Accusing Larry King and CNN of content theft on Larry King’s blog may seem pretty brazen but it has and continues to happen. It’s interesting that the AP and several major media organizations including Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal have been huffing and puffing lately over news aggregators who link to their content. At least when that happens, the aggregators (like Google News and Huffington Post) give attribution and send visitors who want more info to the main story.
So it’s striking to see Larry King’s blog, on the CNN website, outright steal other people’s content (including a SearchViews post), with no attribution whatsoever. Simply linking the “Read More” button to the original post does not count. For anyone contemplating a corporate blog or otherwise, it’s important to be mindful of the basic rules of the road online. That includes the very big no-no of publishing someone else’s words without attribution. That’s called plagiarism. You would think that a blog on the website of a major news outlet like CNN would know better.
Now it’s perfectly fine to talk about something and embed a link to someone else’s article while doing so in your own language. However it’s our policy, in keeping with commonly accepted online and offline standards, to always attribute someone else’s words or thoughts as well as to link to them whenever possible.
Larry King’s blog on the other hand, seems to consist entirely of other’s words and thoughts, sometimes lightly edited or abridged, with no attribution and the previously mentioned “Read More” button which does lead to the original source. Even if CNN views this as a placeholder blog (it’s one of the only parts of their site that isn’t discoverable by search engines) there is no excuse for making the content look like it’s coming from Larry King when it’s not.
What’s even more perplexing is that I wrote a comment on Larry’s blog, asking politely that we be given attribution. While several comments that have nothing to do with the stolen content but which are time stamped after mine have been approved, my comment continues to be unpublished days after submission.
My friend, author and journalist Maria Raha, called this incident a symptom of “Generation Re-Blog” (notice the attribution, Larry) and she may well be on to something here. It’s all too easy in the age of Tumblr and re-tweeting to be cavalier about other people’s content.
The irony is that sharing (rather than stealing) content is one of the great joys of the Internet, whether it be a link from a blog, a mention on Twitter, or a full on quote on a message board. Linking benefits everyone by increasing the SEO power of a page (something Larry King’s blog is set up to block) in addition to allowing people to discover content they may otherwise never have seen.
I also think some of the blatant thievery may simply be coming from a place of general ignorance about how things are done in the online world. After all, it was only in 2006 that Larry King defended his avoidance of the Internet (to Roseanne Barr) thusly: “But there’s 80 billion things on it.” Larry went on to say,” The wife loves it. I wouldn’t love it. What do you punch little buttons and things?…no thanks.” Considering that the time from 2006 to now must be but a blink of the eye to Larry it’s reasonable to assume he’s still a newbie despite his recent embrace of Twitter. The above quotes, by the way, come courtesy of ThinkProgress.
All of this should serve as a cautionary tale for brands that blog, or are considering doing so. If you don’t have anything to say, or are worried about filling the space, don’t use other people’s content and try to be clever by making it look like yours. The reality is that we would welcome Larry King or anyone else linking and using our content gratis, provided we are given proper attribution and a link.
If you steal anyway, as Larry King and CNN did, will you get sued? Most likely not, but you court a worse fate – that of the online pariah. You invite posts like this one, and their inevitable re-tweets and StumbleUpons to define your character online. That can do far more damage to your brand than a lawsuit.
As Warren Buffett is fond of saying (notice that attribution thingy again), “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” This, from a guy who was well-known at my previous Berkshire Hathaway-owned company for not using e-mail. In spite of that he clearly knows a lot more about the Internet than “blogger” Larry King.
As of Tuesday morning, the post on Larry King’s blog was updated to include attribution to myself with a link back to SearchViews embedded under my name. Hopefully this will be standard practice going forward for the Larry King blog.
Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them here or check out Reprise Media folks on Twitter.