Monday, 30 July 2012

Watermarks for plagiarised digital content

There is a long-standing practice on the web of stealing other people's content without permission, scrubbing it of all identifying marks and passing it off as your own. It's despicable plagiarism of the most blatant kind, but people are getting away with it, for the most part, because it's really hard to track down and enforce. That's never going to change. The closest you can come to detection is watermarking, but of course people are going to remove that if they know it's there. The best you can hope for is a watermark nobody even notices. Doing that to an image or video is hard. Watermarking text is harder.

Well, Robert Evans, writing for, did so. I don't know whether it was intentional, but I noticed something in the middle of an article. The trick was to mention the name of the original site directly as part of the natural flow of the text. Deliberate or not, it worked as textual watermarking, both to point out the practice and to identify the true source of the material. The sentence fragment was "...whether you're reading this on or on one of the many Indian blogs that steals our content..." and, sure enough, those same content-stealing blogs lifted the entire quote as part of their theft. Now anyone who came across the stolen version might have a moment's pause and say "hang on, reading this where?"

Mokalus of Borg

PS - That is, if people even notice what website they're on.
PPS - Apparently, most people don't.

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