The Blogger’s 10 Commandments of Don’t Steal Our Shit

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 079


Last week, an otherwise very awesome week ended on a very strange note, as blog content stealing ran rampant. I’m fairly sure this is not what’s meant by The Season of Giving.

First, a new “mom” website, naively filled their entire site with other people’s blog posts in their entirety, sincerely believing (according to their emailed apology to me) that they were under the impression that was tooootally fine as long as they linked back to the original source.

Man, if that were true, I’d just fill an entire blog with posts from The Bloggess and Perez Hilton, maybe throw in a few recipes from The Pioneer Woman, and call it a day.

That same day, a major (major) website-slash-search engine which should totally know better, presented a tech holiday gift guide, oddly with every single one of their suggestions straight from the Cool Mom Tech Holiday Guide and without attribution. I’ll give them we weren’t the only ones to recommend a Sony Cybershot for Christmas, but when you get into obscure laptop bags and crocheted Android amiguri dolls from Etsy artists, all signs point to Stolen.

Again, I got sincere, and far more prompt apology from a senior editor, attributing the uncredited “inspiration” to a junior freelancer who clearly got her J-school degree through the mail, from some Eastern Bloc online course.

Of course when some of us raised the issue on Twitter, our fine friends and followers got in on the action, because bloggers don’t like when people steal their shit; and maybe even more so, bloggers don’t like it when people steal other bloggers’ shit.

Two words: Cooks Source.

And yet, there were also people in my Twitter stream honestly surprised to discover that the entire web is not public domain.

Therefore, for those of you that still don’t understand how all this stuff works, I thought I’d put together this handy Blogger’s 10 Commandments of Don’t Steal Our Shit.

1. Stealing is wrong. So don’t steal our shit.

2. What we write here? On our blogs? Our shit. Don’t steal it.

3. As Alice Bradley wisely said, “go write your own shit.”

4. Blogs are not in the public domain. Mathematical formulas are, but blog posts are, most of the time, not mathematical formulas. If we were smart enough to write mathematical formulas, we wouldn’t be here, complaining about people stealing our shit.

5. Copyrighted material is protected by international law. Which is defended by lawyers. Therefore, don’t steal our shit.

6. Stealing shit is so 2008.

7. Stealing our shit hurts writers emotionally, not just financially.

8. Stealing our shit is wrong even on National Content Stealing Day.

O Story Story Content Stealing Badge


(images sent to me via Sean at OStoryStory who is awesome.)

9. See how I credited OStoryStory for that image? That is the definition of not stealing someone’s shit.

10. Please don’t steal our shit. Which isn’t really a commandment as much as a plea for decency, should the first 9 commandments fail to make an impact.

I hope that maybe one person out there finds this helpful.


63 thoughts on “The Blogger’s 10 Commandments of Don’t Steal Our Shit”

  1. I’ve known not to steal shit, whether on the internet or elsewhere, since I was 10 years old and got busted at KMart for swiping a tube of ugly lipstick. And most of our blog posts are way prettier than that lipstick. But I just like how many times you were able to incorporate the word ‘shit’ into a post. That made my day.

  2. I saw your tweet to Scary Mommy about the stolen post and I am not kidding, that very day I found a trackback to one of my posts that was scraped! Same thing — her whole site was comprised of craft tutorials and recipes that she had stolen. How can people be so dumb? The feeling I got when I saw it was infuriating! But I used my diplomatic ninja skills and she took it down. My team of twitter buds going after her probably helped persuade her as well.

  3. Finally, an idiot-proof guide to not stealing people’s shit. But there are plenty of assholes out there who will still take stuff just because they think they can.

  4. I’d never heard of the Cook’s Source controversy – that was some fascinating reading!

    As long as material is made widely available in an arena like this, it will be stolen by people who are lazy, ignorant, or shitty, and, unfortunately, the best policy is to shame them, en masse, because the alternatives have little degrees of success.

    1. Ha. I also spend a good chunk of time reading up on that. I remember hearing about it at the time, but not looking into it.

  5. Yeah! What Liz said!

    But one thing to clarify: Folks are welcome to link to blogs, even with a short excerpt. That’s not stealing. Hiding attribution at the bottom of the page? That shows intent to pass it off as one’s own. If you like it so darn much, introduce it to your readers with your own clever words of endorsement. And then link them over to where they can read the good stuff.

    The apology letter made me laugh. I’m just a little saddened by the naivete of someone who believes that what’s missing online is a brand new site that pulls together a bunch of content for moms.

  6. Liz, yet another reason why I am obsessed with you. 🙂 Rock Star with a ‘tude!

  7. I couldn’t believe it when you tweeted about the two thefts… on one day! It boggles the mind.

    For the record, I have written mathematical formulae… and I would still be pretty pissed if someone stole a post. I’d probably even write a post complaining about it. But it wouldn’t be as funny as this one!

    I hope 2012 is International Don’t Steal Other People’s Writing Year!

