A website blatantly plagiarized us. Here’s what they should have done instead.

You thought we wouldn't notice?
You thought we wouldn't notice? Devin Smith
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It all started when we received an email from a group called We Are Explorers, featuring the provocative headline "Stop calling out the Secret Spots, D--k Head." Hmm… a little heavy-handed, perhaps, but it sure sounded an awful lot like the story we published in November titled “There are no Secret Spots.”

Enough to catch our attention, at least, so we clicked. I mean, if they had obviously stolen our content, they probably wouldn’t have emailed it to info@rootsrated.com, right? Wrong.

This website's founder stole our idea, and our words. (Not the bad words, though).
    Screenshot, 3/1/17
This website's founder stole our idea, and our words. (Not the bad words, though). Screenshot, 3/1/17

The byline said "Henry Brydon," who turns out to be the founder and editor of the website. On first glance, it was clearly derivative of our November article; for example, the five-point outline mirrored ours almost exactly. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose. I’d seen worse. That’s when we noticed sentences that were lifted verbatim, or nearly verbatim, like this one:

"What that means, of course, is that we’re almost exclusively talking about public land—and public land, by its very definition, is for the public."

RR, Nov 16 2016

...which is lifted almost verbatim, with one word changed:

"What that means, of course, is that we’re almost exclusively talking about public land—and public land, by the very definition, is for the public."

WAE, Feb 13 2017

Also, this one:

"If we want to conserve public lands, we need more people to be passionate about the outdoors."

RR, Nov 16 2016

...which is exactly copied:

"If we want to conserve public lands, we need more people to be passionate about the outdoors."

WAE, Feb 13 2017

You can even search Google with the exact phrase to see the publication dates, and the fact that there are only two sites using these exact phrases.

Interesting. This sentence appears on exactly two websites, with RootsRated.com being the original, published in November 2016.
    google.com
Interesting. This sentence appears on exactly two websites, with RootsRated.com being the original, published in November 2016. google.com

One more example:

"We are facing a serious population health crisis in the United States. We think inspiring people to get outdoors … can have a real effect."

RR, Nov 16 2016

His version almost sounds like a reply to my original article:

"We’re also facing a serious health crisis in Australia. We think inspiring people to get outdoors can have a real effect on this."

WAE, Feb 13 2017

Definitely plagiarism. Henry, Henry… this reminded us of the popular creative design site with the same name, you thought we wouldn’t notice. We noticed.

We can't believe you did that.
We can't believe you did that. Jose Vieira da Silva

As one might suspect (or we wouldn't be writing this article), Henry didn’t quote us, nor link to our original publication, nor credit us in any way. It’s blatant. Henry didn’t just copy our idea and our outline and our argument, he also copied the actual words and passed them off as his own original content.

I authored the original piece myself (October 15, 2016, to be exact) while on a plane from Chattanooga, TN to Seattle, WA. It was published on RootsRated a month later, after a spirited internal debate about exactly how many people we were about to piss off. There is no question about whose came first. In fact, we had our first angry reader literally show up at our office before We Are Explorers had published their facsimile.

Sadly, this fraud will likely have a real impact on WAE’s credibility, especially since it was perpetrated by the site’s founder and editor.

What could this site have done differently? Well, here are some options that might have been a smarter choice than theft of intellectual property:

1. License our content legally (Yeah, we do that!)

Through our software (RootsRated Compass), we make the vast majority of our content library available for syndication on partner sites. For a recurring fee, licensees can publish our articles on their own site(s), with their own styles and formatting, in order to drive their business objectives. Mr. Brydon could have approached us about licensing, allowing him to legally share this story on his site instead of rewriting half of it and illegally claiming it as his own.

I know I've seen this somewhere before.
I know I've seen this somewhere before. d26b73

Licensing through Compass is a cost-effective way to populate your blog and social channels with quality articles at a pace well beyond what you’d be able to produce on your own with a reasonable budget. See something you really like on our blog? Great! Get in touch with us, and we’d be happy to discuss licensing options.

2. Just link to us like a reasonable person

Frankly, it’s what most rational publishers would do when presented with this kind of "oh, I wish I’d written that" moment. Quote our original piece, link to it, credit us and add your own thoughts. WAE had some interesting additions to our original piece, and it’s a shame they chose to flat-out poach it instead of going this route. After all, as the proprietor of a similarly-themed website, he surely sees similar feedback.

"If you’re ever wondered where the name We are Explorers came from... I’m afraid it wasn’t in a moment of divine mid-hike intervention, but rather a flash of plagiarism whilst browsing the radio tracklisting of an in-flight magazine returning from Brazil."

Henry Brydon

As a bonus, quoting and linking doesn’t violate international copyright law, which seems like a good starting point for nascent sites. Plus, it's easy (we did it above). This isn’t a product we offer, it’s a common courtesy.

3. Ask about a publisher partnership and/or guest authorship

Perhaps Mr. Brydon simply wanted to create a conversation on his own media channels like the one our story generated, in order to highlight his other published pieces. What he doesn’t know, though, is that we offer publishers just like him the opportunity to add their articles to our library, allowing our network of Compass partners to syndicate them. Why resort to piracy when your work can be licensed across our constellation of major outdoor brands, tourism boards and healthcare organizations?

Alternately: if he wanted to offer his own take on our write-up, but didn’t feel that his own site had the reach to distribute this message successfully, he would have been welcome to publish a story on our site. We collaborate with guest authors all the time!

If you’d like to have your work added to Compass, get in touch with sales, or contribute your writing to RootsRated. Our software even handles canonical tagging for Google so you don't get blacklisted or penalized for stealing content.

4. Hire us for your custom content production

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Mr. Brydon is just looking for high-quality articles to host on his site, and inexplicably decided that the best way to get it was by cheating. Oops!

Next time, he should contact us about our feature-writing services. Our network of freelance writers and photographers, along with our professional in-house editors, team up with local experts (yes, even in Australia) to create great content. We help brands in the travel and outdoor industries produce relevant, shareable material–and we save publishers like Henry from having to think up their own words.

It’s a shame, really. We would have loved to work together, and Australia looks pretty awesome.

Henry, I hope the rest of your website isn’t plagiarized as well. I hope you haven’t jeopardized the reputations of your sponsors and partners. I hope your employees weren’t a part of this, and I hope you can set a better example for them in the future.

We wish your team the best. In fact, you can keep the article; we believe in the message. We'd like a canonical tag and an intro, though.

Now: stop stealing our stuff...

Originally written for RootsRated Media.

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