What’s a Splog?
A splog or “spam blog” is a blog that steals content from other web sites, then aggregates and republishes all or some of the content on its own blog.
Splogs are created to promote and increase search engine ranking of affiliated web sites, and/or to make money from ads shown on the splog. Typically splogs are automated, but they can also be manual copy & paste. A recent study indicated that 56% of all blogs are spam, and there are over 575 thousand splogs reported.
Splogging is Stealing
Writing a decent blog article takes most people 1-8 hours (or more if there is research involved). Then a splogger comes along and republishes your entire article with only a few seconds of copy/paste or by using an automated tool. Visitors to the splogger’s site get the entire benefit of your work, but the splogger gets all the credit and ad revenue without incurring any cost himself. Sounds like the definition of stealing, doesn’t it?
If you are lucky, the splogger includes a link to your original article. In this case, a small percentage of the splogger’s viewers may click on to your site. But the damage has been done. It’s like software publishers who see a 50% sales drop the day the latest version of their software is cracked and available on Google.
Splogs also gum up Web searches with sites not actually relevant to the topic and push your blog further down in the results. There is also the so-called “duplicate content penalty” if the content on your site is duplicated on other Web sites. But with Google’s opacity, it’s difficult to determine if the duplicate content penalty is real or just another urban legend. Nonetheless:
Splogs effectively steal a portion of your blog’s search engine ranking, traffic and ad revenue.
Copyrights Protect Your Blog
Copyright is an intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship including literary works. Your blog is protected by copyright the moment you produce it in tangible form on your computer and then publish it on the Web. In other words, post a blog article, and it’s automatically and immediately copyrighted.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) extends copyright law to other countries that sign up, makes it illegal to circumvent anti-piracy measures, and increases penalties for copyright infringement on the Web.
The “fair use” rule of copyright law states that an author may make limited use of another author’s work without permission. The fair use privilege is the most significant limitation on a copyright owner’s exclusive rights.
The following factors affect whether publishing content without permission is considered fair use or infringement:
- Whether the original work was copied exactly or transformed into a new work
- Whether the motive to publish was for profit
- Whether the original author was cited and linked to
- Quantity of the original work published, both in terms of total words and as a percentage of the original work
- Quality of the original work published, in other words, whether the most important aspects were published
As a famous example of that last point, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that copying just 300 words from Gerald Ford’s 200,000 word memoir for a magazine article was NOT fair use, in spite of it being newsworthy, because it was the most important 300 words of Ford’s memoir: why he pardoned Nixon.
Tips on Fair Use
Here are a few Fair Use tips on publishing others’ work:
- Publish only a short excerpt, usually no more than 1-2 paragraphs
- Provide credit and/or link back to the original source
- Do not use more of the work than is needed to make your point
- Do not harm the commercial value of the work, so that viewers no longer need to click through to the original work to gain the bulk of its value
Splogging is Easy Money
Sploggers splog to make money and save time. Some sploggers truly believe they are not committing a crime or being unethical (see excuses below). Other sploggers realize they are doing wrong, but choose to do so anyway.
Sploggers can take advantage of the hard work done by thousands of authors and professionals at almost no cost. By automating the process, sploggers can produce hundreds of splogs at a time with little effort. Even if each splog makes only a few dollars a day from ad revenue, that can quickly add up when multiplied across hundreds or thousands of sites.
The Splogger Revealed
There are two classes of splogger:
The professional splogger runs hundreds of splogs, uses automated tools to steal and republish content, and spends most of his time managing the operation. Splogging is essentially a full-time job. These pros are constantly scouring the Web for fresh sites, following current events and the news closely, then vacuuming and aggregating content from thousands of blogs and news sites. This constant flow of new material is essential because some portion of the splogger’s sites are continually being shut down by search engines and Internet service providers.
On the other hand, the part-time splogger typically has a day job, family and other responsibilities. He runs a few blogs in his spare time, so he doesn’t have time to produce valuable original content himself (even if he can). Many part-time sploggers simply copy/paste the content by hand. Some will be nice enough to include a link back to the original article, typically to justify their actions or assuage their conscience.
The Dog Ate My Homework
There is a fundamental argument about whether all content (and software and music) should be free. As with all grand suggestions, there are significant advantages and disadvantages to an All-Free Web. I’ll save that discussion for a future article.
