On one of my regular rambles through Wikipedia, I recently came across the Joke Theft entry. It's an interesting read covering joke origins, examples of some fiery comedic feuds, and a South Park reference. I think approximately 43% of Wikipedia articles include a South Park reference.
It discusses how, as the popularity of comedy increased in the 80s and 90s, the first person to tell a joke on some form of media became the one associated with it. And an essential part of finding something funny is the element of surprise - once you've heard a joke, the punch line is rarely as chucklesome the second time around.
Using material concocted by one of your peers is, in any business, seen as a seriously unfunny faux pas.
Italian comic Daniele Luttazzi claims his jokes are not 'plagiarised', but 'calqued' (a fair use of original material), an opinion which has caused huge controversy.
When it comes to referencing the source, if you went to see a comedian who spent the final five minutes of their act listing all the people they've taken inspiration from, it would be a pretty damp squib of a finale.
Music copyright online is often the main subject of piracy debates, and is subject to a very different type of consumption than comedy.
A song can get better over time with multiple listens, and there are arguments that an illegally downloaded MP3 could instigate a fan relationship with an artist that becomes lucrative over time as they spend on back catalogues and live concert experiences.
Even when a cover song becomes more popular than the original, the royalties often more than make up for it.
Harlem Shake took copyright issues to a whole new level. First you have a claim from the source of the 'con los terroristas' and 'do the Harlem shake' lyrics.
Then you have constant stream of YouTube videos, with everyone and their mother putting their own spin on things and using the soundtrack; then, obscurely, you have people arguing in YouTube comments that their dance moves have been copied.
If I'd pasted one of these comments here that could have been a four layered copyright issue, or a quadro-steal, which sounds like a phrase straight from the mouth of a baseball commentator. Maybe it is, and I've purposefully pinched it to embellish my point.
What camp does the kind of content you put together sit in? Is it the kind of content that once it's been viewed, it's unlikely that anyone will need to pay it another visit, or is it something that someone can emotionally attach themselves to?
There's a role for both, and neither approach is right or wrong depending on the circumstances, but there are issues surrounding duplication and plagiarism that you need to consider.
If it's more of a one-night-stand, there should be an insistence from content creators that the viewing takes place in its original environment (hence the 'embed only on sites I choose' setting on Vimeo).
If you allow other people to syndicate, embed or reuse your content, you're risking leakage of your key traffic figures, and our successes are often judged on visitor numbers so lower return could see budgets for future production reduced. However, by restricting your distribution, you're severely restricting the size of your audience.
If you're aiming for a long-term relationship, you might be tempted to spread your net far and wide in order to attract interested parties, but if you dissipate your content too thinly, anyone trying to get close may find there's not enough left to give them reason to stick around.
Intellectual property law is a complicated world, and even the most blinkered amongst us realise that content is likely to be copied in some way, shape or form. Content scrapers are a plague on the web and it pays to know who's doing what with your content.
Put your morality to one side for a second and go to dailymail.co.uk, then copy and paste some text from an article. You'll notice the paper has employed a bit of code to add the source URL, Twitter address and Facebook page details to the end of the copy.
Not a particularly elegant implementation, but it will make any sloppy copies bring some benefit back to the site.
We debated with a client recently the use of product imagery. It’s a desirable brand and, as such, a lot of people use pictures of their products across blog posts and social networks. The website had relatively low resolution versions, which led to even worse quality copies being brandished around the web, which subsequently adversely affected people’s perception of the brand.
The solution we arrived at was to make the original high resolution versions freely available to everyone. You're still going to get people using them in ways or places you'd prefer they didn't, but at least you can ensure your products look good, rather than being a pixelated mess.
This won't be the best option in every situation, but it's worth considering how your brand might be affected by poor copycats.
So is duplication the sincerest form of flattery?
The copying of content is something Google wags its big finger at, slapping sites on the wrist when they're found to be ripping off the words of others.
Expert consensus suggests that the algorithm is intelligent enough to determine the original content source and punish those who dare to ctrl-v, ctrl-p. There may even be a search rank boost to your original piece.
If loads of people think it's worth plagiarising, it must be deemed good content.