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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

How do you keep content unique?
when a lot of it is general knowledge?

 7:52 pm on Jan 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

I am in the planning stages of a content site. I expect to have 200-500 pages up by the end of the year, making the site the deepest in its niche.

Not having done this before, and being an honest person, I want to make sure that I am not accused of stealing content. Here's a theoretical example:

Let's say I build a site about dogs. I write a page about St. Bernards. On it I explain its behavior, the type of home you should give it, and its potential medical problems. Well let's face it, a lot of the info I put on that page will come not only from my own experiences, but also from what I have read in books, seen on TV, and read online.

I'm sure that many of you run into this. How do you do a good, honest job of providing rich content without sounding like someone else? Especially when -- in this example -- you know that another site is correct when they say that a St. Bernard is good with kids, might have weight issues, and needs a big yard to play in? You would be hard-pressed to write anything different...

How do you stay "original" and avoid getting sued/threatened? Thank you for your input.



 9:13 pm on Jan 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

Just don't copy anyone's wording. There are many subjects that have a great deal of "common knowledge." Rocks are hard. Chrome is shiny. As long as you use your own wording, you should be fine.

Of course, the more distinctive you can make your writing, and the more you can bring personal experience or unique information to bear, the more interesting your copy will be. I've known writers who could take a dry set of facts and, with the injection of some personal style, churn out distinctive, fun, readable copy.


 9:56 pm on Jan 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

St. Bernard is good with kids, might have weight issues, and needs a big yard to play in? You would be hard-pressed to write anything different...

As Long as you have a large yard or play area, St. Bernards, or as I call them Bernies, will be your childs best friend.


 10:11 pm on Jan 10, 2004 (gmt 0)

As Long as you have a large yard or play area, St. Bernards, or as I call them Bernies, will be your childs best friend.


Big and friendly, St Bernards like a yard so they can romp with the children.


 9:13 pm on Jan 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

There is nothing you can do to prevent someone coming after you!

I am there now. Did not copy, in fact my "general" information (which is in the public domain having been published before 1923) includes at least twice the information that another site has. Makes no difference.

Anyone who wants to can send your hosting service a DMCA letter alleging you have infringed. The way the DMCA is written, the ISP or hosting service has no alternative under the law but to take you site or page(s) down within a reasonable time - which means almost immediately - after receiving a DMCA notification unless you remove the material.

And, according to the DMCA, they do not even have to notify your first although, they must notify you afterwards.

You do have recourse to send a counter claim, but you are foolish to do this without first getting legal advice from a copyright/trademark attorney. If you don't know a copyright attorney, or can't talk to one right away, your site or pages will be taken down by your hosting service unless you remove the alleged material - almost immediately.

Doesn't matter even if your host thinks the claim is bogus. They can also be sued if they fail to remove the "offending" material or site.

Now, if you have deep pockets, it may be less likely, but if you are a small company with limited resources you are fair game because the cost to defend a copyright infringement on the internet, or anywhere else, is very costly.

go visit chillingeffects.org or anti-dmca.org. After reading a bit, it will prompt you to have the phone number of a copyright lawyer highlighted and starred at the top of you phone book - just in case. Be especially prepared if you rank well in search engines. The DMCA is being used by many (unscrupulous) people to stifle competition.


 9:23 pm on Jan 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

I don't know about the legal issues. As far as SEO, the search engines aren't going to penalize you for rewording what you saw on other sites. Most of what's out there isn't original.


 9:53 pm on Jan 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

Myabe not, but if your site is not accessible, because your host had to respond to a DMCA, it won't make a hill of beans difference whether a search engine would penalize you or not.

My point was that if you rank well, you are potentially more apt to become a victim of somone who can't, or doesn't take the time to learn how, to optimize as well.

<oops - type fixed>

[edited by: nancyb at 11:03 pm (utc) on Jan. 11, 2004]


 10:03 pm on Jan 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

>My point was that if you rank well, you are potentially more apt to become a victim of somone who can't

That's the downside of ranking well. Everyone wants to win.


 10:30 pm on Jan 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

I generally just use the web and research material to list, in bullet form, the salient points of the article I'm about to write. From there, without consulting any research material, I break each point down into logical sub-categories - this gives me a page structure that should be different from other resources. Then I flesh it out drawing on my research and experiences and actually write the article. I find that once the article is finished I like to leave it a week and then re-visit it again - normally at this stage I've moved on to other subjects so it's like coming in 'fresh' when reading the article again. I normally find that I end up rewriting many sections as a result and I'm (hopefully) not influenced by anything I may have read, say, the day before and thus inadvertently copy.

