My posts today on SecurityRatty inspired a bit more debate than I expected. A number of commenters asked if someone still links back to my site, how can I consider it theft? What makes it different than other content aggregators?

This is actually a big problem on many of the sites where I contribute content. From TidBITS to industry news sites, skimmers scrape the content, and often present it as their own. Some, like Ratty, aren’t as bad since they still link back. Others I never even see since they skip the linking process. I’ve been in discussions with other bloggers, analysts, and journalists where we all struggle with this issue. The good news is most of it is little more than an annoyance; my popularity is high enough now that people who search for my content will hit me on Google long before any of these other sites. But it’s still annoying.

Here’s my take on theft vs. legal use:

  1. Per my Creative Commons license, I allow non-commercial use of my content if it’s attributed back to me. By “non-commercial” I mean you don’t directly profit from the content. A security vendor linking into my posts and commenting on it is totally fine, since they aren’t using the content directly to profit. Reposting every single post I put up, with full content (as Ratty does), and placing advertising around it, is a violation. I purposely don’t sell advertising on this site- the closest I come is something like the SANS affiliate program which is a partner organization that I think offers value to my readers.
  2. Thieves take entire posts (attributed or not) and do not contribute their own content. They leech off others. Even if someone produces a feed with my headlines, and maybe a couple line summary, and then links into the original posts I consider that legitimate.
  3. Related to (2), search engines and feed aggregators are fine since they don’t repurpose the entire content. Technorati, Google, and others help people find my content, but they don’t host it. To get the full content people need to visit my site, or subscribe to my feed. Yes, they sell advertising, but not on my full content, for which readers need to visit my site.
  4. In some cases I may authorize a full representation of my content/feed, but it’s *my* decision. I do this with the Security Bloggers Network since it expands my reach, I have full access to readership statistics, and it’s content I like to be associated with.
  5. Many people use large chunks of my content on their sites, but they attribute back and use my content as something to blog about, thus contributing to the collective dialog. Thieves just scrape, and don’t contribute.
  6. Thieves steal content even when asked to cease and desist. I know 2 other bloggers that asked Ratty to drop them and he didn’t. I know one that did get dropped on request, but I only found that out after I put up my post (and knew the other requests were ignored). I didn’t ask myself, based on reports from others that were ignored.

Thus thieves violate content licenses, take full content and not just snippets, ignore requests to stop, and don’t contribute to the community dialog/discussion. Attributed or not, it’s still theft (albeit slightly less evil than unattributed theft).

I’m not naive; I don’t expect the problem to ever go away. To be honest, if it does it means my content is no longer of value. But that doesn’t mean I don’t reserve the right to protect my content when I can. I’ve been posting nearly daily for 2 years, and trying to put up a large volume of valuable content that helps people in their day to day jobs, not just comments on news stories. It’s one of the most difficult undertakings of my life, and even though I don’t directly generate revenue from advertising I get both personal satisfaction and other business benefits from having readers on my site, or reading my feed. To be blunt, my words feed my family.

The content is free, but I own my words – they are not in the public domain.