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Cover image for Dealing with copyright infringement and plagiarism

Dealing with copyright infringement and plagiarism

munamohamed94 profile image Muna Mohamed ・5 min read

This is a story all about how my life got twisted upside down, and I'd like to take a minute just to sit right here and tell you all about how an article of mine was plagiarized and distributed and how I managed to get it taken down. Intrigued? Read on.

Plagiarism vs copyright infringement

Plagiarism. Copyright infringement. Two terms that are similar but that have key differences.

Let's start by distinguishing the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. Plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else's work and passing it off as your own. Copyright infringement however, is described as infringing on the rights granted to copyright holders. These rights include:

  • the right to reproduce
  • the right to distribute
  • the right to display or perform the protected work
  • the right to make derivative works These rights are given automatically given to the creator of the original content but, this may differ according to which country you live in.

Keeping this in mind, we can deduce that by replacing the author name with their own, they committed plagiarism. By reproducing the article, distributing the article through social media and displaying it on their blog, they infringed upon my rights as the copyright holder thus committing copyright infringement.

Discovery

I posted an article about CSS Specificity originally on dev.to around October and then submitted it to Freecodecamp's publication, which was accepted and published mid-November. As I was looking through the stats on Medium for that particular article, I clicked on one of the external referrals, which was from LinkedIn. I clicked on the LinkedIn link to see who had shared the post. There, I saw that someone had shared the article and as I looked closely, I noticed that the shared post

  • Did not have a picture
  • Had a different name as the author

I clicked on the link to see where it would lead me and sure enough, it led me to that person's website, where my article was copied word for word without any mention or back-link to the original article.

Not only did this person commit copyright infringement by displaying and distributing my posts without my permission, but they also committed plagiarism by taking credit for the article by replacing the author's name with their own.

Plan of action

Step 1: Email/message

I knew that someday that this would happen but, it still gave me a shock to see someone do this with such blatant disregard for other people's hard-work. It's one thing to copy someone else's work but to then share it with others and pass it off as your own? That's unacceptable.

First thing I did was let my family and friends know about it- several brains work better than one. My friend advised me to report them on LinkedIn for copyright infringement. Before that though, I thought that I could try to settle the matter by messaging them. Problem was, LinkedIn wouldn't allow me to do so which then meant that I would have to connect with the person THEN if they accepted, which I doubt they would've, send them the message. I wasn't going to do that. Instead, I wrote a comment under the shared link letting them know that they were committing copyright infringement and to delete the post ASAP.

Step 2: Notice of Copyright Infringement Form (LinkedIn)

24 hours later, no response. That left me with no choice but to fill out the notice of copyright infringement form on LinkedIn. Four days later, I received a response from LinkedIn that said that because the " the reported content is not occurring within the LinkedIn platform. For that reason, we have no authority to address the issue".

Despite the fact that the content that was shared was plagiarized and infringed on my copyright, because the content was not on the LinkedIn platform itself, they couldn't do anything about it.

Step 3: Finding the hosting provider that hosts the Infringer's website

It was clear that this person had no intention of deleting the post so the next step was to find out who their hosting provider was and write them a message, informing them of the situation and asking them to pull it down. Finding this information was easy - I used https://hostingchecker.com/ and typed in the domain name and voila! There was the name of their hosting provider.

Step 4: Contacting the hosting provider

I immediately went to the hosting provider's website, located their contact information and emailed them. They sent an automated email straight away to say that they would get back to me. About five hours later, they did get back to me asking me to fill out a form about my complaint. The hosting provider is a German company so the form was in German but auto-translate came to the rescue so I was able to fill out the form without any problems.

After receiving another automated email after submitting the form, I waited. A week went by, then another. Still no word from the hosting provider. Another couple weeks went by in a flash as life got busy but I remembered a few days ago that I didn't hear anything back. So, rather than emailing the hosting provider again, I opted to DM them via Twitter for an update. A couple of days later, I received a response from the company's marketing department who said that she was unable to access the complaint records due to strict data privacy laws so suggested that I email them instead.

