Social media ethics: I am a blogger. In other words, a piece of meat.

social media ethics

I would like for you to imagine this situation. A little case study in social media ethics …

Your boss asks you to create a new marketing plan for your company. You go to a competitor’s site and you like what they have done so you copy their original content (and even the illustrations) and claim that this is now your own marketing material.

If I did something like this in the “real business world” I would probably get fired, yet on the social web, this is a common and accepted practice. If you are a blogger, expect to be copied, cheated, and ransacked. Expect to be treated like a piece of meat.

For example,

  • An advertising firm in Chicago recently used one of my blog posts in their monthly marketing newsletter to customers, without permission, without attribution … as their own original material.
  • At least three companies have digitally scanned my books and are selling them on websites for their own profit.
  • Last year, an author used an original case study from {grow} in his new book, without attribution or permission. Another very famous business author lifted whole sections from my book Return On Influence for his own book, again without any permission, attribution or credit. A third book used my original ideas about “citizen influencers” and social scoring without credit.
  • The talented Pam Moore recently created this Facebook post: “Just when you think you have seen it all when it comes to plagiarism & copyright violation … I just found a guy who has been purposely copying my blog posts into video. He reads the entire blog post and uses it as content for his own (promotional) video. He reads and records every word and claims it as his own! One of the videos has 10,000 views!”

The Verizon tipping point

These examples have involved small-time players brashly using blogger’s content for their own commercial gain. But even Fortune 500 companies are doing it.

I pay writers like Kerry Gorgone to create original material for {grow} and we were shocked to find that one of her posts was swiped — in its entirety without naming the author or the original blog — and posted on Verizon’s company portal as if it was their own post. One of the world’s largest companies was boldly taking copyrighted content from an individual blogger and using it on their own promotional site. It was pure luck that we even found it.

I tried to get a response from Verizon, curious as to how and why they did this. But it took THREE months to even be acknowledged. I wrote customer service twice, called them twice, sent messages through Twitter and Facebook twice, wrote their corporate VP of communications twice, and finally called him. A member of his staff said she would get back to me in 24 hours. I never heard another word from her.

For three months I was stonewalled. Nobody in any department, at any level, would respond to me.

About a month ago, I had somebody from Verizon customer service in one of my classes. I mentioned the issue to her and within a few days somebody called me. She was kind and apologetic but after all the time I had put into getting a response, I wanted more than an apology. I wanted Verizon to refund me for the money I had paid Kerry for the content they swiped. She said she would have to get approval for that.

Finally the person who manages the website called me. The conversation went like this:

Verizon: “I have been informed about all the issues you have had trying to get through to us and we are truly sorry this happened. We hired a company to scrape content from the web and publish it on our site. We have told them about the problem and they want to send you a gift certificate for your trouble.”

Me: “Why is Verizon scraping content like this in the first place? What value is this providing to your customers? You aren’t even aware of what you are publishing.”

Verizon: “Our competitors do it so we do it. We want to provide customers a portal where they can get news and entertainment.”

Me: “So customers are logging into the Verizon site to get their news? Probably not. Your company is blindly scraping content from the Internet without acknowledging or compensating the authors. I don’t know how that is ethical or serving your customers in any way. The blog post you took from me didn’t even have anything to do with news or entertainment. Did you see the post?”

Verizon: “It was about social media or something.”

Me: “It was about hiring companies to do fake tweeting for you. How is just scraping random content part of a customer strategy?

Verizon: “I’m not going to debate our strategy.”

Me: “But what you did was illegal.”

Verizon: “It was not illegal.”

Me: “I have a position written by an attorney if you would like to see it.”

Verizon: (silence) “Where can I mail your gift certificate?**

Social media ethics: Have you had enough?

If you are a regular reader of {grow}, you know that I do not take pot shots at people or companies. I focus on issues, not individuals, because my goal is to educate with a positive attitude that helps and inspires people.

But this latest episode with Verizon, where an honest inquiry was ignored for three months, serves as a tipping point for me. I’m tired of being treated like a piece of meat, like I owe people something just because I have a blog that has attracted an active readership, or that my content is free to use at will for private commercial purposes.

Bloggers are the latest in a long line of abused professional workers. Is there anything that can change this or is the two-edged sword of free Internet content always going to be jabbing us?

Maybe it is time for a professional association or a watch dog group to stand up for the rights of all content creators because this abuse is just not right. If you have the interest in this and the legitimate ability to make it happen, I will be your first investor.

**Never did get the gift certificate.

Update: This article was syndicated (with permission) by and several other sites after it first appeared on {grow}. I estimate it had at least 2,000 social shares across various networks. After this went viral, I received a communication from the Verizon PR department offering to “fix the problem.” For the eighth time, I sent Verizon links, a screen shot and a detailed explanation of the problem. Two weeks later, I have not had a response from her.

On November 20 — 112 days after I made my first inquiry to the company — I received a gift certificate from Verizon’s content vendor (not Verizon) to cover the cost of what I paid Kerry to write the original article.

All posts

  • Massively annoying for anyone that has ever experienced this. I used a few weeks ago and found a huge chunk of one of my articles used on a photographers blog in Canada. Luckily his site did not check comments so I made it VERY clear that he had ripped of my content.

