Is There Anything Knol Could Have Done to Attract Plagiarists More Effectively?

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?

2 Replies to “Is There Anything Knol Could Have Done to Attract Plagiarists More Effectively?”

  1. This is disturbing. I didn’t know about Knol until now. One option is to have a modding system, like digg or Slashdot, that does some self-reviewing. Clearly, this shouldn’t be under the control of the person, who wrote the article.

  2. I suppose Google could have launched the Goodyear blimp towing a sign “we suborn copyright infringement.” Alas, not necessary.

    However, a writing team I joined discovered Google’s sensitive side by using a redwood tree as a bat: http://knol.google.com/k/murry-shohat/the-curious-copyright-infringement-case/2srzofgvr8kjr/16#. We brought down Knol’s million word, 800 Knol plagiarizer by getting the actual victim’s legal department involved.

    My team also used to compile plagiarism at Knol but have given it up for the reasons you observe: high bar, no enforcement: http://knol.google.com/k/peter-baskerville/plagiarism-on-knol-report-it-here/14j3i4hyjvi88/51#

    Does Google know best? Google does not seem to care unless search income is impacted.

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