Success

I emailed the hosting provider, asking if they can give me an update on the case. Within a couple minutes, which is unbelievably fast, I received a response that said that URL to the blogpost had already been removed. I checked to see if this was true and sure enough, it was gone. Furthermore, the "blog" section of that person's website, which contained the articles of many other writers, was removed.

Conclusion

What is the purpose of this article? To bring awareness to the issue of copyright infringement and plagiarism, particularly when it comes to online content. Dealing with having your content plagiarized and your rights as original author infringed upon isn't cool and it can be difficult, time-consuming and cause stress. It took a little over a month to get the plagiarized content taken down. In some cases, it could take even longer or be near impossible to get the content taken down. By documenting the process, I want this article to serve as a point of reference and a resource to anyone who is dealing with or may deal with copyright infringement and plagiarism in future.

I love sharing my thoughts, ideas and experiences with others and this will not deter me from continuing to do so. But, it would be nice to not have to worry about your content being stolen.

Don't plagiarize or infringe on the rights of copyright holders/original authors. People put blood, sweat and tears into their work, don't disrespect them by claiming ownership for something that does not belong to you. ALWAYS cite the original author. ALWAYS get permission for use of other people's work. ALWAYS provide back links to the original content.

I'd love to hear your experiences with copyright infringement and plagiarism, particularly with online content. How did you deal with it?

Discussion

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aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel

I really wish that the developer community was better about citing sources. I see so much borrowed language from my posts in other people’s, outright cribbed posts, “heavily inspired” or copy and pasted tweets, and repurposed content. I’ve never pursued doing anything about it, but may in the future.

How I check for it: copy and paste a quote from your post in quotation marks into google — can be super surprising.

It doesn’t make you look less legit to add citations or backlinks in your posts. I probably overcite resources in mine — but making content takes a ton of work. Wish people would give credit where credit is due.

That's super awesome that going after it worked!! Too bad it's even a problem though. Thanks for writing this -- super important for people to be aware of!

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munamohamed94 profile image
Muna Mohamed Author

I definitely agree with you there! Citing sources is not difficult but it can become problematic when you see posts clearly misusing your work by not citing, providing back-links or just taking ownership for work that you created.

I use the same method to check if my work has been plagiarized but it's not something I do often though. I can see why you would have to - you have a more extensive body of work than I do so I can only imagine how it is for you. It sucks to have to deal with it but in my case, I couldn't let it go. You definitely should look into doing something about it! Sometimes it takes a few stern words to get the point across that not citing your sources isn't right and other times it takes hunting down their hosting providers lol 😆

I was half-expecting for it not to work but, I'm glad it did! Thank you Ali, your kind words are much appreciated!

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Ben Prax

Yes I definitely agree with this. This happened to me on Facebook when someone copied my post word for word without giving credits to the author. I immediately contacted the person through messenger and thankfully the problem was resolved.

Thanks for raising aware to this issue!

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Thank you for the informative post Muna!

Occasionally plagiarized material ends up on dev.to, if you ever see this happening email yo@dev.to and we will take the appropriate action as quickly as possible.

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munamohamed94 profile image
Muna Mohamed Author

Thank you, Ben! :)
Plagiarism is pretty much inevitable, it will happen in some form or another. I'm really glad that dev.to has something in place to aid in the prevention of plagiarized material being shared on the platform.

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Jean-Christophe Helary

I was on the opposite side of a copyright infringement issue a while ago.

In 2005 I had a DMCA request on my site because I was hosting the HTML manual of a piece of free software I was contributing to (by, among other things, updating the manual). We had no HTML hosting at the time so I had offered my hosting space instead.

A bully in the contributors' group who did not like what I was doing "denounced" me to my hosting provider (even though he did not have any rights on that manual) and it took me quite some time to handle that and put back everything online.

Bullies and the DMCA are an explosive combination. And the hard part is always to provide proof that you own the disputed contents.