  8. When I first saw your tweet, I thought it was just that the new blogger had taken ideas from several people and called them her own. (Still bad.) But then I followed the links and saw that she was even posting pictures of other people and passing them off as her own. Not only is that wrong, but it’s just creepy.

    I worked as a TA for introductory English classes in undergrad, and those kids were always confused about citations (maybe because every discipline has to prioritize things differently, but my beef with the MLA and APA is for a different post). However, while citation style can be confusing, I think they all understood the importance of attribution in some form. Hopefully they’ll remember it as professionals and/or as people who access and share information in the future.

    1. I agree that it’s creepy. Also? Kinda lazy. I mean, the guide lifted by a freelancer? Did that person get paid to copy and paste?

  9. Excellent post! I think I’m going to use those commandments in my Freshman Writing class…

    Also, wouldn’t it be nice if, just as a courtesy, if you *did* mention someone else’s work and linked to it, you would send them an e-mail saying so & thanking them for their work? (Are those kinds of professional courtesies ridiculous to hope for?)

    1. Hm, I’m going to say no on that one. I think it’s complicated. Overall, the link itself serves as the acknowledgement (or courtesy) that you admire the work or are commenting in it.
      That said there are lots of different situations. If I hate a post a friend wrote and am writing a response, I would probably give them a heads up. If I want to syndicate someone’s feed for a professional site, I would ask permission. But like here, I linked to a bunch of bloggers but didn’t email them about it first. They’ll see it on their stats.

      Anyone can feel free to disagree!

      1. I’ve written to people on Flickr even when they’ve given permission to use their photos. And I always appreciate when someone does the same when grabbing a photo or linking to my posts. But I’m a small fry and most of the people doing that will be. We just don’t handle the same volume or receive the same amount of discourse in comments or link-backs.

        I will say, however, that it’s a huge encouragement for new-bloggers or photographers to know they are being noticed and appreciated. Whenever I used photos from photogs in Sunset Park, BK they were thrilled to get the attention.

        1. Great point! I know Cool Mom Picks always asks permission to use Flickr photos as well. That is definitely the right thing to do.

      2. I agree. They’ll see it in their stats and/or via a pingback, so no need to notify. However, I do sometimes let people know in advance if I am planning to link to them regarding something controversial and offer them to opportunity to clarify and/or explain a decision/point they made. Sometimes they give me a quote for my post that provides context, sometimes they get pissy and write a nasty reply post, and sometimes they are just appreciative of the heads’ up so that they can engage in the conversation.

        1. I have to say, having Annie link to one my posts is always the nicest surprise of the week, if not month. No notice necessary – the results instantly tell me what happened.

  10. Man, look what I miss by not being on Twitter. I guess this kind of shit is the long-term consequence of burnt-out high school English teachers letting students copy and paste Wikipedia entries for their term papers.

  11. The whole thing was preposterous. I’m not sure why she thought no one would notice that she was using entries (and very recent ones) from lots of very well known bloggers. If you’re going to steal (which you shouldn’t) I would think you wouldn’t be so obvious about it.

    How did you ever find it in the first place?

  12. I stole industrial staples from Strike-It-Rich Bargain Store when I was in the fourth grade. It has haunted me since then.

    I’ve never been quite able to send that in to Post Secret so I feel much better now. Thx and I ditto every one of your rules!

  13. I started a new blog this weekend and had the first post reported in its entirety on another site. I left a comment to that affect and asked for it to be removed. No, my comment was removed but the post is still there. I also noticed quite a few other posts reported from other sites. How do I get my content off another site?

  14. Sadly, it is now part of my monthly routine to do google searches for my own content and then spend half a day sending emails politely requesting that people remove full posts from their site. I usually get a few PAGES of results.

  15. That was definitely awesome!!I think all bloggers can relate to this so much!

  16. Having a lawyer specialized in intellectual property rights for a husband has taught me a few nice words to put in such emails. Nice long, official sounding words that scare the crap out of thieves. Mwahahahaha!

  17. On vacation w family, 60 cents a minute for wifi and I am still reading mom 101 – dedication 🙂

    Awful what happened, love the list, and surprised how many people are so naive….I had a few posts that I write for another site scraped and also found out through stats == when asked to remove, they did not even apologize so at least you go an “I’m sorry”

    1. Was wondering when that would come up…

      They seem to have learned from it. It’s amazing that others still haven’t.

      1. you say that as though it doesn’t deserve to be brought up. because they “learned” to stop stealing images of kids from flickr? Funny, most people learned that in kindergarten.

        there’s a significant difference between the “new mom website” you’re condemning and the $40 million Disney enterprise founded by individuals who spent years at Nerve encouraging image theft and the removal of watermarks (leaving a trail of bitter photo editors to contact me with all the details) and when caught blamed it on some intern. They didn’t learn; they finally got caught.

        I know, though, bygones, right? Because so many of our friends work there now?

        1. I don’t know that they’ve learned. Last week one of their bloggers linked to a video I made, but just helped herself to one of my photos as an image for her post without attributing the image to me until I complained about it. I’ve heard of a few other incidents recently too.

