Why Do Webmasters Steal?

Stephen Yagielowicz

While I'm sure that I can expect howls of indignation from those who will feel as though I've just trodden upon their virginity, or attempts at justification from those who would try to obfuscate the truth of the matter, disguising outright theft with innocent phrases like "simply inspired by," "public domain," or "fair use," the question remains.

And lest you think that this is some "Holier than Thou" rant by yet another Webmaster who feigns outrage over the suggestion that not every last bit of data he spews upon the world is his own exclusive creation, the truth is that I too have "glommed" a tidbit or two over the years from sites that I have admired, whether it was a background image or flashing "NEW!" button that found its way into my Web Art folder, a snippet of JavaScript that went from 12k to 2k after the judicious editing of its credit and return linking information, or a seriously cool banner ad that I was sure would send much more traffic to MY sponsor than the one it was initially made for:

Simply Growing Pains?
While such past offenses can be attributed to "growing pains" and ignorance within an industry that I have been a part of long enough to remember that the "best" (or at least most common) advice given to newbies seeking to learn the trade was "to look at other site's source code, and take what you want" and "you don't need to worry about content, just grab what you want from Usenet or off the Web; it's all Public Domain."

While this advice is no longer handed out (at least not with the public regularity that it once was), it seems sometimes that these practices (and other, worse ones) are as popular now as they ever were. In fact, in a recent poll I discovered that nearly 40% of the respondents admitted to "borrowing" content they found on the Web, and while that number is shockingly high, I suspect that some of the other 60% of respondents were somewhat less than truthful in their replies.

A Few Recent Examples
For those who would defend the purity of our Industry, holding forth the claim that it is merely a few bad apples spoiling the bunch, here are some of my recent personal observations that led me to the conclusion that the shenanigans of dishonest Webmasters still run rampant today:

> There's a guy in Russia who stole one of my sites. He copied all of the Web pages, downloaded all of the photos and graphics, the custom FPA and my AVS Join Page; everything! He simply changed the site name and then put it on his own server. He even uses the same AVS (and sponsors too!) to make money from it. How do I know? The commie bastard didn't change all of the AVS script links, and so I get paid for quite a few of his sales! A fact revealed to me by studying the AVS' "sales referrer" stats:

> Lot's of folks contact me and ask for my opinions on their sites. Two of these requests led me to sites that incorporated several of my pages (complete with original graphics) within them. One ass-monkey even offered to write articles for XBiz — detailing the workings of "his" killer new site. I was quite excited, until I visited it, and found that it was basically MY sites with his logo on it! Dawn Elizabeth wanted me to publicly crucify this numb nuts here in a particularly scorching expose' ~ but this blurb is all the attention that he'll get from me. The best we may realistically hope for is that our industry nurtures an environment that fosters original, innovative creativity, rather than one that eagerly rewards theft, duplication, and laziness.

> Two of the message board threads I read yesterday dealt with "theft" in the guise of bogus TGP operators diverting up to 70% of their outbound clicks to "circle jerk" schemes, and a spammer who was trying to be cute while pushing his targeted Web image harvesting script as a tool for Webmasters who wished to save money on content purchases. That's one quick and easy way to build a pay site:

A Ready Solution?
While it's quite obvious that not "all" Webmasters (adult or otherwise) engage in these activities, it doesn't take one long to realize that those "few bad apples" are very busy indeed. Doubtless some will feel that litigation or legislation is the answer, but the practical reality is that it is not a worthwhile endeavor for me to pursue a teenager in Croatia for "borrowing" my META tags, nor will it necessarily be worthwhile for you to bring legal action against a broke TGP gallery owner for displaying your content. The best we may realistically hope for is that our industry nurtures an environment that fosters original, innovative creativity, rather than one that eagerly rewards theft, duplication, and laziness. The choice is ours.

As an end note, I had considered making this editorial a more in-depth account of some of the ways people use to cheat sponsors, surfers, and other Webmasters, and some preventative measures that can be used to mitigate them. I realized though that it would likely do more harm than good by giving "bad ideas" to those who might let temptation get the best of them.
~ Stephen

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