The Ethics of Content Syndication (or "Theft")

This weekend, while dealing with yet another dillhole who thinks it's kosher to republish content I've authored sans consent, I figured that perhaps it was time to again point out the ethical considerations relating to content syndication and republishing.

This article by Antone Roundy is a great place to start. In the article, he shares "a few of the generally accepted rules for syndicating ethically to avoid injuring the publisher." These include:
  • not syndicating feeds that explicitly forbid it and honoring all requests to stop syndicating feeds (pretty obvious).
  • not syndicating the full content of feeds that contain full content (just display an excerpt)
  • always linking to the original source of the content (ALWAYS — don’t skip this one)
  • linking in a way that’s visible to the search engines (eg. don’t use ‘rel=”nofollow”‘ in your link tags or use JavaScript links)
  • caching the RSS feed locally on your server so that you’re not using the publisher’s bandwidth to reload it every time someone loads your webpage (this isn’t just an ethical issue — it speeds up your website significantly too)
O, Hai! See what I did there? Let me break it down for you: I'm used content written by someone else as a reference, leverage it as content for my own site, and drive additional traffic to his site, all in one simple exercise. I did it by excerpting and linking to the original source material. I was able to do it without stealing the other blogger's content, nor did I pretend that it was published by the author on my site.

Let's add to this a little; perhaps rephrase it a bit. Why don't we call this next set Al's List of Things Only Content Stealing Douchebags Do:
  • Content-stealing douchebags take your RSS feed, and using a script, incorporate entire articles into their own website, as if those articles were genuinely provided to that site for purposes of repulishing.
  • Content-stealing douchebags take entire posts from your website, repost them on their own website, providing the false impression that you are somehow associated with their site.
  • Apparently, some content-stealing douchebags will go so far as to steal content from an author's LinkedIn profile and re-purpose it into a bogus "About the Author" page, implying that the author has a connection with the thieving website, when none exists. Yikes.
Incidentally, if you quote entire articles in your blog posts or articles, you're still a content stealing douchebag. Fair use and ethics both imply that a small excerpt is okay, but "select all," followed by "copy," followed by "paste" is accurately described as stealing. An author publish my articles in specific locations for various important reasons; by republishing that content elsewhere, without that author's consent, you're diluting or otherwise modifying an author's online presence in a way most authors do not want to allow, and the law does not require them to allow. (And if that's confusing to you, please go read the ethics article again. And if that's still confusing to you after reading it again, go ask a lawyer.)

And finally, copyright-stealing douchebags should also keep these three very important facts in mind:
  • At least one of the websites they steal content from is likely to be a multinational corporation with an easy ability to take UK-based legal action for copyright violation. Hint.
  • Occasionally they are going to steal the content of somebody who knows how to defend themselves. As I've mentioned to others, my long history of spam fighting provides me with ample expertise in making bad actors really unhappy. This includes, but is not limited to, sharing information about the transgressions with a very large audience, contacting other supposed "content authors" to reveal to them your theft of their content, and ensuring that every time somebody searches your name in Google, they'll find my account of how you don't seem to respect other peoples' intellectual property rights.
  • When confronted over content theft, If they plan to dance around the topic by telling content owners, "oops, sorry, but the site is getting you more recognition and will get you even more traffic in the future as we take it to the next level (paraphrase)" you should probably make sure your site actually gets any traffic at all. (Or hide your hit counter, if you don't wish to reveal that the only significant draw of traffic to your site lately has been my publicized efforts to get you to stop stealing my content.)


Huey said...

Didn't this rant used to have links in it to someone who might possibly be related to the subject of the rant? You should keep that link hidden under a period or something, so interested people could see how that turns out...

Al Iverson said...

Dude took the content down, so I dropped it. Really weird story that goes along with this, tell you some day over a beer.