    There are a growing number of popular sites which all just regurgitate other peoples content, even though they do credit them it seems a little lazy to me.

    I hate reading the line ‘original post can be found here’.

  • I’m frequently running my own blog plus the websites I manage through copyscape in the fear that this will happen to me or my clients… will people only start to recognise that this is not on when they get a massive SERP demotion?

  • PeterJ42

    There is a key problem with Content Marketing. Sincerity. Take a company like SAP. Excellent, cutting edge blogging. Covering up one of the most awful products and sales experiences on the planet.

    But it has been around much longer than this.

    Flick through a few ads. You’ll find a big company talking about heritage. How brewing their whisky is a craft, for example. Then google their site. You’ll find a big industrial plant which makes industrial alcohol from waste, then adds a small amount of good whisky to flavour it. But to the ad man is is all the good stuff.

    You’ll find a company with a homely mum or Grandma on the packaging. A pizza company talking about Italy. But again, these come from industrial combines with no relation to the methods portrayed or the countries evoked in their marketing.

    You’ll find “Finest”, “Best” and “All natural ingredients” written all over the worst food you can ever imagine.

    Is it a wonder that people take everything companies say as lies?

  • @mrsoaroundworld

    This is so bad and so so so sad.

  • This is unbelievable, Mark! They don’t even know what they are doing! I am curious to see if Verizon steals this blog post and put it on their portal again, or maybe the competition would be happy to do so!
    Good luck!

  • luisa

    You always hit the target! Yesterday in my sunday readings I had the sensation of Déja vu. Even more if you read in English and in other languages ( I read also In Spanish and Italian). Most of the self nominated Social Media experts only translate other’s posts!
    I don’t understand why people are so afraid to say that one post is from other author. Social Media is about honesty and sharing, isn’t it?

  • billy delaney

    Mark. This happened to me at work, at work. Original content and ideas were taken and used stating that the content was created by them. The legal department got all over that. I won, but at a cost.
    One of the reasons I stopped was it was like a free for a stealfest. I wanted another way.
    I have found that. But, it comes with a cost.
    So, what am I going to do?
    Go right back to the original social platform: I am going to set up a paid forum.
    Wait… I will blog, podcast too; but I will be asking that the people who want the community, like you have here pay for it, even if it is ever so little.
    Sort out a lot of things pretty quickly.
    Scrappers will be found out soon enough and banned.
    Content can be protected better.
    Community can participate at safer level.
    There are more but you get my idea.
    What I have really decided to do is to pull back from the froth and foam of social and create a community that can be social, helpful, spiritual even.
    It has been a year since I stopped. I literally didn’t know what to do that would be a true reflection of me.
    Let’s see if I have it right, or very wrong.
    Sad to see that there is nothing but corruption everywhere. Time to put the fence up and keep the second handers out!

  • Same here. My content is literally ransacked every day like this.

  • Probably not even then. You’re giving them credit for knowing what they are doing : )

  • Thanks for adding to the conversation Peter.

  • and this is just the beginning, I’m afraid.

  • I forgot to mention in the post that after the third week, they actually took down my post. They realized what they did was wrong but it they never called me to acknowledge their mistake. This was the most complete example of corporate arrogance I have ever seen.

  • I thought so too Luisa. A few of us out here are still keeping it clean!

  • Very interesting Billy. Seems like it has gone full circle. The sad thing is that we have created this expectation of “free” and don’t even realize, or care, about where it is leading us. But that’s another blog post for another day : )

  • jennifer lehner

    This is a topic so relevant in my world these days. Recently, my client’s content was stolen from her blog and published in Smart Money magazine. Even more disturbing, the thief was friendly with my client.

    One of my colleague wrote an article in Forbes only to have parts of it stolen, verbatim, and published on HuffPo. Fortunately in that case, the legal team and Forbes stepped in and shut it down.

    The problem really is that there is so much content out there, it seems impossible to keep up with it all. Very discouraging and worrisome.

    Love the cow graphic.

  • Chuck Kent

    Read the Edelman Trust Barometer or Neilsen’s Global Advertising Trust survey and you’ll see that many people do take what companies say as lies… you’re lucky if half the people trust a corporate message. Sadly, content marketing, providing useful information rather than marketing copy, is supposed to help counter the lack of trust. But advertising and content marketing can’t create honesty, or a truly helpful heart… which corporations like Verizon and so many more apparently lack (and because corporations are run by people, they can and should be held accountable for “heart-less” behavior).

  • Will Reichard

    Grrr. So scummy. We need something like academics have for detecting plagiarism in papers. So we can stop these people. The lack of morals related to stealing content shocks me constantly.

  • Curious when other companies have done this, many bloggers have had their community contact them and raise a stink about it via social channels.

    Things like this would cause me to not do business with Verizon. Seriously if that is how they go about business, what else do they do to cheat their customers?

  • Why do we have to live in a world where a blogger needs a legal team? Crazy stuff Jennifer. Always great to hear from you. Thanks for commenting!

  • PeterJ42

    The thing is Chuck, that when advertising and what the salesperson said was all there was to make a decision on, companies got away with it. Now, with a dozen sources for every purchase, what the company says is right down the bottom.

