Corporate Plagiarism on the Web
Not long ago, a client contacted our firm indicating that content within their website was being used verbatim on another website – a competitor website. Amazingly, it was a competitor within the same state as our client (as if no one would notice?).
However, before our client could cry foul, they needed to prove it, and that’s where we came in to help.
Utilizing Peabody’s Way Back Machine
If you remember the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle, you’ll also remember the character Peabody and his Way Back Machine, which he used for time travel. Well, there is another such device on the Internet also called the Way Back Machine and it, too, takes you back in time – virtually. Found at www.archive.org, the Way Back Machine allows you to type in the URL to a website and shows you a timeline and view of the different versions the website has gone through. It’s like a massive Internet scrapbook.
Did you make a major redesign to your website in 1998, then again in 2002? Most likely, it’ll show you the old sites. Graphic images are not always kept, but the HTML text content is. Even if you don’t have a potential case of plagiarism to track down, I recommend the archive.org website for the sheer fun of going back in time and looking at your old websites!
So, back to our story. We utilized the Way Back Machine to see who wrote the stolen content first, our client or their competitor. What we saw was that our client had created the content before their competitor had even produced a website! About five months later, the competitor’s website finally went live and POOF!… there’s our client’s content on their competitor’s site. At that point it was pretty clear who stole what from whom.
I can’t say what happened from there, as this was a legal issue for our client, but I do know that not long after, the content in question was gone from the competitor’s website.
Is plagiarism illegal? No. Immoral and bad, but not illegal. But copyright infringement is illegal. As our client’s competitor literally copied and pasted our client’s text without changing a word, asking permission, or giving credit to our client, I’d say this was more a case of copyright infringement than mere plagiarism.
Have you been plagiarized?
There’s an easy way to find out. A free website is available called Copyscape, www.copyscape.com. It works very similar to (and is programmatically tied with) Google. Simply go to a page on your website, copy the URL and paste it into the search prompt at Copyscape. Copyscape will then search the Web looking for plagiarizers of your content for that page.
Another way is to copy a block of text from a page on your website, go to Google.com and paste the text into the search prompt, making sure to place quotes around it. This will allow you do to an exact word search. If you copied a section of text that’s not too common, Google will find any other sites who have stolen your text.
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John Forsberg is CEO of i2 Integration/Forberg Multimedia, dedicated to creating Internet, intranet and extranet Web applicants, and interactive multimedia productions.