Here’s a simple truth. Virtually everything that I write online about cars gets ripped off. Whether I publish it here, at Cars In Depth, over at The Truth About Cars, or Left Lane News, I can go to sleep at night safe in the knowledge that I’m getting ripped off by other websites, usually single topic content aggregators. When the site operators are nice, they just excerpt the first paragraph and link back to the originating site. While that’s still a copyright violation (it’s not “fair use” because the excerpt isn’t used for the purpose of commentary or criticism), at least the original publisher gets some traffic out of the situation. Other site operators just go ahead and steal the entire post.
Take just about any post on TTAC, select and copy a complete sentence, drop that phrase in Google and you’ll probably find a plethora of purloining publishers. This site copied Steve Lang’s post about repossessing cars verbatim. Another site, Edwards420.com, does nothing but publish content from TTAC, probably from their RSS feed.
It’s so commonplace that my fellow writers, editors and I have a ho hum attitude about it because there really isn’t much that we can do about it. In a recursive irony, even this very post will get copied. The bots that the content thieves use don’t quite understand irony.
Unfortunately, the only reason this can go on is because of Google and their AdSense and AdChoice programs. Were it not for Google paying those sites for the ads that Google AdSense runs on those sites, they wouldn’t have a reason to exist and rip us off. AdSense specifically is based on site content, and those sites’ content is stolen. Google doesn’t care. The theft is actually on two levels. First, there’s the basic copyright thievery. Then there’s the traffic and ad revenue we don’t get because readers find our content somewhere else. Google is the “fence” that pays for the stolen goods. To keep this in an automotive vein, Google is the chop shop that pays the car thief to steal your car. Actually, that analogy isn’t far off. Many cars are stolen to order, the chop shops want specific parts from specific car models and car thieves supply them. Likewise, Google AdSense is looking for specific content, in this case about cars, and the content thieves supply it.
Google isn’t just paying websites to rip off high traffic sites like TTAC, which gets millions of pageviews every month. I’ve found content from Cars In Depth all over the place, and CID gets a fraction of TTAC’s traffic. The thieves and their bots are voracious. The fact that Google is paying people who rip me off is all the more aggravating because AdSense keeps turning CID down. The bots that Google uses to evaluate AdSense applications aren’t very smart and apparently can’t navigate the site. Google won’t let me earn ad revenue for my original content but they’ll pay someone else to steal that same content.
This doesn’t just harm the writers and publishers. It ultimately harms you, the reader, because if enough traffic and ad revenue is hijacked, the sites that you go to for original content may not thrive. The content thieves don’t care, they’ll just have their bots look for another car site and rip off its content.
This is little more than a rant because, as I said, there’s nothing we can do about it. Sending a cease and desist letter to some anonymous website operator isn’t going to accomplish much. If things are going to change it will have to happen at Google and Google is about as unresponsive a company as exists today. In most cases, you can’t talk to someone at Google on the phone. Google and their subsidiary businesses seem specifically organized to avoid human contact. If you think that the Detroit automakers were convinced of their own infallibility, the Big 3 were meek and humble compared to the magnitude of Google’s hubris.