    People hold two views in their head about a company. One is the brand – what the company wants them to believe. The other is peer – what their friends, colleagues and influencers think.

    Content marketing is an attempt to align the two – to give people an opportunity to dig into greater depth on the company and their thinking. But it is fighting against the advertiser mindset.

    What Mark can take heart from is that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. You don’t build a relationship with a single article, though you can destroy one. Stealing a blog is more likely to achieve the latter than the former.

  • It is like chasing ghosts. We need Ghostbusters!

  • jennifer lehner

    I was just trying to edit that comment. It was the legal team from Forbes who stepped in, not the blogger’s. But still, it is raunchy all the way around.

  • I never intended to make a case about this or embarrass any person or company. All I wanted was an apology. But after being ignored for three months, the only possible explanation was that somebody in Verizon Legal instructed the company to ignore me. That has to be what happened because I can’t imagine a company that is otherwise so chronically inept at helping a customer. Their response was so grossly insensitive I really needed to finally publish something about it. Maybe this article will cause some attention, but I doubt it.

  • So disappointing to hear this…and at such a level. I had a post stolen by a reader who thought I’d never see my article reposted on her site (of course without any attribution to me, the writer). After a good friend alerted me to it I sent a personal email asking that it be removed. Good to know I may need to have bigger guns in the wings as the blog grows. Thanks for sharing this so we all can be more prepared & aware.

  • Appreciate the comment Tanya. Good luck with your blogging!

  • I am trying to wrap my brain around a company HIRING content scrapers. And calling them content scrapers when you were finally able to call them on it. How can they not know that is at the very least a shabby practice, even if they don’t want to admit that it is outright theft. Which of course it is.

    Kudos to you for calling them on it. “Everyone” doesn’t do it. And I’m so over that excuse, which shouldn’t be coming out of the mouth of ANY adult. IMHO.

    Going forward, every time I see a Verizon commercial, I will now think: content scrapers.

  • Jennifer Kane

    Happens to me too. Creepiest was when I did a random search on a topic and landed upon a blog post which was illustrated with pictures of ME. The author had pulled her images from my Twitterfeed, I guess. I sent her an email and said, “um…that isn’t stock photography. Those are pictures of me sitting at my desk. You can use them, but please use an attribution.”

    No response.

    That’s the part that’s hardest to swallow: when you call someone on this behavior and their response is either crickets or, “So what?”

    I’m sure each one of these people know that stealing is wrong. But I guess they think, “you published it for public consumption, therefore now we all own it.”

  • Chuck Kent

    I think the whole “content is free” mentality has been embraced by an even longer-standing human and corporate attitude: “Anything is OK so long as we can get away with it.” And getting away with it is easy, especially when it comes to huge, deep-pocketed corporations versus the individual… so perhaps your notion of a collective platform to counter old line influence with online influence (my take on what you’re saying) could be interesting.

    My worst personal example of something akin to this was having the Today Show use one of my songs (about adoption) for a segment intro multiple times (a segment that had nothing to do with adoption), without asking, without permission or credit (that at least might have had value) and certainly without paying. I consulted IP lawyers, but the basic counsel was that it was an expensive uphill slog with little likely return.

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  • Chuck Kent

    I think you’ve hit it with the fact that we’re “fighting the advertiser mindset.”

  • This kind of horrible crap will be the downfall of our society. It’s one of many reasons I’m so very tired of doing what I do. Uphill battles are exhausting, but if we’re always going uphill, eventually we’ll drop. As a Verizon customer I’m even more appalled. And I am now shopping for different coverage.

  • Fernando Mexia

    I am a news reporter for a global news wire service. This case should be in the news. Mark I will contact you to know more details about it. Anyone else with similar experiences with big companies and willing to share, please send me an email to [email protected]

  • Patricia Haag

    So Verizon steals content because their competitors do!?! What an appalling post this is (and I have read a number of appalling things this morning already).

    Are companies and employees under so much pressure to create content that they have now moved into stealing. They need to relearn the saying “How you do one thing is how you do everything”.

    Good luck with working this out.

  • Gordon Diver

    Wow and it even deserves a “Wow” backwards.

  • Yikes. This sucks, Mark. I’ve had my content scraped too, but never on this level.

    I suppose we’ve come to expect this now from smaller companies who decide to use black-hat techniques to compete, but I’m shocked that a company of this size and stature has engaged in this type of activity. With the kind of marketing budget they have, just think about all of the rich content they could create themselves or hire/pay people to create for them!

    But, this just goes to show they are looking to save a buck too. It’s a darn shame – on so many levels.

  • I am so bloody naive: I cannot believe this happens! Even though I know it does. Mark, I am sending you the Ghostbusters to be on your team
    Cheers! Kaarina P.S. I’m sending you a gift certificate 😉

  • You need to break out the “cease and desist” letters and DMCA Takedown notices as SOON as this comes up. No more trying to be nice and resolve the situation. THEY ALL know what they are doing is wrong and illegal. End of story.

  • Unfreakingbelievable. A company like Verizon? That has a legal department?

