Plagiarism on the Web: Emotional Reactions to Content Theft

7 years ago

Imagine finishing off a very emotional post, connecting to community and releasing all of those thoughts by hitting publish. And then imagine finding your words recopied -- stolen -- on another site. The daily scraping performed by bots can be side-stepped by publishing a partial feed, but there is nothing to stop another person from hand-copying your posts, changing a few names, and then creating a fictional life, cannibalized from numerous blogs on the Internet.

Which is what over 20 bloggers discovered when they found such a site at the end of last week.

From funny posts taken from the Bloggess to sensitive posts taken from Mrs. Spit, an entire world was cobbled together including the header from one blog and the sidebar from another. And unlike a mindless bot which is simply looking for content to fill an ad-saturated space, this ad-free blog was constructed by a human being who painstakingly blended a plethora of blogs to create a single story of a divorced nurse and mother to three boys. She took the most sensitive stories -- blog posts on marriage and loss, descriptions of dates and parenting moments.

A Southern Fairytale, who had a poem written about her father stolen from her blog, writes:

It’s one thing to bastardize a recipe, to snag a pic of mine and pretend you took it. To use it in a post without giving proper credit … I can overlook that, offer correction, suggestions, guidance, you might not know better, you might not know how, you just.. might. not. know. However. YOU. You despicable creature. You stole the words from my heart. You took my heart, my feelings, my love and you stole them for your own. The only thing you did was change your initials.

I spoke directly with three of the bloggers who had their content stolen. Rachel continued the thoughts she began in her post with this thought:

It is a very odd feeling to find your words on someone's site being passed on as their own. It hurt my feelings, it frustrated me and made me a bit sick to my stomach, while at the same time, it saddened me. This wasn't just a scraper or a bot, this is a person. A person who intentionally stole my words, and others and merely changed a few things; on some posts it was a name or two, on mine ... she merely changed the signature and removed all the pictures of my Dad and me.

Jenny, The Bloggess, offered another view on the matter:

The post she took from me was a humorous one and it's one that's been stolen by other people before. She reworded it slightly at the beginning but the end part was all mine.

It's always frustrating to see someone take your work and present it as their own but I think it would be more frustrating to be so envious of someone else's writing that you feel the need to steal it and present it as your own. If it isn't the work of a bot then it's clearly the work of someone who has bigger problems than just stealing blog posts. I'm not sure where their head is but it can't be a good place. Luckily, the blogging community watches out for each other and lets each other know when we see this sort of thing so that we can stop it before it goes any further. If the community wasn't as tightly knit and loyal as it is then these things might never be noticed.

For Mrs. Spit, who lost her son soon after birth, her words are her way of continuing to keep her son in this world. She explained why the theft cuts so deeply in her case:

When your child dies, what you have to deal with that loss is your stories. Your stories are your memories, your connection, the bedrock of who you are and what your child meant to you. When some one steals those words, they try to take a part of your history, a part of what makes you, you. The very act leaves you impotent and angry, as if someone tried to steal your child. A blogger tried to steal my words to evoke a reaction, she tried to feed off a powerful post written out of the best of who I was and she did it by trying to make herself what she isn't. She tried to take my story to force a sense of community, and I think she missed something profound about blogging - we would have given her that sense of community if she had written her own story. She could have had people to abide with her if she had only told the truth.

That is perhaps the most confusing part: why cobble together a blog of stolen content rather than write your own thoughts and participate in community honestly?

Have you ever had content stolen from your blog? What was your emotional reaction to the theft?

Reactions to Plagiarism on the Internet
  • A Southern Fairytale asks "how dare you?"
  • Mrs Spit ... Still Spouting Off says, "Someone took my work, my turn of phrase and that’s a real thing. Losing my work does bother me, it’s as real a theft as if they stole the TV from my den."
  • Mommy Wants Vodka explains, "This, to me, is the best part about the blog world. There may not be much we can do about stuff like this; I mean, MAYBE Google will shut her down, but I doubt it, but we all rally around each other when things are bullshit. And this, Pranksters, is BULLSHIT."
  • The Megalomaniac Mommy says, "The owners of these posts poured their hearts out when creating them and you think it’s okay to just copy them from one site and paste them to yours without giving proper credit."

Photo Credit: Antigone78.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

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