Art of the Steal: Protecting Content Requires a PR Policing Presence

For years now, as the Internet has grown in stature and the number of audience channels has risen exponentially, the phrase “content creation” has also come to the forefront. PR professionals are now urged to behave as journalists for their clients and corporations, literally becoming content factories to keep fresh content flowing via a number of platforms—with the Web being the most important. But with the recent, high-profile cases of Jonah Lehrer and Fareed Zakaria, the threat of content fraud and plagiarism is casting a larger shadow on content generation. Lehrer, (now former) staff writer at The New Yorker, speaker and author of the best-selling book Imagine: How Creativity Works, was found to have made up quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan in the book. Not exactly plagiarism, but a curious move nonetheless by someone who seemingly had it made in the rarefied world of science, research and media. Zakaria, the Time magazine writer and CNN host, was suspended by both outlets for stealing several paragraphs from a New Yorker magazine essay and using them in one of his Time columns. CNN then posted a version of that column on its Web site. Both of these cases could be explained by citing the pressures of media and journalism—in a rush to create content that will satisfy the masses—and the editors. That’s exactly what Jeff Domansky, CEO of Peak Communications and editor and blogger of The PR Coach, an online resource for PR professionals, thinks happened. “There’s a tremendous time pressure on journalists to be first or fastest,” says Domansky, who adds that with media cutbacks, there’s less editorial oversight—or none in the case some outlets—that would prevent these cases from happening. Whether it’s the pressure involved or just laziness, content theft hit closer to PR’s home when Brad Phillips, author of the Mr.MediaTraining blog, posted that he had been the victim of plagiarism, and called out the offender. Phillips noticed that a story on titled “Media Reporters Require Rules” was eerily similar to one he wrote in 2011. Phillips got in touch with the author, Neil Kuvin, and Kuvin’s editor, pointing out the similarities in the rules. He asked that the post be removed from the site. He received this note back from Kuvin: “Brad: It’s gone. I’m sorry. I intended to at least attribute but obviously didn’t. Neil” EASY PICKENS Phillips details the entire incident on his blog, but it underscores the scramble to get new content created and the desperation that occurs, particularly among communicators. “In a lot of cases, it’s easy to get away with it if a site is relatively unknown,” says Corey Eridon, inbound marketing manager at HubSpot and frequent contributor to the HubSpot blog. As a blogger herself, Eridon posts shortcuts and tips that make content creation less of a drain for communicators. She’s just about seen it all in terms of content theft. “I’ve seen entire Web sites scraped for their content and republished,” says Eridon. “I see blog posts republished in their full form, sometimes without attribution. Sometimes they do have the attribution, but it’s not like that makes it any better.” PREVENTATIVE MEASURES While Eridon says its impossible to police every single incident, there are ways to protect and defend your content. Before the fact, Allison Fitzpatrick, partner in the advertising, marketing and promotion practice group of law firm Davis & Gilbert, suggests getting familiar with the “fair use” principles—factors that are considered if there’s a question about a copyright violation. They are as follows: • The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; • The nature of the copyrighted work; • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and • The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Then, post a copyright notice on your Web site. Such a notice in and of itself won’t stop someone from pilfering your content, but at least they’ll know you mean business when it comes to content protection, says Fitzpatrick. A section on your Web site or blog with “content usage guidelines” can’t hurt either, although Eridon doesn’t see anyone’s content rules stopping anyone from stealing. “The guidelines come in handy to field requests of the respectful site owners who get in touch with you to ask permission to share your content,” she says. A tip on creating your own guidelines: Make them short and sweet so it’s easy for those requesting to cite your content to digest the information (and follow the rules) quickly, says Eridon. Then, monitor your content. It needn’t take too much time. Once per month, Domansky uses the free plagiarism search tool Copyscape to check his content for duplication online. For clients, he’ll perform one-off checks as needed. “This is a part of reputation management as well as protecting a business’ products or services,” says Domansky. “It should be a regular part of the PR role.” (See the sidebar for Domansky’s tips on handling content thieves.) Apparently, Google feels that fighting plagiarism should be part of its role as well. On August 20, 2012, the company issued a search algorithm update that will speed up the removal of links to sites containing plagiarized content. “This couldn’t happen soon enough,” says Domansky. We agree. Busting Heads: How to Get Your Plagiarized Content Erased Jeff Domansky, CEO of Peak Communications and editor and blogger of The PR Coach (, has had content pilfered way to many times. The craziest excuse he’s heard was from a PR/IR pro who lifted his “12 ways social media is transforming IR” tips: “I thought it was a list anyone could use,” said the thief. In every case, Domansky has been successful in getting his content deleted from the offending site. Here’s how he does it: 1. Take a screenshot of the offending page for proof, including masthead, as offenders will sometimes remove it and claim ignorance. 2. Contact the offender by e-mail with one warning and make it clear that if not removed within 48 hours you will send a copy to: their Web hosting company, their professional association, Better Business Bureau, local Chamber of Commerce or trade association, DMCA (Digital Millennium Content Act), etc., advising of the infringement. The site Plagiarism Today ( has useful templates, tools and advice. 3. Set up Google and other alerts for your name, Twitter handle, Web site name and URL, etc. and monitor regularly. You should do this anyhow. 4. If you get no response or retraction, call them out, then be proactive in carrying out your warning. “It’s surprising how fast cooperation happens when you start following through,” says Domansky. CONTACT: Jeff Domansky,; Corey Eridon,; Allison Fitzpatrick,

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