  • I’ve had this happen to me on a much smaller scale, and I include some safeguards in my posts to make sure I know when it happens. But wow, this is incredible that a company this large would not only stoop so low but then defend the practice.

  • David Corliss

    1. Monetize your content.
    2. Hire the lawyer and sue. Let the lawyer talk to them. They won’t listen until they get a subpoena.

  • Frederic Gonzalo

    I have only been blogging seriously for over a year and a half now, and it happened to me once, with a very popular post written last summer. It got republished on a variety of sites, many times with attribution. But once, I saw it published on a well-known site in Australia, with someone else’s name as author!! It was my article, word-for-word!!
    I tried to contact the editors, to no avail.

    But when I read your post here this morning, I get it. We’re not alone in this shenanigans that must stop. Kudos for calling Verizon out on this one.


  • Great post Mark, it’s a shame that businesses don’t recognise the work of the author before taking their content. Would you say in your experience that the legal route is often the best way to get their attention?

  • Peter D. Mallett

    Having worked in customer service positions many years I don’t think the conversation above resembles customer service at all. It sounds like someone who was forced to deal with a “problem” dropped on thier desk.
    There is no hint of responsive listening, working out a solution based on mutual benifit, or offering anything worthy of your time an effort. They don’t even say they’d like to help with the problem – we are truly sorry – we are not going to do a thing, but the company we hired would like to –
    Why make the call if you aren’t really prepared in any way to help with the situation?

  • Will Reichard

    Chuck, I wish I could give your comment more than one “like.” I firmly believe social media will continue to evolve to find out the fakes, for exactly this reason. I don’t think companies care right now because it’s only about today’s dollar.

  • Michelle L. Cramer

    How were you able to find your work on other sites? Just searching direct quotes? Now I’m determined to check! This boils my blood!

  • What a crazy situation this is. I can’t believe authors and a large company such as Verizon would be so lazy to swipe original content and not give credit for it. Music has the RIAA, movies have the MPAA, so content creators need an association to stick up for them too!

  • geofflivingston

    A company like Verizon has no excuse for not paying to publish content. They make way too much every quarter to possibly excuse this. The behavior is inline with the general herding and pushing of bloggers by corporate PR types scratching for coverage. Zero respect for the writing outside of what can they get.

    I also find the scraping and lifting of content ideas, whether it is for blogs or books, by other bloggers to be equally or even more disgusting. And I have seen both of these things happen more than I care to admit.

  • I have never gone a legal route. I’m not a litigious type of person and besides, usually it is like chasing ghosts, although it crossed my mind in this case simply because nobody would listen to me..

  • Agree. When the conversation ended the person said “we are sorry that this happened” and I said “No you’re not. You haven’t listened to a word I said. You just want me to go away.” She was defensive and rude.

  • A friend of Kerry’s found the article completely by accident and let her know. It was pure luck that we found it.

  • I often wonder what “the real world” would think of this content bazaar (bizarre?) that has been created. So unethical and it’s widespread.

  • That’s the disappointing thing. They have the budget to be GREAT!

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  • We supplied a marketing database three years ago to a leading global charity, (who will remain nameless). To support them, we only charged for production and processing, but licensed the data on their behalf – basically giving it to them for free for 12 months.

    After 12 months we asked them to stop using the data as the license had expired. They ignored it. We have repeated that request over the last three years many times. Three years later they are still using it all the time, so we rang their telemarketing division (they have over a hundred outbound telemarketing people).

    I contacted them and explained that we had been basically been paying for the license on their data, on their behalf, for three years and that there were two realistic options – stop using the data or pay us a nominal amount for us to license it again.

    They told us that they had done a large scale, long term deal with one of our competitors – for a large amount of money – and therefore don’t need our data or us. The week after we got another piece of marketing to our data…

    They are still using our data for free, while paying another supplier a huge amount of money for theirs. What would you do next?

  • We are living in a very bizarre time where the value between content and the pipeline it’s delivered on is totally out of whack. So much so, that creative content has virtually no value. Seriously, almost zero. But the pipeline is worth, well, everything (insert number that ends with _illions). This includes all digital content: blogs, books, art, video, and of course, music (which is where I’m involved in). Why do we spend $100s on devices: mp3 players, tablets, laptops, fancy headphones – but we won’t spend 99cents on a song, or a few bucks a month to subscribe to a great blog like this?

    (Btw, I don’t want to fill up this comment with links…) There are folks out there fighting the good fight. Personally, I’m involved with FarePlay (you can find them on Facebook). Also, there is a documentary coming out called UnSound on this topic (mainly the music side). You can search Indiegogo to learn more about it.

    Just yesterday, I was running errands and I saw a mini-van pull away from the grocery store. The back seat dvd player started up. I thought, wow these kids are getting “content” pumped into their heads something like 90% of their waking moments. (I don’t have children – so consider this an “outsider” comment.) Can’t the kids just sit in the back seat and be quiet for a few minutes? Could that be what de-values content? Is there soooo much, that our brains could never distinguish between valued content and noise?

  • Steve Woodruff

    Their new corporate slogan: “Can you catch me now?”

  • TOTALLY agree. It’s amazing that they don’t recognize that.

