Safeguarding your content: Digital Fingerprint vs. Pingbacks

If you’re a regular here at SilverPen Publishing, you’re probably already aware that I license everything under Creative Commons, so I’m not necessarily against other people using my work. There are, of course, some restrictions, namely that they can’t make money off it, they can’t change my writing, and they have to attribute the work to me. If a person wants to take an entire article and put it on their blog, so long as they aren’t running advertising, have my name on there, and link back to this site, I don’t really care.

However, I have a deep and abiding hatred for spam blogs, or splogs as they are called, that scrape my content automagically and repost it on their site. Usually, these splogs are running advertising, but what’s worse to me is that there’s no real person behind the posting. Of course, someone had to set the blog up and put the scripts into motion, but after that it’s just an automatic scanning of the blogosphere to find content, copy it, and post it on the splog as if the owner had something to do with the process. What I work hard to create and maintain, they steal with no effort at all.

Usually, splogs have a wide variety of content, though when mine gets stolen it’s often about a specific topic. If I write about World of Warcraft, my content might end up on a WoW splog that aggregates a ton of the WoW-related news on the web. Technology stuff often ends up on splogs as well. What’s nice is that they copy everything out to put on their site, and that makes it easy to track.

A tool I have used extensively is called Digital Fingerprint, which allows you to put some unique text into your RSS feed which you can then search for via Google, et. al. and see if people are reposting your feed elsewhere. I like the concept of this plugin, and I continue to use it because I feel like it’s a decent deterrent, but the truth is that it offers false security. Every time I use Digital Fingerprint to see if my content is appearing anywhere other than where it should, it turns up nothing. If DF is to be believed, my content has never been stolen.

The plugin that does inform me that my blog has been scraped is the one not directly made for this purpose, and that is Akismet. Really, though, Akismet is just how I view the notification, because what really alerts me are pingbacks. A pingback is recorded by WordPress anytime someone links to one of your blog posts or pages, provided you leave pingbacks on when you publish something (they are on by default). Since Akismet maintains a vast database of spammers, when it picks up a pingback and keeps it from being posted on my site (usually pingbacks, or trackbacks, are posted below comments on a blog entry), I know that a splog has probably scraped my content. And my content, specifically the title of every blog entry, just happens to link back to my site.

By using Akismet, I can go out to the site to verify that it’s really a splog, and at the same time I click on the IP recorded by Akismet, which runs a quick whois check. If it’s a splog, I contact their web host asking that the account be terminated because the owner is stealing content and violating copyright. In my experience, the site is usually shut down within a couple of hours.

I’ve only had about half a dozen articles stolen so far, but it’s enough to keep me on my toes and checking Akismet regularly. Thankfully, it’s not hard to tell when your content has been stolen by using this method, but I would never have known if I just relied on Digital Fingerprint. The moral of the story is to always have more than one tool in your toolbox; if you rely on just a single method, chances are that someone will find a way around that method and you’ll be left in the dark.

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