It is known that Google Knol has some plagiarism problems, but I wanted to share a quick anecdote. In early 2010 I noticed this Knol, which plagiarizes an article originally written by Nigel Jones. I’m sure that Nigel’s article is the original because it appeared in print nine years ago. I was annoyed to see that the knockoff has a “Top Viewed Knol Award” and also its author, Vivek Bhadra, has a “Top Viewed Author Award,” so I left a comment on the article suggesting that it may have borrowed content without attribution, and then forgot about it.
A few months later, in mid-April 2010, I happened to revisit the plagiarized Knol and saw that Bhadra had deleted my comment and also banned me from commenting on all of his articles. Smelling a rat, I ran web searches on phrases from more of his articles and found that most of them are plagiarized. But what could I do if not comment on the articles? Aha — there’s a “report abusive content” button, but it turns out none of the categories of abuse includes plagiarized content. There’s a separate link for reporting copyright infringement and it contains these instructions:
To file a notice of infringement with us, you must provide a written communication (by fax or regular mail — not by email, except by prior agreement) that sets forth the items specified below.
No email, nice! Also, only the content’s owner is permitted to send this letter — third parties who notice plagiarism are not welcome.
So anyway, I used the “other” checkbox on the “abusive content” menu to report Bhadra’s 10 highest-ranked plagiarized pages, including links to the original content in the comment field. This was about three months ago and nothing’s happened — the pages are still up and he’s still listed as a top-viewed author.
Internet plagiarism is hardly novel or shocking. The surprising thing is the picture that emerges when we summarize Knol’s design point:
- Knol makes it trivial to monetize Wikipedia-style content by providing good interoperation with Google’s advertising
- Knol lets content providers ban commenters they don’t like
- Knol offers no good way for third parties to report plagiarism, and fails to act (within three months, at least) on reports made through their abusive content system
- Knol sets a needlessly high bar for content owners to report a DMCA violation by asking them to use physical mail
One might ask: Is there anything Knol could have done differently to attract plagiarists more effectively?