  • Will Overstreet

    I am glad to see that you are standing up for yourself and not just letting them get away with a free pass. I think to many times people don’t confront bad behavior because they think it will not change anything.

    Recently, we finished helping execute a campaign for a partner company’s client. Afterwards we offered to write a joint press release giving credit to both companies and what they had done well.
    A few weeks ago, we saw where the partner company had taken our material crafted a case study, yet removed any mention of my company’s name and claimed all of the credit even though they had never developed any software since the inception of the company. It got me wondering if the campaign had been a failure if our partner would have taken all the blame? I doubt it.

  • Sunny

    LOL … I love that they didn’t send the gift certificate after all of that. Jerks.

  • disqusplaya

    It’s been over two years since Kevin Kelly wrote “The Future of Content”. And people *still* Do. Not. Get. It.
    Listen, I get it. It’s difficult to accept and embrace the future of digital media. To fundamentally understand at a cellular level what it means that the internet can make limitless perfect copies of content. That it is in fact not a bug, but a feature.
    Complaining about “stealing” content is not going to change that, not going to “fix” that, and is not a “solution” to whatever “problem” you perceive.

    Evolve or die.

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  • Thanks for the support Will. It was actually a very difficult decision to even publish this post. I am not a negative person but at some point you just have to take a stand.

  • Lazy is the word for it. Somebody is checking a box without even thinking about what they are doing.

  • I don’t know Jenn. I’m not sure if people even know that stealing is wrong any more. Tough to say but true I think.

  • I used this as an example but Verizon is certainly not unique or alone. A new ethic is sweeping over the content field that has more to do with desperation than ethics I’m afraid.

  • Thanks for the support Will. It was actually a very difficult decision to even publish this post. I am not a negative person but at some point you just have to take a stand.

  • I appreciate the dissent but I think that is too simplistic of a statement. Sometimes you need regulation.
    Let’s say there was no protection on other types of intellectual property like the innovations that contribute to that iPad you enjoy. What would happen? Eventually there would be no more innovation, no more iPads, because at the end of the day there MUST be an economic reward for innovation.
    Why do you think content is different? Why are my innovations and contributions free for the taking? I am spending countless hours creating, innovating and publishing. This is how I feed my family. Taken to the extreme — and it is heading there — if there is no economic reason to continue you will be left only with the people who are writing just to write. We are already seeing this in music, art and film. When your expectation is free, you will get what you pay for.
    Frankly I am sick and tired of the people who say “evolve or die.” People have been stealing art for 20 years and there is no solution. What is your solution to the problem? Just don’t dump another “evolve or die” on me without contributing a solution to the problem.
    If you had somebody copying and stealing your livelihood every day without consequence, how would you evolve?

  • A weird world indeed. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and insight Frank.

  • The sad thing is that civility seems to have run its course and maybe you need a legal course of action. But we are fighting a losing battle. No individual or small content creator can withstand the pummeling from a big time legal department. That contributes to the problem. There are no consequences, as I have experienced, other than calling them out and saying “this is wrong.”

  • Jennifer Kane

    [weeps for humanity]

  • Yes, I’d mentioned the article about “ghost tweeting,” and when my friend searched for it, the Verizon post came up. I emailed Mark, thinking it had been syndicated, just to let him know they’d incorrectly credited the post. Imagine my surprise when he had no idea they’d used it!

  • Just because the mechanisms exist to let people scrape content doesn’t mean it’s legal. People should remember the difference between “can” and “may.” Copyright still exists, but people routinely disregard it. I’d love to see copyright law updated to better match modern-day attitudes, but reform it to better protect artists and creators, not strip them of their livelihood.

  • Some cretins though manage to justify it as curation. Truth is the content deluge is in reality a recycling avalanche.

  • luisa – that is so true. I live in a spanish/english stream and I so often find unoriginal content in Spanish, particularly among social media and marketing content, that is merely ever so slightly spun and or at best translated. I genuinely believe there is a over estimation of original content on the web.

  • Chuck Kent


    Have you heard about Verizon’s “Six strike policy” for those caught stealing (video) content? I found it Googling “Verizon AND ‘stealing content”, which came up with this from the “Voice of TV” blog:

    “For your first two alleged copyright violations, Verizon will send out an email and a voice message informing them that “one or more copyright owners have reported that they believe your account has been involved in possible copyright infringement activity.” For your third and fourth alleged violations, Verizon will “redirect your browser to a special web page where you can review and acknowledge receiving the (previous) alerts” and will also “provide a short video about copyright law and the consequences of copyright infringement.”

    Now here’s where it really starts to affect you – after the fifth and sixth alleged violations, Verizon gives the users the option of having their speed cut down to 256Kbps for a limited time. If they continue to rack up violations after that, reports TorrentFreak, then the MPAA and RIAA can obtain a court order forcing Verizon to hand over “the IP-addresses of such repeat infringers in order to take legal action against them.”

    You can see more here:

  • The irony.

  • Amen.

  • Wow. How do they get away with this???