Right now, all the contents I author on my blog has a clear licence notice:

"Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts."
(mac4translators.blogspot.com)

I would do as you did if I found a person who did not comply with the licence.

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munamohamed94 profile image
Muna Mohamed Author

Oh wow, that must've been awful! I can see how DMCA notices can be misused in the wrong hands. Didn't even think of it like that. Thank you for sharing your experience, I appreciate you taking the time to write about your experience.

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ryan profile image
Ryan

In some cases it only means a bot has scraped your posts and copied it onto a spam blog. Sorry to be a downer :(

Besides, if you do want people copying your posts, you can always give permission. You can simply add a line to your profile saying "All my posts are released under XX license". Maybe it's nice to see your writing elsewhere but I think it's even better seeing it with proper credit too.

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zechtyounes profile image
zechtyounes

you just had me check if my article was plagiarized and I just found it on a site! Thank you 😂😭 @ben I think you should check if they don't pump all the articles from dev.to here.

If you CTRL+F and search for "ethical hacker" you'll find my article.

You can also find it here.

That's not a big deal but if it's redundant it would be problematic, if think.

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munamohamed94 profile image
Muna Mohamed Author

Sorry to hear that 😮! Some websites use web scrapers to scrape articles from other platforms so it can get out of hand to keep up with who's plagiarized your content.

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zechtyounes profile image
zechtyounes

That's what I was thinking, that's why I mentioned @ben so he could check if there are other people in my case.

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greenroommate profile image
Haris Secic

Good story. I like when someone takes action because it prevents these kinds of persons from doing it again and again... at least for some time. I don't care if it's a simple article which could be written by any beginner in particular field or professionally written one. Taking someone else's and presenting as your own and not getting punished is a way for lazy people to get credit and use it later on leaving real workers in same position and maybe even marked as liars while the real thief enjoys results of the hard work. I don't consider IT only for this but real life.

As for distributing stuff like in giving away a copy of something to a friend for free I have a little less strict view but I respect the current situation and law about it. I like to share but I really do care about mentioning the author and giving credits. And if the author has a pretty restrictive license I'd rather not buy that particular item than to violate the "deal" that comes with buying it.

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damnjan profile image
Damnjan Jovanovic

Thank you very much, Muna for such a great article. I never thought about checking did any of my blog posts being plagiarized, but I'll do that from now on.

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munamohamed94 profile image
Muna Mohamed Author

Thank you Damnjan, you're too kind! I'm glad you found the article useful :)

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laralfield profile image
Lara

When faced with this same situation in the past, I would reach out to the infringer but start right away with a mention of a DMCA take-down notice. Doing this (even if they were not in the U.S., as a lot of hosts are U.S. based) was usually enough of a motivator for a manual take-down. Otherwise, most hosting providers offer a pretty powerful DMCA take down option directly on their sites.

Glad you found it and they were able to take final action with an email follow up. Thank you for sharing this for others!

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munamohamed94 profile image
Muna Mohamed Author

Hey Lara, thank you for the suggestion! I'll definitely keep this in mind for the next time this happens. It would save me from having to go back and forth to resolve the issue. How has this method worked out for you in the past?

Thank you for reading it, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and impart your wisdom about the topic. It'll serve as a helpful guide for others who may face or have faced a similar situation 🙂

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik

Happened to me about six months ago. What was surprising was that this guy was a TA at flat iron school. He plagiarized using synonyms. What gave it away was that he never bothered to change the title and while reading it the structure and articulation matched my article. It was not worth the effort to get him off so many sites on the web. My family stressed more about it than I did. All well known sites were reasonable and took it down post investigation. The only one that didn't clearly did not put in the effort to investigate.

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256hz profile image
Abe Dolinger

That's wild, do you know if Flatiron was notified? No way would they want to be associated with someone who did that.

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satoristudionet profile image
Andre

Regarding step 3 in your action plan: another free tool to use is Satori's Hosting Detector - it outputs more relevant information (even on regional domains) and does not display ads/popups :)

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lmuzquiz profile image
lmuzquiz

Thanks for sharing this