How Physicians Can Cope With Online Plagiarism

December 20, 2012

Physician online content and even profiles are a click away from being stolen and copied. Here are some strategies to help cope with this disturbing problem.

A very well-known physician blogger recently had a huge problem: Another surgeon was blatantly copying his online articles and, in fact, nearly his whole online persona.

Eventually the other surgeon backed down and stopped what he was doing. As far as I know, no legal action was required.

I’ve never been ripped off directly in that way, but other websites run by large companies have created "repositories" of my blog posts and articles, then used that information to attract search engine rankings.

Usually search engines like Google are too smart to be fooled by that: "Duplicate content" is high on their radar screen, and they don’t look favorably upon it.
I’m not an attorney, but I can give you some general ways to handle being plagiarized online.

1. You can’t stop it.

Don’t try to police the entire Internet yourself. If you must keep track of this, set up a Google Alert to include a search string from your most popular articles on your website.

Then you’ll get an e-mail if someone reposts or tries to recreate your material online somewhere else. Putting information "out there" for general consumption means it can be copied, modified, or stolen for offline use.

The only way I know of to prevent it is to lock everything down behind a private, password-protected area for your patients, and keep everything in-house.

Then you miss out on being found by potential patients - that’s no good.

2. Be faster and better than those who might steal from you.

One of Walt Disney’s employees was concerned that their competition would steal his ideas. He allegedly said in response, "I’m not worried. We can create faster than they can steal."

Ways to do this include creating more content than average, at a faster rate than other physicians, and using multiple channels for communication.

For instance, re-purposing your own material will let you produce more material faster. Turn an existing blog post or article into a video, which is harder to copy and steal.

3. Put more of yourself into your content.

Create videos with your face and voice in them. Make it harder to duplicate exactly what you’ve created.

Static, text-based content like articles and blog posts are the easiest material to copy. With the technology and tools available today like YouTube and inexpensive HD cameras, it’s easy to create videos that get your message out there.

The more your content is filled with your unique personality, the harder it is for some unscrupulous company or physician to claim it as their own.

4. Finally, If you suspect that your material has been stolen and/or copied, analyze first, then react if necessary.

First, make sure it’s a problem - a bad thing. Sharing content is different than ripping off your blog post and claiming I wrote it. Giving proper attribution, for instance, is the basis of how “Retweeting” works on Twitter.

One way I can imagine this being a problem, though, is if a local competitor is stealing and re-using your patient education material or blog posts, claiming it as his own.

Is this changing your search engine rankings? Are patients being deceived by the practice?

Because the search engines are aware of the problem, this is rarely a great tactic for would-be thieves to use long-term.

If you feel it’s necessary, try contacting the other party first before making your attorney wealthier.