  • Mark, This post couldn’t have been more timely, I happen to be speaking to a group of writers at McGill today and I shared this in my slideshare. things like this are both good and bad news, bad news because ethics are in question, nothing is safe and its so cheap and awful when a big corporation does this kind of amateur prank, because that’s what this is amateur, unprofessional and dishonest… the good news, well writers are in desperate demand, and things don’t get better than that for a field that used to be reserved for “starving artists” now people with talent should be able to find a place where they can make money doing what they love, because clearly the corporations are just as desperate as those marketing :companies” that scrape the RSS feeds.

    I honestly could not believe they tried to pull this on you, and established author, well known…unbelievable – i guess dishonest acts know no boundaries OR education about plagiarism has to increase (?!?!????)

  • I’m sure it’s by complete coincidence but a scheme to call out people sharing other photographers work, without attribution, is gaining popularity on Google+ (I saw this yesterday).
    It appears that it’s not just written content that some feel is fair game to ‘steal’.

  • The amazing thin to me is, even when they got caught and eventually responded, they still had no idea who I was, what I do or even what i had written. They did not care who I was, they just wanted me to go away. And oh by the way, I’m also a Verizon customer. : )

  • Very true Paul.

  • That is a good trend I think.

  • disqusplaya

    I appreciate the thoughtful response.

    Let’s say there was no protection … Eventually there would be no more innovation.

    The research shows that monopoly protection is a mixed bag on spurring innovation. Sometimes it works, often times it slows innovation. When looking specifically at the “creative” industry – there is a lot of evidence showing that artists are more intrinsically motivated rather than economically. In short – Mozart would be Mozart even if he didn’t die rich.

    Why do you think content is different?

    Simple observation of reality. I’m not here to make ideological judgments on what -SHOULD- happen, only what -WILL- (and -HAS-) happened. The internet will duplicate digital content, freely, perfectly, without cost. This is a reality. Rather than denying reality, ask yourself “Ok… now what?”

    We are already seeing this in music, art and film.

    A commonly repeated assertion which is not supported by data. Music is BOOMING now (don’t conflate record sales – a dying last-century industry – with artist success). Film is doing wonderful with new markets in China. Television is in an amazing renaissance. The last Call of Duty sold $1 Billion ON THE FIRST DAY.

    Just don’t dump another “evolve or die” on me without contributing a solution to the problem.

    If you haven’t seen KK’s presentation. Watch it. If you saw it more than 6 months ago. Watch it again. I won’t do it justice with a summary.

    The short answer is that content is a means, not an ends. The first step is changing your title. No: You are not a blogger. You are expert in marketing.

    Now go work on your generatives.

  • That Verizon story is a sad one. But the others of plagiarism are equally sad.

    I’ve had a different but related problem. I syndicate my content on a tech blog aggregation site. They don’t produce content, but carry content from bloggers across the web. Now I’ve given them permission to do this, fine. Great! I do get some traffic this way, which makes it worth it.

    *BUT*… Here’s the catch. I can search for those article titles word-for-word, and the dzone one comes up first in Google. Usually mine comes up second or third, occasionally first. But how can google rank a *COPY* above the original!?!? That’s frustrating.

  • among all the service providers, I have to say both in the US and in Canada (probably especially in Canada- as competition is not as fierce) the cell phone carriers really don’t seem to care about who their customers are, or how much they get from you (I’m sure you’ve had your surprise bills of hundreds or thousands of dollars before during traveling as well!) and they just carry on because they know we need our cell phones. There is no connect between the front line service people and the executives, there is no accountability. They just churn on day after day. Unbelievable.

  • Sandra Isaac

    This is such a disappointing post. As a photographer (first) and content generator, it is very difficult to track your creative process and prevent people from stealing. It is very sad that it has come to this. Maybe we need to find a member of congress and start a letter writing campaign to get a law passed regarding online content. But again, you found the Verizon discrepancy by chance. We could get Google involved…write some kind of algorithm that tracks the content. Like a copyright tracker?? People are just vultures, feeding off our content that is still “alive”!

  • Here’s some interesting news, relative to Mark’s blog posting. A new start-up – – is working to put advertisers and bloggers/writers together. And the writers get paid:

  • I have been paying my writers for four years because it is the right thing to do. If I am going to benefit from their great work, they need to share in my company’s progress, too.

  • I doubt anyone in Congress would even understand what is going on let alone act on it. It is a two-edged sword. We all benefit from the free flow and sharing of content but some get hurt by it too. A tricky issue.

  • Theoretically, that is not supposed to happen. Pretty interesting report there Sean. Thanks for taking the time to comment my friend!

  • Oh really? Do you mean philisophically or technically?

    My recent article “Why startups need techops” is #1 on dzone, but doesn’t show up at all unless I do a search.

    Another “why the twitter ipo mentions scalability” dzone is #1 and my blog is #2.

    A third “5 reasons why devops should blog” dzone is #1 and my blog doesn’t show up first or second page.

    A fourth “why weekly billing amps up time pressure” dzone is #1 and it’s on various other places I didn’t even syndicate to.

    Now I’m starting to think I’m doing something wrong. Is there a way to reach out to Google directly?

  • Who said anything about Monopoly protection? That is not even close to what I implied.

