You’ve probably viewed comic strips by the Oatmeal at least once in your existence, and you probably know one of the biggest trending topics of 2012 is- and will be- the legal battle between the owner of The Oatmeal and Funny Junk. It began with a complaint by The Oatmeal’s brilliant owner, Matthew Inman, about his comics being shared heavily on FunnyJunk.com without any links back, or credit of any kind. In fact, the included attribution had been photoshopped out!
FunnyJunk.com responded to this complaint… with a lawsuit. For $20,000! The details, along with Inman’s clever reaction, can be found here.
And this is where it gets good. Inman launched a campaign for donations to collect a pile of cash ($20,000) and – after some humorous steps – to donate the money to The National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. This campaign called “BearLoveGood, Cancer Bad” has raised over $200,000 to date!
In response, the attorney representing FunnyJunk.com (Charles Carreon) has included the charities and campaign host (Indiegogo.com) to the list of parties involved in the lawsuit. (More on that here...)
As this story develops, it is a trending topic for two very important reasons. One- it’s downright ridiculous funny. Two- there’s something important hidden underneath the humor, and it’s something very serious…
The Digital Media Copyright Act
There are millions of examples which can be used to bring up this topic, but The Oatmeal vs. FunnyJunk.com is by far the best. It may be funny to read about and see the offensive/defensive comics posted by a hilarious personality, but there is nothing funny about ripping off somebody else’s content.
And when you post something on your website that you did not create, you should always give credit where it is due and never try to pass it off as your own. Period!
It’s a simple concept, but sometimes website owners break or bend rules even if unintentional. In the case of FunnyJunk.com, the submitted Oatmeal comics had been submitted by a community of end users. Should the website administrator be held responsible for that?
[Note] You can read The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 here or find tips here on how to avoid copyright law infringement with digital media. [/Note]
More importantly, you must use common sense. Recent legal battles have shown that it’s not as tricky as you might think. A website that contains material which violates copyright laws is taken down and the administrator is held accountable. Even if that material is added by somebody else.
Earlier in 2012 — simultaneous to heated protests against a pending bill called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)– a popular file-sharing site (Megaupload) was shut down and 7 people were charged with copyright infringement. (More on that here…)
So What Can You Learn From The Mistakes of Others? How About Some Respect For Others!
There may be a big difference between a small business website and a large traffic file sharing website where users can go to download torrents of new movies before they hit theaters. When it comes to copyright laws, regulations, and accountability it should be common sense not to take credit or profit from anything that is not yours.
And this is why so many website owners ask a team of SEO writers to spin articles and use copyscape to prevent plagiarism. Sounds like a smart idea, right?
If you want to use content from another website:
Bad idea: Relying on others’ content to make your website work, instead of producing your own.
Worst idea: Stripping all branding from the original content/material to try to make it your own. (Whether it’s photoshopping out attribution or “spinning” an article, it’s still just as shady!) [/Warning_Box]
Good idea: Use authority websites, especially non-competitive websites, as resources. Link back to the original source and give credit where it’s due. (Resource links should open in a new tab or window.)
Best idea: Information from another website should be contained in quotes, and can be kept in a call out box along with the resource link. Use bold and italics to make the credit pop out. [/Info_Box]
Respecting Others’ Property is Respecting Yourself. Unless You Like Sloppy Seconds?
Unfortunately, article spinning is a popular trend in the black hat SEO market. It seems to be a cost effective way to produce mass articles for SEO purposes, and the benefits stop there.
[Note] If you have to spend more to go back and fix a poorly done job, you didn’t really save money either![/Note]
Even if the articles pass copyscape (a tool used to check multiple pages of content for plagiarism and ensure each page is original) the content itself is typically unoriginal with a significant decrease in value.
Take a look at this example of a poorly “written” (obviously spun) paragraph, which exhibits keyword stuffing and very poor language/tone and see for yourself:
The question to ask is “why would you need to check for plagiarism if your content is unique and original to begin with?”
People don’t buy products or services. They buy brands. They buy ideas, and beliefs, and shared interests. Businesses only successfully sell their products and services if they can sell their brand, and that begins with recognizing that your business is one of several options available to your market. So what makes you stand out?
It’s one thing to look at a competitor’s website for inspiration, to take note of elements you like and elements you don’t. But it is another thing entirely to re-publish another website, or material from another website, that isn’t entirely your material. Even if you can spin an article or web page into something “original enough to pass a plagiarism checker”… there is no unique value to what you publish.
In the end, you want to give your audience something that will stand out. And when you rip somebody else off, you might not get caught and end up in a legal battle but you’ll still have nothing better than sloppy seconds, and that’s a very weak foundation to build on.