Marketing Sherpa has some great case studies of people doing business on the web. Recently they’ve noticed a lot of people stealing their content. Unfortunately, new technology has made it really simple.
Both of my major clients, BestPlaces and Who2 have also had their content pilfered, almost never with attribution. Take the first sentence of any Who2 profile and run it through your favorite search engine. Most of the results (no pictures, but still may not be safe for work) are whole copies. The same is true of BestPlaces.
And it doesn’t take much to automate this process of screen-scraping. With so much information available for free on the internet, it’s easy to imagine the thieves might not even think it is wrong. I even understand the thought that there isn’t much difference between us giving it away for free and them giving it away for free. I don’t agree, but I do understand.
For smalltime sites, there is no real recourse. Even with a service like CopyScape, it would take too much time to contact the thieves directly. Add to that the fact that some of the results are official partners who pay money or otherwise have been given the right to use the content and the problem of protecting one’s intellectual property becomes all the more time-consuming. We do not have the ability to automate the legal process the way a content thief can. It would be extremely embarrassing to send a cease and desist to a partner.
So far, the answer has been to maintain some elements that are just not copyable (or at least make less sense to copy). At BestPlaces, we have the comparisons between places, as well as a few program-driven tools. Who2 has links between profiles, as well as fun connections between famous people in the form of “loops.”
Basically, my approach to content thievery has been similar to my karmic laissez-faire search engine optimization beliefs: put good, original stuff out there and people will find you.