As rogerd pointed out, try to keep your own distinctive style of writing also. Particularly keep it 'in theme' with the rest of your site so that each page or subject is written in the same style as the others (where possible).



 4:35 am on Jan 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

As a programmer I learned that there was only one program, and all the others were variations. Content can fall into this same logic, particularly when the subject matter is broadly disseminated.

If your content were about "Structural Integrity of London Bridge" then I would think the amount of public information is limited, and plagiarism is something to be very concerned with. On the other hand, St. Bernards are so popular that nearly anything you write will have already been written.

I "research" my product nearly every day. I've seen a few things I wish I had done first. Some day I may incorporate those ideas into my own version of re-telling the story. At that time I will be sitting down with a blank piece of paper, and not with someone else's copy in my buffer.


 12:44 pm on Jan 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

So what every1 is saying, is that its very hard to protect your own site, as well as look out for people who could just steal your material and claim that you stole it from them... sounds terible for us hard-working web designers.

In the end, its the crafty no gooders that know all these slimy "tricks of the trade" with regard theft and getting away with it..


 4:20 pm on Jan 12, 2004 (gmt 0)


First I would switch to a differnt ISP, send a decease and desist order to the party in question. Maybe even find a ISP in a different country, to complicate the legal process for the offending party.

Once the other party, realize you are ready (or are going to pretend )to play hardball, they will backoff quickly and find another victim.


 7:47 pm on Jan 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

In addition to what lgn1 said, if your site is a money-maker, I'd look into counter-suing the other company for the money you lost by having your pages taken down because of their bogus claim. I don't think most lawyers charge you for that - they only take a percentage of what you make if you win. And it would send a clear message to your competition about messing with you or anyone else without a legit purpose. Anybody have a take on this?

[edited by: dougmcc1 at 9:34 pm (utc) on Jan. 12, 2004]


 8:48 pm on Jan 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I doubt if any lawyer would look at nancyb's problem on a contingency basis. The issues are too nebulous, and the damages are almost certainly too small. In addition, the target of the suit may be hard to find or have insufficiently deep pockets. Lawyers working for contigency fees like predictable outcomes (e.g., personal injury cases) or big payouts (class action suits against deep pocket defendants.)

Getting back to the point, any other advice on making content unique and preventing even the appearance of infringement?

One way coders do this is to use a "clean room" approach - the programmers aren't allowed to see the competitive code until they are finished. That way, they avoid unconscious copying as well as create a good defense if some code looks similar.


 1:53 pm on Jan 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

I make a living writing and also do web business.

As I scan this thread one thought comes out -- anything you read is reviewable.

Anything you review can be directly quoted.

When I am writing a page that is clearly about something that others know more about than me, I quote and reference and link.

In essence, if my page is clearly me talking, and clearly someone else talking (with quotes and a reference link), then it is perfectly OK to use and reference content, even if your page
promotes YOUR products.

It helps if your site as a whole is clearly original and looks that way from the gitgo.

Best, S


 11:12 am on Jan 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

I agree with steverose...our content site goes by the same guidelines, and instead of thinking these people will be your enemies, what a wonderful networking opportunity. Your site gets popular and you share the wealth(slightly) and add credibility to them by the quote...definitely a win/win situation. Often times it creates a reciprocal link back to your articles.

Make your site unique and edify others that know more than you about a subject.
my 2 cents...


 6:21 pm on Jan 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Great discussion. I myself churn out about three new articles per week. I just don't read what others have to say about a topic and write my own copy. Usually, my stuff turns out to be very original and at the same time I gain in the search engin wars, with my copy alone.

Now several people are asking me for the right to use my content.

I don't worry about others stealing from me. It has probably happened but why worry about something like that?

It's better to worry about getting the best content possible, as it keeps me on my toes and cosntantly one step before the competition.

If someone had read an article copied from my site elsewhere, and discovered my site after, they would simply realize who the copier was and who the real McCoy was.

Once you have a great body of work updated frequently, I find that Google knows it has to come to your site and archive your pages quickly. By the time someone puts a copy up, their page will be old comapred to mine.

What I've noticed instead, is many directory sites linking to my contents as way to grab some of my lustre.


 6:51 pm on Jan 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Harry your experience is not unlike mine. In my prior note I was just referring to a way of avoiding getting zapped. (Win-Win) But I would agree it is easier in most cases, if we know what we're doing, just to do it. The more the better.

It helps if you have a good menu system so that even if a page you've done relates to something very specific the reader knows what else is around. I recently converted my page template to allow access to all topical site menus from every page and I'm already noticing the effect in terms of movement.

Cheers, S


 8:22 pm on Jan 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

I agree about the menu system.

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