and reproduced online in direct violation of the owners intellectual property rights. In this case, not only was my work taken and reproduced without my permission, it was modified in an apparent attempt to make the resulting work appear as though it was an original article written by someone else. This kind of intellectual property violation is far more disturbing than simply copying or using a work product without license or permission. This involves the attempted theft by plagiarism of a copyrighted work, with the intention of generating financial gain by using the copied work to attract potential buyers to a website selling software and services related to the article.

One of the primary methods of ensuring that work published online is not being reused without consent on another site is to select specific phrases from your work, and to then perform search engine queries of these key phrases. The resulting search engine hits should be from your site, sites to which you submitted your work product, sites that either published your work with permission, or published only excerpts of your content, such as quotes, under fair use guidelines. All other results indicate a possible theft of your intellectual property.

Using an automated process, however, to search for, copy, and then modify content before publishing on another website shows the willful intent to disguise the modified work, most likely to prevent a search engine query from finding that the work has been stolen. The automation allows for large numbers of articles, blog posts, poems, and other types of written work to be harvested in a short period of time. One can only imagine how many pieces of copyrighted content have been illegally obtained and reproduced in this fashion.

To gain a better understanding of the problem, I reached out to plagiarism expert and consultant, Jonathan Bailey. I hoped to gain insight into how the automated theft of intellectual property is so easily accomplished. Mr. Bailey’s response offered a clear picture of just how large the problem is.

“Basically, spammers have largely abandoned doing traditional RSS scraping in favor of a wide variety of other means to get content into their sites. Those methods include translated plagiarism, translating a work to another language and back again to get a different, somewhat intelligible version of the same work, content generation, pulling short sentences from a lot of sources to stitch together something resembling an article.”

“The other method is what sounds like you ran into. Content Spinning (also called content obfuscation). Basically you take a work, scrape it and modify it enough so that you hope to avoid duplicate content penalties. The process is done through the use of automated thesauri that replace words at random. Similar systems are used by some academic plagiarists hoping to escape automated detection systems. This has been a growing issue and doesn’t seem ready to stop. I think we’re really gearing up for the next big wave in the spam war and cases like your are going to become much more common.”

He also provided two links to some of his previous discussions on the subject, Five Years Later: Why RSS Scraping Still is Not OK and Modified Scraping on the Rise, providing a more in-depth look into the problem.

From his website, PlagiarismToday.com, Mr. Bailey provides a series of instructive tutorials to help protect online intellectual property. He offers practical guidance and sound advice on finding, challenging, and winning against those who use your copyrighted works illegally. While you may not be able to stop every act of theft as it relates to your intellectual property, Mr. Bailey offers some key advice on defending your digital rights.

“The best thing you can do in those cases is resign yourself to fight the incidents that you can and take comfort in that, by defending your copyright so vigorously, you are removing any doubt about who the original creator is. After all, the only way you can completely lose control of your work is to do nothing and let the plagiarists run free. If you stop most of them, even those you can’t block will never have any credibility behind their claims. Despite the losses, you preserve the value and integrity of your work. Which, in the end, is exactly what fighting plagiarism is about. Preserving your work and your efforts.”

Now armed with a better understanding of the problem, my goal is to learn as much as possible about the tactics and practices used to combat the theft of intellectual property. As I continue to publish more articles in my fields of study and expertise, I want to ensure that my creative efforts remain protected and defended, and so should you. If more authors, bloggers, and content creators actively pursue the defense of their intellectual property rights, fewer thieves and plagiarists will be able to take advantage of our labors for their own personal gain. We must remember that we not only have them outnumbered, but by the fact that we are vigorously defending our rights as content creators, we also have them out-motivated.

By Mike Dailey, IT Architect and Sr. Network Engineer

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There should be additional legal remedy where Michael Hammer  –  Aug 24, 2011 3:53 PM

There should be additional legal remedy where it can be shown that there is a pattern as described in the article. That is, responding to a request for removal should not provide escape from culpability. Perhaps something along the lines of $100,000 damages if the copyright owner can show a pattern (for example 10 or more concurrent instances including infringement of other works).
Just a thought.

Agreed, Michael. In cases where it Mike Dailey  –  Aug 24, 2011 10:25 PM

Agreed, Michael. In cases where it is obvious that the offending web site or individual is violating copyrights intentionally, penalties should come into play. In my case, being that the person who violated my intellectual property rights lives in Russia, my legal options were limited. I was prepared to pursue relief using the DMCA process, but thankfully it did not come to that. Thanks for the feedback. -Mike

Luck John Briscoe  –  Sep 1, 2011 12:42 AM

You got lucky it was a US host and can be issued with a DMCA notice, without naming countries, there are some places where your DMCA notice counts for nothing and if the author lives abroad, good luck with your international legal action.

Agreed, John. Once I researched the Mike Dailey  –  Sep 1, 2011 5:54 PM

Agreed, John. Once I researched the web site and found it to be hosted here in the U.S., I knew I had a fighting chance. Had it been overseas my options would have been very, very limited. Thanks for the input. -Mike

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