But copyright law says publishing content without permission is stealing, and many people know this. So why then do normally law-abiding citizens, who wouldn’t think about stealing a book from a Barnes & Noble store, have no trouble stealing a book-worth of content on the Web?
Typical excuses for splogging include:
- All content should be free.
- Content is intangible and therefore has no value.
- Republishing content is a victimless crime.
- Republishing content without permission is illegal??
- I’m doing the original author a favor by publishing it on more sites.
- I’m not doing this for the money.
- Everyone else is doing it.
- I didn’t see a copyright notice.
- I don’t have the time to produce original content.
- I don’t have the money to license original content.
- I lack skills.
- Because I can.
Sploggers are Pirates, and not the good Johnny Depp kind
Software piracy typically goes unnoticed unless a disgruntled employee or acquaintance implicates the pirate. But content piracy via splogging is stealing right out in the open for the world to see. It sounds crazy on paper, yet people do it because they can splog with relative impunity. And that’s because the worst case scenario for most sploggers is a cease & desist letter from a law firm. The DMCA allows for sizable criminal and civil penalties, but these are rarely seen.
If a splogger is found to have willfully published content without permission for commercial or private financial gain, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. Repeat offenders may be fined up to $1,000,000, imprisoned for ten years, or both.
Civil cases are tried in federal district court, which has broad authority to grant both injunctions and money. The court may close down all infringing Web sites and confiscate computers and software involved in the violation. The court can also award actual damages, profits gained from the infringement, and attorney’s fees. If the splogger commits another violation within three years, the court may award triple damages.
Protect Your Blog
There are a number of things you can do to help protect your blog from splogs:
- Post copyright notices prominently on your Web site. Consider adding a copyright notice to each blog post and RSS feed as well.
- In your blog posts, include plenty of links to related articles elsewhere in your blog. However, some new splog software will automatically strip links.
- Do not include your entire blog in RSS feeds. Instead, use the “More” tag. However, many readers don’t like partial feeds.
- Use an automated tool such as Copyscape to search for sites stealing your content.
- Insert a “watermark” code or series of keywords into your blog posts, then use a service like Google Alerts to notify you when those keywords appear elsewhere on the Web.
- Shame sploggers who steal your content by writing about them in your blog. However, this can actually improve their traffic.
- Aggressively pursue sploggers to stop them from stealing your content, and don’t give up until they stop.
- Report all splogs you encounter, even if the splog is not stealing your content.
The splog problem is too big for any one of us to solve, but we can work together to reduce this menace by reporting and fighting splogs. Note that it will take time, patience and persistence to stop a splogger. Many sploggers will ignore your initial communications with them.
Report Stolen Content: If somebody publishes your content on the Web without your permission:
- Send a “cease & desist” message to every email address and web form you can find on the splog site, demanding the infringed content be removed within 72 hours.
- Send a written cease & desist letter, if you are lucky to find a street address.
- File a DMCA complaint with the splog’s Web host.
- File a DMCA complaint with all of the search engines that appear on the splog, such as Google, Yahoo and MSN.
- As a last resort, get your attorney involved.
Report Splogs: If you see a splog, please report it!
Notify Google: You can also report a splog to Google right from the splog’s Web site:
- While viewing the splog, click on the “Ads by Google” link shown with any Google ad.
- Click the “Send Google your thoughts on the site or the ads you just saw” link. Note that the name of this link changes occasionally.
- Click the “Also report a violation?” link.
- Fill in the necessary information, and click the Submit button.
Good Blogs are an Endangered Species
With every great new technology (blog), there will be people ready to use it for nefarious purposes (splog). But together we can reduce splogging to help preserve and encourage publication of valuable, original FREE content on the Web.
- What to Do When Someone Steals Your Content
- Wall Street Journal: Splogs Roil Web, and Some Blame Google
- WIRED Magazine: Spam + Blogs = Trouble
- CNET: Tempted by blogs, spam becomes ‘splog’
- When Copying is OK: The Fair Use Rule
- 10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained
- Copyright Website
- Mark Cuban: A splog here, a splog there, pretty soon it ads up… and we all lose
Article published on June 5, 2007
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