Content marketing – Plagiarism is not repurposing


This blog is not the blog I originally intended for today.

It was meant to be about the startling proliferation of parallax websites (a blog that may well follow in the near future).

In researching that subject I found this blog, written by Jaymes Brown in 2013:
What Is Parallax Web Design?

It’s a good blog, though the world of parallax websites has moved on a bit since it was written, as I am sure Jaymes would accept.

His piece contains a number of useful bullet points of the pros and cons of parallax websites, including this memorable phrase:

“Wow viewers with page depth and animation”

As I read around the subject further, I noticed this phrase kept cropping up across several high-ranking sites about parallax design.

So I searched in Google for that specific phrase, using quotes.

James’ article was the first listed and the earliest dated, but it was followed by 315 other results all using his distinctive phrase. And all – as far as I can tell – were about parallax sites.

Beyond the first page, according to the samples I checked, most people used that one comment in copy that was otherwise different enough to be acceptable. Homage rather than plagiarism.

But the articles on page one seem to have ripped off the original article word for word. These included blogs on digital marketing agency websites, a couple of LinkedIn Pulse articles by so-called digital gurus and few personal blogs, which, if not exact copies, were certainly heavily influenced by the original – in much the same way that Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho was ‘influenced’ by Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece. 

In a world where we all share and like other people’s content does this really matter?

Of course it bloody does!

It’s plagiarism. Or, to be less squeamish about it, theft.

Kenneth Goldsmith (no, me neither) has apparently said “In the digital age it’s not plagiarism, it’s repurposing.”

What nonsense.

Repurposing is taking your own content and using it in different ways and formats.

Research is using insights from a number of sources and providing references as appropriate.

Copying chunks of text or whole articles is unethical and counterproductive.

And if a company is willing to cheat in that way how else are they conning their customers?

Content is a great marketing tool for demonstrating to prospects and customers to recognise your thought leadership and expertise.

But it has to be your expertise, your thought leadership.

We all have to do research, that’s how I uncovered all this in the first place. And my previous blog on the best time to send email marketing campaigns was a summary of other people’s work combined with my observations. But I credited my sources and used my own words.

These guys have done nothing smarter than a cut and paste job.

I’m seeing more and more of this. Earlier this week, an HR consultant I follow on Twitter highlighted someone who had used an old article as his first Pulse entry. I hope the public shaming means the offending post will be taken down. Of LinkedIn’s many faults at the moment, the endemic plagiarism on its Pulse platform is perhaps the worst.

Can content plagiarism be addressed?

I always advise my clients to ensure their content is unique, even to the point of using somewhat different versions of their articles on Pulse and their own blogs.

For SEO benefits alone this is good practice. Google is said to penalise duplicate content where it finds it and I’ve seen this happen when one of my clients allowed a publication to reproduce one of its blogs with no changes.

So why the numerous blogs that reproduce Jaymes Brown’s content word for word are still being listed I have no idea. It seems that Google is failing us in that regard.

But we can do something.

As decent, professional marketers, we can identify those who plagiarise and call them to account. I’ve put comments where I can and emailed some of the companies that have repeated the article.

I’m pleased to say that within five minutes of me highlighting the issue to one digital agency they took the entire blog section of their website down and started an investigation.


Personal note: This blog was written at speed and in anger. It may get a second edit in the near future.