Not Down With OPIP (Other People’s Intellectual Property) — Yeah You Know Me!

28 Sep

In the spirit of correct attribution, the above title is my cheeky take on Naughty By Nature’s OPP – if you don’t know what this song is, I can’t help you.

An unpleasant event happened to me very recently that made this post a necessity. Someone ripped off my content, to pass it off as his own. It wasn’t borrowed or repurposed; it was blatantly copied and pasted, passed off as someone else’s and even shared across Twitter as someone else’s creation. Now don’t get me wrong; this is not the first or the only, or even the last, time this has happened. But this was one of the more offensive examples. Following it, I had several conversations with various folks on Twitter, sharing similar stories. I think there’s a need to talk about proper etiquette when repurposing and attributing, as well as how to protect yourself from stuff like this. I’m going to attack part 1 in this post, and part 2 in a later post.

I wrote an article about 12 steps to finding a top-notch social media person, which became a solid hit on the Attensity blog, as well as on SocialMediaToday, where it was syndicated. It was picked as a leading story of the day, and even became the title of the daily content email that it sends to its subscribers (which is not a big deal to some, but I consider it an honor). It is still one of the more commented articles in SocialMediaToday. For a social media content producer, this level of engagement is a compliment of the highest order. While I was on my blogger high, I noticed that there was an article circulated around Twitter, which looked eerily similar. I clicked the link and saw the following (see below):

My heart sank. There it was, the article I worked so hard on, lifted word for word, with no commentary, nothing that says: “Hey, I found this great article Maria wrote. I agree with A, B, C, which I’m posting below. I would also like to add X, Y and Z”. With Jeremy’s picture and name prominently featured at the bottom (see below) and with my article starting with the word “I thought,” it basically looked like Jeremy thought what I had written.

There was a tiny attribution link at the bottom, which appeared as a meager attempt to cover one’s behind (CYA) in regards to attribution. I just don’t buy that as attribution, and it appears intentionally misleading.

On further examination, the site was full of “repurposed” content. To make matters worse, all of this content was duplicated across two sites, both of which has been taken down. The site owner defended himself, saying that that his goal was to “repost gems” found around the Internet. In my opinion, there are enough quality aggregators and syndicates like SocialMediaToday, and they do a pretty bang-up job. So unless that’s your stated purpose, I’ll just assume you are ripping off content.

I found it purposefully misleading when Jeremy tweeted this article, retweeted himself, and said nothing when others tweeted it as if it came from him (i.e. “Great article, Jeremy). See below:

In my opinion, if you perpetuate wrong attribution, you are complicit in IP theft. Instead, you should correct and say: “Actually this article was written by so-and-so.”

This was probably on of the most severe recent example of IP theft; unfortunately, it’s not the only one. I monitor social media for a living, so I have my ear to the ground, and find a lot of my content stolen. Sometimes it’s cut and pasted to look like the author of the blog wrote it, sometimes it’s presented as if I guest posted there, which I didn’t. I’m very deliberate about where I post, and I will always tweet links to such work. I should probably create a page on this blog linking to my work around the WWW. Yes, there are examples like this, of people outright stealing content. But there are also some people who are just bad at social media, or new at it, and clumsily do a bad job of attribution. So I figured I’d write the following 9 steps to ensure that these “mistakes” don’t happen again. First time around they are negligent; second time, they are pre-meditated intellectual property crimes. So here we go; don’t say I didn’t warn you:

  1. Ask for permission: Duh! I’m sad to even have to write this point. You should always, always ask someone for permission to repurpose, if you are using more than just a simple quote. You should always link to the original site as well. Creative commons is there to protect creators and consumers of content alike. When deciding whether or not you can repurpose something someone else has written, make sure that it belongs in the category that’s OK to modify and build upon.
  2. Add commentary: It’s OK to quote and post passages written by others. We, content creators, want people to use what we create; we want people to find value in it. We want our content to be discussed and debated, so please do use parts of an article, as long as you put your own thoughts around it. Don’t have time to provide your own viewpoint? Don’t have a viewpoint? Hmmm, perhaps blogging isn’t for you. Just sayin’…
  3. Clearly quote: You must clearly demark the beginning and the end of the quote and say either before in the text “According to Mr. Smith, [insert quote]”. Remember how we learned to quote correctly in high school; nothing has changed. Plagiarism is still plagiarism.
  4. Don’t start with “I” if it’s not you: Never start a quote with “I” or “Mine”, unless you clearly mark who is talking before the quote. Otherwise, it makes it appear that you did something and not the original blogger. Always put a lead in before a sentence that starts with “I” or “Mine”.
  5. Use passages, not the whole thing: You should never post the whole post word for word. Borrow a section and put your own commentary around it (see #1).
  6. Unless I wrote it for you, it’s not a guest post: It’s not OK to introduce the cut and pasted content as if this author guest-posted on your site. Unless you had a formal arrangement that this person was guest posting, it is NOT a guest post.
  7. Give credit in your tweet: If you tweet or share an article that’s inspired by someone else, you should always mark it in a tweet (ht @name is a good approach; “ht” stands for “hat tip”). If someone retweets or shares an article you repurposed and credits you entirely, it your responsibility to point out that it was inspired or based on someone else’s. If someone tweets “hey check out this great article by @xyz”, and you are @xyz you should say “Hey, it was actually @abc’s”.
  8. Attribute at the top: Always attribute at the top of the post, most people don’t read to the bottom. Having a little hidden link at the bottom doesn’t count as attribution; it counts as “CYA”.
  9. Recognize the purpose of blogging: The purpose of blogging, is to share your unique viewpoint, synthesize the world through your own lens of experience. The purpose is not to collect keywords to drive traffic to your site, so that you can sell your social media “guru” services.

