Ethics of Blogiarism

There’s been quite a bit of discussion lately across the blogosphere on “blogiarism,” the practice of cutting and pasting content from one blog onto your own without any link, attribution, editing or commentary in order to drive readers to your own advertising revenue.

Clearly, such practice amounts to plagiarism and is unethical. While the blogging medium certainly makes it easy to cut & paste & post to your own site, as if the words were your own, proper attribution is always required. Even for blogs that don’t add any new commentary to the original posts (see, for example, Ed Felton’s Freedom to Tinker DashLog), they provide a service of aggregating relevant posts from across the web, while providing a by-line and link to the original post.

Some are angered further, however, by the fact that blogs who steal content are also stealing their potential advertising revenue. This, too, is a valid claim, but only to a point. Repurposing of content seems to be a standard practice among blogs, and while I might say “this is cool” when pointing and quoting someone else’s text, is it unethical for me to make money if a reader happens to click on an advertisement on my site rather than the originator’s? I’m not so sure.

Jeff Jarvis goes further by arguing that this is tantamount to click fraud and that blog providers, like Google’s Blogger should be held responsible. In the comments of Jeff’s original post, I questioned how this is actually click fraud, wondering if it is any different than iFilm posting the Jon Stewart Crossfire clip on their site (presumably without permission from the copyright holder) and making money off of their own on-site advertising. Jeff’s reply is that the key difference is that blogiarism “takes any content with the sole purpose of defrauding Google Adsense and the people who pay for ads there. It is clickfraud.”

I simply don’t follow this logic. While I find blogiarism highly unethical, I don’t think it inherently “defrauds Adsense and the people who pay for ads.” If blog XYZ steals content from ABC, that is wrong. If a reader sees the content on XYZ and clicks on an ad for company 123, that still is a valid click – no click fraud has occurred. Company 123 paid to have an ad placed alongside certain content, and whether that content was read at XYZ or ABC, company 123 still received a valid click from a reader who is genuinely interested in its products.

Blogiarism is unethical. But I don’t see how it necessarily leads to click fraud.

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