First, my greetings to you. Haven't posted much in the past year because I've been busy performing research, creating content and building Blogs. I've missed you, though. :-)
Mostly I've been writing about Ponzi schemes -- from the Bernard Madoff case to various cases involving autosurf Ponzi schemes.
During the summer of 2008 -- as my Mod days here were winding down -- there was considerable discussion about the theft of articles. Some people in IM simply license themselves to steal content and convert it to their own use. An article marketer, for instance, may work hard to educate, enlighten and inform his readers -- only to see his work stolen and perhaps plastered on multiple websites. The thieves then monetize the content, which often is republished verbatim without so much as a back link.
It wouldn't be right even if it did include a back link. It's not "Fair Use" to harvest entire articles without express permission and republish them elsewhere -- even with a back link.
Theft of content is insidious for a number of reasons. Perhaps the primary one is that its puts authors of original content -- authors who bear the expense in time and money of creating information readers rely upon to keep themselves informed -- in the untenable position of working so thieves can prosper.
The thieves harvest the content and slap it up anywhere they please. Some of them are criminally smart, which is to say it's not easy to reverse-engineer the theft. Beyond that, it takes time and money to chase after thieves. The world is a big place. They could be anywhere -- or they could making you think they are somewhere they are not.
A theft at one of my Blogs was particularly insidious earlier this year. I'll spare you the details of the roadmap the thieves used, except to say it was devilishly simple and brutally effective. Basically they stole my content (100 percent verbatim, including headlines) and my traffic. In doing so, they demonstrated both their criminal genius and their laziness.
Their unspoken message was crystal clear: "Your content is on the Internet. We've licensed ourselves to steal it and republish it verbatim. We don't care how you feel about it. What's important to us is that we get a steady supply of free content through your labor, and we know how to make money with it. Don't bother trying to catch us. We're well aware our conduct is brazen, but you won't find us. Even if you decided to pursue us and actually got close, we'd simply move elsewhere."
Lots of Warriors have a background in writing. Some hail from the print-publishing business, which is experiencing the leanest times it ever has known. Newspapers and magazines, for example, are hemorrhaging print circulation. Many of them are struggling to find ways to monetize websites and create meaningful revenue. Sales of print advertisements are down virtually across the board.
Readers have spoken: They prefer the Web -- not all of them, of course. Some people cannot imagine life without the print edition of the New York Times in one hand and a cup of Starbucks in the other. Print readers are losing the battle, though. It's expensive to produce print, expensive to deliver it and expensive to manage it after delivery.
Advertisers all have their own websites and their own mailing lists these days. Print is becoming less and less part of advertisers' plans. They no longer have to rely on print publications to make sure their messages get seen. In short, advertisers can use their own websites as a sort of cross between a sales pitch and a newsletter -- and they can email their own lists. The newspapers they once relied upon to spread the good word about them no longer is a principal conduit.
Which brings us back to the subject of theft.
Honestly, it rankles me to see veteran IMers talk about how easy it is to make money through article marketing or Blogging. When I see such claims, I'm almost always inclined to think the advice given is of poor quality or that theft of some sort is involved.
I have a subscription to a service that provides court documents for a fee. Much of my writing centers around court filings. I prepare original stories based on the filings. It might take hours to perform research and produce a quality story -- but it only takes seconds for someone to steal it. My work has been republished in its entirety on other Blogs, websites and forums, often with no attribution -- and often surrounded by advertisements that generate revenue only for the site that republishes the content without authorization.
This form of theft is hurting legitimate publishers -- names you know and love -- by denying them revenue from the fruits of their own labor. Some famous print-publishing companies with equally famous websites that showcase their brands are attempting to convert to a subscription-only model. In essence, they've recognized that thieves will steal their content and monetize it, so they are beginning to hide content behind walls and make people pay to see it. Google still may index the link, but a potential reader lands on a registration or subscription page, as opposed to a page that contains the actual story.
It's too early to tell if this approach will "work." Pilot models are being used in various places. One site I visit regularly now charges $69 a year to access Web content, and a slightly smaller sum if readers subscribe to the print publication. Another site still offers plenty of free Web content, but charges readers to view exclusive content and specialty Blogs by prominent writers.
We've discussed how theft has affected well-known companies. Let's take a look at how it affects IMers and article marketers.
If someone steals your content, he is hurting your small business. Beyond that, though, he is sending the unmistakable message that laziness pays, that one of the best ways to make money online is to become a thief.
That attitude hurts IM as a whole. All of us should be trying to build reputation points. The Web has won. It does not have to be a cesspool of theft.
Regardless, there are no easy solutions. Perhaps a good starting point in addressing the problem is to return to what our mothers and fathers taught us when we were bouncing on their knees as infants, toddlers and, later, as "Big Boys" and "Big Girls."
"Don't steal," they admonished us. "How would you feel if somebody stole your Tonka Truck or Matchbox Car or Beanie Baby or EASY-BAKE Oven."
Stealing someone's hard work and monetizing your website with it is no different than stealing a child's plaything. Perhaps we should all remind ourselves of that from time to time.