By practicing best practices of attribution and preserving others’ intellectual property, you will come across as a thoughtful person. Instead of making bloggers mad, you will build relationships and alliances. In the end, this is what social media is about.

  • Blake Landau

    Dear Maria

    This is a compelling explanation of how to navigate the world of blogging and attribution. Kudos to you for not getting angry at this content thief but rather creating a really solid educational post with tactical and actionable tips.

    With no governing body on social media it's people like you who make this space a good place to be. I look forward to reading more from you and…

    I'm waiting for your book..!


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  • michelletripp

    Maria, It's such a shame that posts like this are even necessary! I feel your pain, having experienced the same “lifting” of posts, spam scrapers, and other content theft. I've even come across a company that copied my posts and “attributed” me in a way to make it appear I was employed by their company! It's shocking that there are people who think this is acceptable business practice. It's a good thing for the community you're going public and explaining how your intellectual property was violated and how it could have been used ethically.

    Thanks for clarifying the way to do it right. Excellent post!

  • themaria

    Hey Blake! Thanks so much for such kind words. The challenge with posts like these is to not let them become to emotional. I was really truly extremely upset when this happened, and I tried to keep emotion out of this as much as possible, while providing a narrative of what happened.

    We are the governing body; we need to be held accountable to each other and ourselves for the stuff we do online, the respect we give others and how we treat others' work. The temptation to do the wrong thing is always going to be there; it's up to us to rise above it. At the end of the day, just ask yourself: would you want this done to you? Golden rule still applies, now more than ever. Social media is not new: the channels are new, but the art of relationship building is not new at all.

    Thanks again for stopping by!

    – Maria

    P.S. Re: book… I'd have to make it really REALLY remarkable. I don't want to write yet another social media book. It would have to be about my journey as a person.

  • Blake Landau

    Well I would read that one too :) Thanks for the comment.

  • ShellyKramer

    Where is the “effing LOVE this” button? Bravo. I can say nothing more. You've said it all.


  • Coxymoney

    I agree with Shelly. Where is the 'effing LOVE this like EFFING LOVE THIS” button? I found myself high-fiving random objects in my office, I was that pumped.


  • Erroin Martin

    I agree with Shelly, and while I am not high-fiving objects in my office, you've definitely keep me inspired to write!


  • themaria

    Thanks Michelle! Ugh, that's a new level of disgusting: make it appear that you were employed by them! Ummm, no, I don't work for spammers, thank you! And also that could be damaging for your resume when someone thinks that you have this extra “job experience”. Yucky!

    It's truly is very sad that this happens and that we have to write about stuff like this. Hopefully, if we call people out on the spot, and then share best practices, we can somewhat curb this activity? A girl can dream…

    Thanks for your comment!

  • themaria

    Aww thanks Shelly! We can ask Disqus for the “effing love” button :)

    Thanks for the wonderful comments here and on Twitter. Hopefully this post will move the needle even a little teenie bit. And if it hasn't, then at least I know I tried :)

    Thanks for coming by and commenting!


  • themaria

    Hi Ryan!

    Hahahahah that's hilarious! [high-five!] I am glad you found it useful and inspiring. Thanks so much for your support and enthusiasm!

    – Maria

  • themaria

    Hi Erroin,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Wow, inspiration to write — that's a compliment of the highest order for a blogger!

    Thanks again!


  • Therese Marshall

    Dear Maria,

    Great the way you turned this issue around, and created a useful post about attribution.

    I think many people would find it useful to hear how you monitor your content too.


  • themaria

    Thanks, Therese! That's a great follow-up post idea! I actually blog & speak about monitoring a lot: — but mostly for business. It would be useful to attack content monitoring on this blog. Also in the works: how to actually protect your content (Creative Commons, etc). Been just really busy lately — all will be revealed soon! — but unfortunately my blog hasn't been as active as it should!

    Thanks for the inspiration, Therese!

    – Maria

  • themaria

    Eeek looks like Disqus is no longer threading my comments after I moved my host.