    Give me your facts on music “booming.” Here is one for you: There is a new bio pic being made of Jimi Hendrix. The film production company could not afford to use any Jimi Hendrix music in the movie. Why? Filmmakers used to make money off the soundtracks to fund music-oriented films. Now, an entire genre of film is dead because people do not pay for music.

    Many have predicted a “boom” through artist internet exposure. Where is it? Other than Justin Bieber, can you name one artist who has been an internet sensation that transitioned to be a true superstar? Shouldn’t there be thousands of these people? Where are they? The fact is that artists are more enslaved than ever.

    In a recent interview on PBS, Ben Folds stated flatly that the economics of the music industry are broken for good. He said we are witnessing the last generation of artists who have an opportunity to be rich from music. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins said the same thing. He said if it weren’t from the profits from past albums he would have no chance of being where he is today. BTW, my son has a record contract with Warner Brothers so I am on the inside of this problem. His songs have been played hundreds of thousands of times on Spotify. You know how much he has been paid by that company? Less than a dollar.

    Any industry dependent on content for pay is being decimated. DECIMATED.

    Some of this disintermediation is good and needed but much of it will destroy art as we know it. Many make the excuse that new models will emerge to fund content creators. But they haven’t. Perhaps the only way forward is to find rich patrons for a few artists like what we had in the Renaissance. Then, art will not be democratized by technology it will be enslaved by technology because it will keep all but a few artists poor. This is your future.

    I am not resisting change. I am not denying reality. I am encouraging you to be a critical thinker. It is easy to drink the Kool Aid and tell people to evolve. It is quite another to immerse yourself in this complicated problem (as I am, as my son is) and derive solutions that are fair to people doing honest work.

    And, you never answered my question. If you depended on selling a craft for a living but your neighbor stole everything as soon as you make it and handed it out for free, what would you do? This is real life. This is the real issue. Would you encourage him? Ignore it?

    If your children depended on this income, here is the first thing you would do: You would either stop your neighbor or stop making your product. It is that black and white.

    Sorry for the long rant. I just want people to think through the implications of what this world will be like before passively accepting the status quo.

  • Nishant Bhaskar

    One thing we often get to hear about the future of internet is that, things will become very transparent. For example, I am sure you would agree with me that, if you had Googled a few sentences of the blog, you would have seen all the places where the blog was replicated. (But we are generally too carefree to do that). The company, ‘WeSee’ has the technology to do textual identification of video. It is just a matter of time when we will be able to search things seamlessly across media. Till then, all we need is, strict rules, to penalize the wrong-doers.

  • I’m so upset for you! This is getting so out of control. I always wonder if the things I read or the images I like are always legitimate. I guess things will get much much worse before they get slightly better! Good for you for sharing this and for naming names.

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  • speechless

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  • I actually hate naming names if it is going to embarrass somebody but in this case it was unavoidable. A first for me I think. Thanks for taking the time to comment Tiana!

  • An interesting idea but I’m not sure we will ever see it happen. The “rules” are, in fact, in place but there is no agency in the world with the budget or resources to follow up on all the infractions. Most of them are minor and innocent but when people are intentionally and repeatedly breaking the law you think something would be done about it.

  • That is very disturbing. I am not an SEO expert by any means but I know the original author and post are supposed to (theoretically) be the winner. If you are not winning in the rankings, does it make sense for you to syndicate? I have wondered about this myself.

    Why don’t you take a crack at submitting the issue to Matt Cutts of Google, who addresses questions like this in a regular video series he does. Sorry to hear about that problem. Must be frustrating.

  • Ivana

    Great writing, interesting story – sad outcome.
    Let us know if you’re planning some actions….

    Greetings from Vienna.

  • Great suggestion, I’ll do that.

    My gut tells me it’s still worth syndicating as I do get traffic. I don’t know if I’m competing with myself in that regard. Perhaps Matt will have some insight.

  • Maria Nordwind

    Very upsetting reading this article Mark…simple acknowledge would do. I really believe there should be a law around content. They should all go back to college and writing assignments. ..see how would they get on without referencing. ..

  • Thanks for commenting Maria. Always nice to hear from my friends at IBM. I agree that all they had to do was say “I’m sorry” and this would have gone away. That is the way it is most of the time when customers are upset, right?

  • How do you find out that you have been plagiarized?

    I sometimes come up with a thought for my blog that was original ( at least I think it was) and then google it to make sure no one else has written about it. If someone has written anything to close to that, then I will give credit to it since they beat me to it. I want others to go to their person’s website to add more credibility to my blog. It also shows that I did some research and did not just rip it off since there are no original thoughts today.

  • I just read that and here’s what I would do. Go NUCLEAR. Anyone taking my property and using it and being flippant about it deserves my full ire. Use your lawyer, the media (print, online, broadcast) to your story out and shame them.

  • How much would it cost to take out a full page ad in the New York times stating what they were doing? Would that work?

  • Thanks for that link. I’ll be sure to use it in the future. I’ve never had my text used without permission ( to my knowledge ) but I have had photos used without permission.

  • We found out completely by accident. A friend saw it on the Verizon site and passed it along.

  • I appreciate the sentiment but that is not my style. I’ve had my say. I’m not out to hurt people, just to use the incident to inform and teach.

