Submitting homework copied from your classmates at school almost certainly resulted in detention if caught, and on a rare occasion, perhaps an A+, if you happened to copy the smartest classmate and your version was the first to be marked by the teacher. 

In higher education and beyond, the same act of submitting near duplicate copy in an assignment is referred to as 'plagiarism', which carries a higher penalty than an after school detention.

Afterwards, and even despite all of that, when working life takes over, this very blatant form of copying still exists in its most basic form. 

My colleague Rianda recently published a post entitled ‘Your sins will find you out’, where she highlights the pitfalls and consequences for businesses buying and selling counterfeit goods, what the law says about fakes and how to avoid inadvertently buying and selling counterfeit products. 

While traders may seek protection and/or compensation from other traders suspected of knocking off their originals and infringing their intellectual property rights, what is the advice to businesses who publish content as part of their sales, marketing and communication activities? How do they protect themselves when someone steals their content? 

This scenario is highlighted in the article within the link. It reports an extreme case of stolen content and it is well worth a read…

I feel very naïve, as I was shocked that this particular practice actually takes place. 

For me it raises the question of how many small business owners, who are passionate about their ideas and excited by their content, know about the risk of stolen content? When did this level of plagiarism become the norm on websites? What can be done about stolen content? 

The article provides some useful tips and tools to help flag up if your content is being duplicated by someone else. It also ourtlines helpful guidance for how to get stolen content taken down.

The risks are high for businesses, large or small, if the appropriate checks are not made to ensure content is not stolen. These risks, which are often not immediately apparent to those businesses an include: 

  • suffering lower Google or other search engine rankings (Google is renowned for penalising authors who appear to be 'spamming' the Internet by publishing the same content in several different places)
  • diversion of customer traffic away your site, in favour of a free-riding imposter or plagiariser 
  • becoming less recognised as a relevant authority in any internet searches.
  • reputational damage: the wrong content showing up in search results can substantially damage your brand’s authority and can severely undermine your content marketing strategy
  • unrealised potential and wasted investment monies. 

We've recently come across an increasing number of arguably dangerously irresponsible communications in circulation, particularly over social media. The essence of these is to  encourage people to feel a sense of achievement and even pride that their content is being copied and not to defend it or to assert their rights over it. 

This is reckless, misguided advice which undermines the good and important content shared by individuals, businesses experts and specialists.

We asked James Bowling at Kroll, the leading global provider of risk solutions to tell us his helpful tips for self-help on tackling content infringements. He gave us 6 in total and he told us this: 

“The unauthorised copying of online content is increasingly common and can be a significant concern for businesses. Aside from the moral issues associated with unattributed copying, businesses need to exercise control of their content and the context in which it appears online. A minor incident of online plagiarism is likely to need a very different response from a major data theft, but there is a lot that businesses can do themselves to respond and protect their content: 

  1. Make an ‘eyeball’ comparison of the content to satisfy yourself of plagiarism before taking any further steps.
  2. Take simple steps to obtain evidence. Print examples of the offending content, and make a note of the web links, and who was responsible for the posting. 
  3. Do some research to find out more about who has plagiarised your work. Was it a person or was it a company?
  4. Pitch your complaint at the right level. The copying may be an unauthorised action by an employee. In any case work top-down, and don’t be afraid to contact senior personnel in the company with your concerns; they hold the risk of corporate wrongdoing and are more likely to take action swiftly.
  5. Remember that almost all social media platforms have a procedure for investigating and removing inappropriate content, so do make sure to report the offending content. 
  6. Occasionally you might experience more complex infringements, where your content has been copied to multiple pages, or re-published in segments, or where it is difficult to know who to take your complaint to. In those cases, you can get professional help to capture evidence of the infringement (without spending hours copying, pasting and printing), use clever tech to measure the extent of the infringement and even to track down the best person to address your complaint to (whether it is an individual, a company or even the web hoster).”

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