Guest Post: Why Mixing Content is a Bad Idea

For today’s post, I’d like to turn my blog over to Jonathan Bailey, a copyright and plagiarism consultant and CEO of CopyByte. Be sure to read is bio after the post below.

In the music or video world, remixing can often be a very good thing. People take short samples of music or short clips of videos and create entirely new works of incredible creativity.

However, creating a proper remix takes a great deal of talent and effort. It is more than simply a process of splicing together various elements, it involves the creation of a brand new work using pieces from others that usually offers commentary or adds to the original works.

Unfortunately though, some have tried to use a form of remixing as a shortcut to creating content for their site. This usually involves copying and pasting various passages of content from various sources and stringing them together to create a new work that is meant to replace the original, not expand upon it.

This practice, often called “splicing”, is a form of plagiarism that is not only unethical, but also is illegal and, frankly stupid.

If you are are considering engaging in this kind of behavior here are a few good reasons to avoid it.

Copyright Law and Splicing

Legally speaking, most well-done remixes are viewed as safe because they rely on fair use, which allows artists, reviewers and others to use small portions of content for the creation of new works and for the purpose of commentary and criticism.

The problem with fair use is that there are no hard and fast rules as to what is and is not a fair use. The law was written to be flexible and each case is handled on an individual basis. However, the four factors used by courts to determine fair use are as follow:

    1. the purpose and character of your use
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work
    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market.

Factors one and four are the most important and it is easy to see why splicing is very likely to run afoul of the law. Since the intent of the use is to create a replacement for the work and not a wholly new one, that hurts splicing seriously on both the character of the use, which looks to see how transformative the use is, and the effect on the potential market.

So, for example, using snippets from various articles to create a new work, is likely to be considered an infringement. Copyright holders who have had their content used in this manner are free to file DMCA takedown notices and, in extreme cases, file a lawsuit against the person doing the splicing.

How Search Engines See It

Search engines crave original content and value it very highly. Sites that prominently feature original works are ranked highly in the search engines and those that have duplicate content are pushed either way down in the rankings or, even worse, in the the supplementary index where almost no visitors see it.

The problem with splicing is that it doesn’t create original content. Since all of the content is lifted verbatim or nearly verbatim from various sources that Google already indexes, the search engine can trivially detect this and works to reduce the ranking of these pages.

Though it is difficult to tell how much content one needs to include for Google to be able to detect it as duplicate, anything over a few sentences typically is discovered and is treated as duplicate content. As such, if you splice together a story using a few lines or paragraphs at a time, Google will most likely detect it and penalize you accordingly, making the effort worthless.

Quality of Work

However, even if Google and the other search engines are fooled by the splicing effort, your human visitors most likely will not. Different articles, even from the same source, have different styles, tones and structure. Stitching them together creates a mash that doesn’t flow and seems very awkward.

Real remixes and mashups take advantage of this, using the juxtaposition to create commentary. Spliced works, on the other hand merely come across as poorly-made creations that are inconsistent and awkward.

If one wants to take the time and energy to fix this problem, they need to dedicate so much to it that it would, in most cases, have simply been easier to create a new work from scratch. However, since creating a completely unique work avoids the copyright and duplicate content issues as well, it is by far the best approach to take when trying to craft high quality content for your site.

Bottom Line

Though there is a place for legitimate remixing, using splicing as a shortcut to create content for your site is not only probably illegal, but also stupid.

Not only does it produce content that is not widely-accepted by the search engines, it also produces poorer-quality work that won’t be well-loved by human visitors. Any attempt to edit content to avoid these issues will require more work than simply writing a new piece, making the entire purpose for splicing content moot.

In the end, if this is an approach to content generation you are considering, you would be wise to abandon it and either use content legitimately, for example under a Creative Commons License, or, even better, create your own work from scratch and only quote/cite material you need to bring into it.

Doing so not only keeps other bloggers and search engines happy, but is by far the best way to build and grow your site online.

About Jonathan Bailey

Jonathan Bailey is a copyright and plagiarism consultant and the CEO of CopyByte, a consulting firm specializing in copyright on the web. You can also find him at his blog Plagiarism Today, a site dedicated to helping content creators protect their work, and stomping around the New Orleans area looking for geocaches.

5 Responses to Guest Post: Why Mixing Content is a Bad Idea
  1. [...] Bad Idea By Jonathan Bailey • Apr 16th, 2010 • Category: Articles, Guest ColumnsYesterday a gu...

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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