  • send me an email if you figure this out Sean. Might even make a good guest post. thanks!

  • Thx Mark. Yeah, that does sound like it could be a good post.

    I tried Matt on his blog & shared this discus comments thread with him on twitter. We’ll see if he has thoughts on it.

  • “Evolve or die.”

    How? What’s your proposed solution?

  • disqusplaya

    Other than Justin Bieber, can you name one artist who has been an internet sensation that transitioned to be a true superstar?

    The idea that a musical artist should be a “superstar” and make millions is silly (-ESPECIALLY- off recording). You’re still thinking like it’s the 1970s. Those days are gone.

    Perhaps musicians will have to be like the rest of us. Working for a living, and making a reasonable living off it. What this means is there are -A LOT- more musicians, with smaller audiences and focused niches. This is where the industry is today.

    For consumers, this is awesome. It means we have more choices, more exposure, and a robust performance market. Unless you like arena rock.

    Ben Folds stated flatly that the economics of the music industry are broken for good. He said we are witnessing the last generation of artists who have an opportunity to be rich from music

    I see what you did there. Don’t conflate “industry economics” and getting rich from music. That’s silly. And you know it.

    His songs have been played hundreds of thousands of times on Spotify. You know how much he has been paid by that company? Less than a dollar.

    Again, you’re thinking in 20th century economics. Why should a recording get payment? At all? This is an advertisement for the artist. If anything, the -ARTIST- should pay Spotify for the media exposure. It is then the artist’s job to monetize the musical experience, based on the customer prospects they’ve gained. To put it bluntly, Spotify is a lead generation tool for Ben Folds.

    If you depended on selling a craft for a living but your neighbor stole everything as soon as you make it and handed it out for free, what would you do? This is real life. This is the real issue. Would you encourage him? Ignore it?

    I’m going to try to speak as plainly as I can.
    Don’t create things which can be stolen. Period.

  • Dude! I would have sued all of them. Until this starts happening it won’t stop happening. Once it starts happening the blogosphere will go crazy with tales of people losing their homes and cars and gold bullion stashes from plagiarism.

    I know mimicry is a form of flattery. I have had tweets I wrote for clients copied by client competitors. But shocked Verizon would condone this. Seriously wear a wire. You can retire a rich man with proof they condone this activity.

    Sorry that this has happened to you.

  • Ha! Thanks for the advice man.

  • Oh gosh yes, it’s shocking how many people are left in control of ‘SEO’ when they have no clue at all how to run and manage any form of organic online marketing! Repeatedly going to bash my head against the wall yet again after a day of emails asking ‘how do I get to the top of Google?’…. *sigh*

  • John Grimley


  • That IS the core issue. Moral standards are gone. When I was at IBM we had a client who provided pre-employment testing. I saw the tests and thought, “how could that work”? It asked things like “is it ok to take supplies home for your own personal use”. My thought was “wouldn’t thieves be smart enough to say no”? That company was growing really fast because apparently they aren’t.

    Watch television and movies with a critical eye and you’ll see that they’re teaching this behavior – that stealing is ok because “everyone does it”.

  • This is not being negative. You gave them the opportunity to do the right thing. When they don’t, then your “right thing” is to expose their actions. There must be at least some consequences – even if we can’t really bring sufficient pressure on them to change. At least you find out that others empathize and support you going public.

  • We should all tweet this post using #canyoucatchmenow as the hashtag.

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  • Tej Shah

    Unbelievable to think a company of this size( or any company period) would do something as hire “content scrapers” I don’t think I have ever even heard of such a thing until reading your article, it is very easy to understand the frustration of dealing with this escpecially being a blogger myself.

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  • This is a common practice and big business. Both the content scrapers and the sponsoring companies are making money or receiving commercial benefits off of the work of others.

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  • R. Livingston

    I’ve had entire blog entries lifted off my blog sites and published, complete with the same illustrations, by others on their blog sites. I have had illustrations, including photos I acquired permission to use, simply lifted and “saved” to photo hoarding sites. Just days ago, I discovered the text (and the photo illustrating it) from a footnoted article I’d written (and which has been published years ago—under first North American serial rights) copied onto some history-maven “chat” site.
    Part of the problem for those of us creating and publishing online our copyrighted material, is that public educational institutions are posting materials written for them by volunteers or from materials reposing in their archives, which is subsequently (with their tacit approval) copied and published in websites all over the world, often with no attribution to the author at all. One can put together entire websites using this free, public domain materials. There are now even online “encyclopedias” that are nothing more than this same material from institutional websites purloined and republished. Thus, this massive republishing of what is (or is perceived to be) public-domain material only encourages shifty operators who think nothing online is copyrighted to appropriate anything they desire from websites for reuse to their own advantage.
    So now, it looks like even major corporations are giving new meaning to “just scraping by”! Copyrights for books and periodicals (and musical recordings) are worthless if we accept the idea that what we publish online automatically becomes public domain.

  • That’s bad outsourcing. There’s someone should be managing and checking out those content. To tell that they are not responsible for the action is crap. Before this, thousand or more had made mistakes in online marketing and they just never learn their lessons. To think that this is from big company, this so much bad publicity for them.

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