          1. Perhaps I stand corrected then? Sounds like a website with at-will posting and no editors then needs to host a workshop for their writers on fair use and copyright.

            Or just send them here? Heh.

            1. I’m not sure what type of guidelines and training they hjave for their writers, but I do think the combination of lots of new writers, pressure to publish 5x per week, and insufficient editorial oversight can lead to a lot of “oops” situations, ranging from grammar errors to stolen stuff to inappropriate content.

        2. You make some good points Jim. Also there was this, only a couple months ago

          But what I saw in that case was swifter action and profuse apology which makes me think that yeah, maybe lessons were learned. You weren’t the only one with beefs then; I remember the early days when their Stroller Derby posts inspired by Cool Mom Picks posts, had the hat-tip links to CMP taken down summarily by editors and confessed to me by their writers who were none to happy about it. Some even told me that they were instructed to excerpt our own posts..but not to credit the source.

          So yeah, bad memories.

          But having friends there now doesn’t make a bad history a “bygone” per se…my trust will always be more guarded. But but I think having friends there who I know have integrity do make me hope for that kind of BS to be in shorter supply going forward.

          Yes? No?

          1. I won’t equate the ability to buy up a number of prominent and respected voices (right before a major sell off) with integrity.

  18. That copy past graphic is awesome! I don’t get it. I just don’t. Then I don’t get why I watched a bus driver with a bus full of kids toss a slim jim wrapper out his window on to my car this morning as I drove past him either.
    Stealing, wrong. Littering, wrong. Breaking the law, wrong. Eating your veggies, right.

    1. Agreed. Amen! I don’t understand in this day in age how anyone thinks they can get away with posting other people’s content without attribution. Then again, I don’t understand why I am nearly wiped out every morning by crazed mini-van drivers during the AM drop off at my son’s school.

  19. Ah, scraping. What I love about this community is that I have people like you (and also Heather and Whitney of Rookie Moms) who have my back and have notified me of scraping of my work from time to time. It’s so frustrating. Especially when it’s on some bizarre publishing platform where no contact info is available and you can’t contact the author or leave a comment until you sign up for the site. #stupid

    I definitely think that there are entities that scrape and do so knowingly, AND I think there are well meaning people/entities who don’t have common sense about this (this is not saying it’s OK, just presenting another perspective). I just advised a (very, very large) organization about fixing their practice of doing just this — they were happy to link attribute but would republish a blogger’s post in full. I told them how bad this was (and to instead direct link or include a short excerpt and then link to remaining) and they were completely embarrassed/apologetic and fixed the practice immediately.

  20. “And yet, there were also people in my Twitter stream honestly surprised to discover that the entire web is not public domain.”

    Yes indeed! Most people, especially interns just out of college that I’ve managed as an editor, haven’t a clue. As an editor, it’s my job to tell them that it’s not OK to “borrow” someone’s photography and what (free and paid) stock photography is all about.

    When in doubt, ask permission! You’d be surprised how often people say, “Yes you can use my photography or recipe as long as you link back to me.”

  21. What’s sad about this is that I just had to have this conversation with my nine year-old daughter as she embarked on her first ever “research” report. I am fine with having to explain to a child why plagiarism is wrong and how to use footnotes and a bibliography to credit your sources. But, to have to school editors and journalism grads is sad. Maybe they could use an MLA Handbook at the very least.

  22. Anyone can figure out that you just need to link back to give credit.. And Fair Use laws mean that you can only include a few sentences (with linking back). Linking back is also a way to show that you give back to your community – that you mention other peoples voices.

    Bad way to start off a new site by using other people’s content.. Bad Bad..

  23. nicely said in this post :), stealing is just wrong in so many ways. bad karma for the thieves!

  24. This is funny! But sadly true!

    It’s just pure laziness, why do people bother to have a blog if they can’t be bothered blogging?

  25. 1. How do you find out if your shit is getting stolen? I have google alerts but find it pretty useless.

    2. My car got stolen last week. Does that count?

    1. also try, technorati searches or check your stats to see where traffic is coming from.

      Anyone else?

  26. Wait, I’m not quite sure I understand. Stealing other people’s shit is bad? Well hot damn.


    Amen sister.

  27. Should I feel bad that my blog must suck so bad no one’s ever stolen my shit? Theft is the highest form of flattery, right? No, I’m kidding, but your shit is so fantastic I’m not at all surprised someone used it for evil instead of good. Shame on them!

    1. I think it was Jenny Lawson who said “imitation is the sincerest form of copyright infringement.” Or maybe she stole that?

  28. I just cannot get over the “I’m only 27” line. I have got to start using shit like that! “But officer… I’m only 35. I didn’t know what the speed limit was!” Wow.
    If I so much as get an idea – if I get inspired to write a post after something I’ve read on another blog – I always always link back. Like, “Liz wrote the best post ever on the topic of don’t steal our shit, and here are my thoughts…” you know?

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