The Wrong Kind of Copy: How Copyright Violations Can Affect SEO

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The Wrong Kind of Copy: How Copyright Violations Can Affect SEO

Our lives are never entirely our own. As much as we like to think of ourselves as this self-sufficient being fully capable of standing up on our own two feet and having independent thoughts, our existence is shaped, affected and influenced by our experience, knowingly and unknowingly. It is certainly possible for example that you’ve subconsciously adopted a popular character’s style of speech into your own or that you have unknowingly used a beat, a melody or a chord progression from a song you’ve always loved into your own. Your intention might be harmless but our copycat tendencies can lead into some problems if left unchecked.

Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke, the two central figures behind 2013’s hit song “Blurred Lines” was hit with a US$5 million fine by a judge in a lawsuit alleging that the two men plagiarized certain sections of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Got to Give It Up”. It’s not just in the world of music and entertainment, copyright infringement can also affect SEO negatively and it’s important for marketers and Melbourne SEO services to wrap their heads around the issue of copyright violation to make sure your overall marketing strategy went off without a hitch.

Big brother is always watching

In layman’s terms, copyright violations or infringements are cases in which a party uses contents made by other parties that go beyond the scope of fair use. The definition of fair use can be relatively nebulous, as is typically the case with legalese, but broadly speaking, works revolving commentary or criticism and parody falls under the general umbrella of fair use. Posting a notable line from a Graeme Simsion novel in your review or for example would be acceptable while publishing an entire chapter from that same book, even with proper attribution, might not be.

In terms of SEO, copyright infringement cases typically revolve around duplicate contents. Even as I’m typing this, it’s completely within the realm of possibility, although highly unlikely, that other websites have already said what I’m trying to say here in almost the exact same words even though I swear on my dog’s life that it was never in my intention to plagiarize someone else’s work. I might be able to tell the difference but search engines won’t and that will cause a problem down the line when search engines noticed two similar contents posted on different websites.

In a more sinister example, not everyone possess the capability to publish quality contents on a daily basis and every now and then, it’s quite common to see marketers taking the easy way out by taking other people’s work, subtly altering them, and passing off as your own. Search engines are sophisticated enough now to be able to dig through semantics so trust me when I say your thesaurus isn’t going to do you any good when it comes to creating contents. We are all in the business of creating fresh, unique and original contents and this is why search engines don’t take too kindly on plagiarism and copyright violations.

The dangers of plagiarism

The most obvious example is getting hit with a takedown notice from the original copyright holder, something that has apparently been on the rise in the past few years as more and more websites have popped up. In the latest Google’s transparency report, they stated that they’ve receiver over 4 billion takedown requests from 185,467 copyright owners and 173,398 reporting organizations and as the world’s population and the internet penetration rate grows, I’m willing to bet that this number is just going to get exponentially higher in the coming days.

Not all of those 4 billion requests are valid but when or rather if, Google deems the claim to be valid, the corresponding URL is delisted from Google search. Given Google’s current monopoly of the search landscape, being delisted by Google would be as if you’ve never existed in the first place which isn’t going to go over well when you’re trying to convince potential customers of your credibility. If that’s not alarming enough, know that in 2012, the search giant has explicitly announced that domains that have received a relatively high number of valid copyright removal requests are going to be ranked lower in search results.

Even if the original content creator never bothered to file a takedown notice to Google, remember that we live in a callout culture where even the slightest transgression from your part can be turned as a weapon to ridicule you and everything you stand for for posterity. There’s the case of F*ck Jerry of Jerry Media for example who’s been called out from stealing other people’s jokes and who was rightfully vilified for doing so in social media. The internet never forgets so consider what would happen if future potential customers decide to look you up on Google only to find something as embarrassing as accusations of plagiarism on the search results.

Staying on the high road

Philosophically speaking, avoiding the dangerous temptation of plagiarism is easy since all you have to do is not well, plagiarize but in practice, this can be hard. Writing isn’t something that can be summoned whenever you like as writer’s block is, and I’m saying this from experience, very much real. In times like these, I find it best to just write whatever comes to mind instead of limiting myself to a topic and doubling back once I’ve felt properly inspired.

The tricky thing is in shielding your content from being plagiarized. Remember, Google has no idea of telling which content is original when their algorithm stumbles upon duplicate contents. It’s not impossible for the original content creator to be the one hit with a ranking penalty instead of the offender so to avoid issues like this, make use of services like Copyscape which helps detect if copies of a certain page can be found on the web. The only way to combat plagiarism is to always be on the watch so you might want to start being more proactive in protecting the sanctity of your content, for a lack of a better word.