There’s an “Angry Journalist” (specifically Angry Journalist #8010) out there who has come up with an interesting solution for preventing bloggers from stealing his/her content (let’s just say “his” for the sake of simplicity). Of course, by “interesting” I mean “insane,” but more on that later. Here’s what he writes:
I’m angry that nobody wants to hear my simple solution to the ‘they’re stealing our work’ problem. Here it is: Instead of posting stories online as HTML text, which can be read by search engines and copied-and-pasted by anyone, just convert the text to an watermarked image of the text. It would appear no different to the reader (except for the watermark, which could include a copyright notice), but nobody could copy the text (to paste elsewhere) because it would be a .jpg or .gif file and not text. If they copy/paste the text-image then the watermark and copyright notice have to go along for the ride. Search engines couldn’t read it without OCR processing, which they wouldn’t do (except for the largest major market papers) because that’s processor-intensive and they’re rather just steal from the next source than go to the trouble of transcribing yours. Problem solved (no charge).
In short, AJ8010 wants all copy text to appear as an image on his Web site, thus preventing search engines (and the people who use them) from finding them. In a later post, he writes:
If I want my stories cataloged by a search engine so they’ll send hits my way to read my stories and SEE MY ADS, then I’ll gladly send them a feed of tags in whatever format they need. They all have back doors for that purpose. But bloggers won’t be able to steal my text and reuse it without my ads because there won’t be any machine-readable text at the deep links I provide to the search engines.
Now on to why I think this journalist is barking up the wrong tree: Not only will bloggers be able to embed his JPEGed articles onto their blogs as he notes (still bypassing his ads for their readers), but he obviously has no real understanding of how search engines work.
- Here are a few points I think he should consider:
- Bloggers will almost always cite where they get their news. Most people want to validate their arguments by saying things like “Hey, see? This was in the Times!” Also, though perhaps to a lesser extent, no one wants to take the blame for writing something that’s potentially inaccurate or controversial, so they give credit where credit is due. If anything, bloggers might end up driving more traffic to AJ8010′s site, particularly traffic that wouldn’t have gone there to begin with. Why pass up free advertising?
- If bloggers are such a threat that their actions are noticeably taking away from his readership, AJ8010 should spend this time and energy trying to figure out why he and his news site aren’t getting more traffic. The key is to entice people to read your articles, not punish the few who were so enticed they decided to post your work on their own blogs. Logic dictates that people would prefer to read the news from the source, and not just from a blogging “middleman.” So if a blogger intrigues his or her readers with your work, those readers will eventually go to your site.
- Search engine optimization: Let’s look at Google because it’s the big dog right now. Google’s algorithms still read meta tags, page titles, and URLs, but they put huge value on what’s visible on a page because that’s what readers want and because that’s what readers will see. If there is no or little text available with the article, Google will simply throw it out. Also, even if Google keeps the article, its ranking in a search will be lowered considerably because so many important key words from the article have now disappeared. (If you’re one of my students, you’ll remember my discussing all of this during our talk on search engine optimization. If you’re not one of my students, you can read a quick overview in the Week 2 lecture.)
- What about visually impaired readers who require larger fonts, or the blind who use text-to-audio software to get their news?
- By passive-aggressively only posting articles as JPEGs, AJ8010 will only end up sending whatever readers he has left away from his news site. People expect a certain freedom on the Web. If they don’t get it, they go elsewhere. Even if AJ8010 writes for a small-town paper, there are surely other regional papers or those from neighboring towns that wouldn’t mind absorbing his online readership. Print is suffering and newspapers are hungry.
Angry Journalist image courtesy of Gawker.
All in all, I suspect AJ8010 is only going to hurt his readership. But what do you think? Does he have a case? On one hand, we’ve seen extensive digital rights management in the realm of music and movies–why not print? On the other, we’re now seeing a trend away from DRM, particularly with iTunes because DRM only really hinders those who buy music or DVDs legally–those who take these things illegally always find a way to get around DRM.
So, what do you think?