Online Ethics: Your Blog, My Content…?

Original content that you’ve created or written on your website is, without mistake, your own. But sometimes, mistakes (and blatant theft) happens. Just last week, I came upon a website that was using an article I wrote, but without giving me proper credit. During a phone conversation last week, one of my clients mentioned a media company’s website and video interview that  I should check out. So I decided to take a look. There, beneath the video interview, was a copy (including picture) of my blog post–word for word, with the exception of one sentence.

While this isn’t the first time this has happened to me, I was upset nonetheless. I work hard to provide interesting and relevant content on my blog and website. It’s my passion and something I enjoy doing. Copying someone else’s work without verifying and citing them for the content–or at the very least or asking to reproduce it–is like putting pictures of someone else’s children in your office and calling them your own. It’s upsetting, but there is a correct way to deal with content issues like this.

  • Calm Down. I’m glad I took a moment to breathe, calm down, and get my bearings. I took ten minutes to clear my head and look at the situation objectively. This company is someone my client knows and trusts, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that. I have less clients than I do blog posts. And for me, blog posts are easier to come by than clients.
  • Just Ask. In fact, that’s exactly what I did. I chose to call the company and leave a message directly with the contact listed on the website before following up later via email. Asking for citation and credit for the article was the best way for me to play nice in this case. I provided my phone number, full name, and website address. You should do the same.
  • Play Nice. Decide whether calling someone out on the carpet, outside of a friendly email and phone call, is worth jeopardizing your reputation or brand. How would a controversial disagreement impact you financially? Socially? The fallout could be damaging. Also be sure to consider the cost and time, should you make the decision to legally pursue a culprit if he or she chooses not to do as you ask.

The rise of blogging and social networking has certainly led to an increase in these types of situations. Easy access to information has led to an increased awareness of copyright, plagiarism, and content theft. Blogging typically has zero cost and barrier to entry because of sites like Blogger, Posterous, and Wordpress. Many Internet bloggers, writers and webmasters are not classically trained to appropriately cite, list, or credit authors, much less blogs, articles and ideas. It is a blogger’s responsibility to educate and train himself on the rules surrounding citation and credit. The best defense is a good offense, so it is important for bloggers and writers who publish online to protect themselves as well. Either way–here are some resources to get you started.

I’m optimistic that my blogging story will have a somewhat happy ending. The company representative left me a message over the weekend apologizing and asking that I confirm the correct spelling of my last name. The jury is still out, but I’m optimistic.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is known as @Blogging4Jobs on Twitter, is a published author of “Tweet This! Twitter for Business” and  is a leading HR blogger and new media strategist.  Jessica is a subject matter expert and provides insights in the areas of  HR, recruiting, and new media consultancy with her company, Xceptional HR.  Her newest project is Texting4Jobs, a text based job board platform recently launched in Oklahoma.

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  • ed han

    This is excellent advice. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, such instances are certainly the product of someone seeing your work and thinking it is good: this person is a fan of your work. The old adage of not ascribing to malice what can be attributed to ignorance applies here.

    Such instances are opportunities to develop an ally.