Friday, November 20, 2009

eHow's Plagiarism Flag Stealing Earnings from Writers without Due Process

I've been watching the plagiarism flag sagas of several eHow members and been following the situation closely--even corresponding with members who are dealing with this. The post below was posted by one member on the eHow message board this morning and I asked if I could reproduce it here as I think it covers everything that is wrong with eHow's plagiarism policy. Especially note the sections in italics as they are particularly salient.

This is an important issue and I think eHow writers need to push eHow to review their plagiarism policy and make it more equitable.

Mrasey writes (having dealt with the plagiarism flag all week):

I would imagine now that new content goes through a plagiarism check that the number of plagiarism flags on eHow should diminish. Because they will have an internal time/date stamp that the content was unique upon initial publication. I would hope that future plagiarism flags would not result in temporary suspension or removal precisely because of the time/date stamp. This should allow eHow to feel pretty confident that their flag is catching someone offsite who has stolen content and they should be able to implement a system where authors are notified of the problem and given 2-3 days to prove their innocence, if that is necessary.

I hope that eHow does modify their plagiarism policy to incorporate the credibility given by the initial plagiarism scan upon publication.

Old content will continue to be a problem, however. This is what happened to me. I edited an old article and hit publish and got a flag because of all the sites that had scraped my work from eHow. Because eHow removed the article, I didn't have a direct link and that made it difficult to prove my case to some sites (although I ultimately prevailed in all cases at having sites remove my content). Further, when my article comes back, I will have lost quite a bit of money and based on what others have said, lost rank in the search engines which will hurt my income for months to come.

So while it is demoralizing and depressing, it is also a financial issue. All my hard work is wiped out because I am presumed guilty without sufficient evidence of guilt. That is my core issue with the way eHow handles plagiarism. They have no idea who is guilty, but pass judgement all the same. Judgement that hinders the author's ability to defend themselves and has lasting negative effects on their income.

It would be one thing if content was removed for a day and if these investigations were executed quickly, but that's not what happens. These plagiarism flags drag out. Content is removed for weeks at a time and the length of time it takes to resolve these issues is what creates the biggest chunk of financial loss.

Also consider the money eHow makes on the redirect to other pages when someone tries to visit your suspended content. Is the author compensated appropriately for this income once they are proven innocent and reinstated? Does that factor into the secret algorithm?

From a corporate due diligence perspective, I have to wonder how it is that it's okay to essentially cost people money based on suspicion alone. How is that protecting anybody? As much as eHow wants to avoid legal liability for plagiarized content, they actually create an additional legal liability, in my opinion, by robbing users of income without due process. eHow has closed one legal liability door and opened another which I don't think was the goal.

I think there are serious issues with their current policy. All it takes is the right mix of circumstances for someone to put together a legal claim.


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