Plagiarism: No cure, but there is hope.
In what has to be an all-time low in internet scammery, there appears
to be a bevy of bandits intent on stealing whatever they can via the web.
These guys aren't as much into credit card fraud as they are into stealing
web content. If you've ever spent a few thousand hours hacking away at your
own digital baby, you know how frustrating it is to see your work on someone
Let me tell you: it sucks.
The worst part is that, unlike credit card fraud, there's no real dollars
and cents damage that can be assessed, so there's really no report you can
file with the local constable. In fact, there's hardly anyone you can complain
to. So web theft goes unpunished, largely because it's so unprovable, but
also because it's not nearly as sexy as, say, hunting down international
diamond thieves or nailing the latest set of millionaire kids who have bumped
off their parents.
But maybe that's okay. Maybe we're just all a little bit tired of going
through the system to find justice. Maybe we should look at this problem
a little less like Barney Fife and little more like Charles Bronson. Yeah,
that's it. So let's put together a nice little package that can trap even
the most annoying of web thieves. Keep in mind that none of these tips alone
can do very much, but working in concert, they can nail almost anyone, anywhere.
1. KEEP GREAT RECORDS. Next to keeping a loaded gun, keeping track of
what you produce and when you produced it is arguably the best antidote
to digital pilfery known to man. It also happens to be a lot easier and
less messy than using a gun, because your computer does almost all the work
for you, time-stamping the creation date of just about everything. Sure,
your average web thief can always set his clock to some weird creation date,
but the chances of that are relatively slim. After all, this guy's a thief.
He's lazy. If he weren't lazy, he'd be busy working, instead of stealing,
right? So do yourself a favor and keep a nice tidy archive of everything
you create. If you've got a burner handy, sear those digital suckers into
a CD-ROM where the manufacturer guarantees the data for 100 years. In the
event of a lawsuit, the judge will smile kindly upon you.
2. SET A DECENT TRAP. Look, if it works for cops, it might as well work
for you. I'm no lawyer, but I do have an advanced degree in sneakiness.
My sources tell me that you really have to get the goods on a plagiarizer
if you want to nab him. In many cases, the way to do that is to get the
thief to copy something that you know is there, but is so well hidden that
the thief copies it unknowingly. Whatever you decide to hide should be indelibly
identifiable as yours and one of the best examples that I can think of are
While software manufacturers like Digimarc offer you all kinds of neat
ways to weave your watermark into graphic files, I personally prefer the
cheaper, good old fashioned "Let Me Show You The Parts I Used to Build
It" technique. For example, if someone rips off a graphic of mine,
I can show possession of the original layered Photoshop file from which
the site graphic was created. I mean, it's easy to drag a GIF file from
my web site, but let's just see how well a thief can reverse engineer the
master Photoshop file. Hah!
3. STAKE 'EM OUT. One thing you should NEVER do is contact the offender
and ask him to please stop stealing. Yeah, that works. Just like in real
life, when you politely ask the guy sticking the gun in your ribs to please
not rob you. Come on, people, THE GUY STOLE FROM YOU. YOU GONNA TAKE THAT?
Of course not. Wise up. If you suspect you're being ripped off, DON'T contact
the offender -- stake him out. Make it a daily practice of archiving the
thief's pages over time, and wait patiently until the stolen goods are displayed.
Keep archiving the pages and you may even be able to establish a pattern
of thievery. Once you have that, you have a much better chance of proving
4. DON'T THREATEN A LAWSUIT. Threats? THREATS? Hey, did this guy THREATEN
to steal from you? No. So why you should you threaten a lawsuit? You know
what these guys do with letters that threaten lawsuits? I'll tell you what
they do: they stick them up on the wall and point their fingers at them
and laugh. Then they photocopy them and trade them over grape sodas with
the rest of their pointy-headed friends. Hey, if you really want vengeance,
er, justice, dispense with the formalities and sick your pit bull lawyer
on him with no warning. I know, lawyers don't work for free, but you can
bet that one hour's worth of "search and replace" ought to be
enough to customize the even the most boring boilerplate into a tailor-made
5. PLAY TO THE EGO. Most of these losers spend all too much time alone,
which should give you a clue as to the type of brain you're dealing with.
Still, you're going to need to get a name and address to serve the guy his
papers. If you can't track the creep down through 411, White Pages or some
other sleuthing service, you can always play to the guy's ego: send him
an e-mail or call him on the phone and construct some wild scheme about
how you want to send him money.
I know, it sounds dumb, but it works. One of the easiest methods is to
call and say, "I have a check here that must have been delivered to
the wrong address -- are you (NAME OF CREEP)?" Honest to aces, this
one works about 90% of the time. If that doesn't do it, try e-mailing a
sincere note that pours on the compliments about his web site. mention that
you would really like to buy a banner or sponsor a page. Tell him you're
ready to pay him up front.
You think he's NOT going to give you an address?
Hey, he's the thief. He's the dummy, not you. Unless, of course, you
continue to do nothing about it.
©1997, Rob Frankel