Chinese bloggers worry about rampant plagiarism
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As China steps up protection of intellectual property rights, many new media companies including even influential ones are using more covert and unidentifiable methods to commit plagiarism in order to rake in Web traffic and advertising revenue.

Online writers could be hired for 10 to 30 yuan to finish 1000 words, although their job is merely to redo those well-written original articles so that they look different, but it is still plagiarism because the main body and content are all copied. Some initially obscure self-media accounts even used the trick to become popular, reported the state-run Xinhua News Agency, noting a grey industry for ‘washing’ original online contents has thus been formed.

This is not the first time for the rampant undercover plagiarism to be exposed in the digital world. From the beginning of the year, several content creators stood out to lash out at the malpractice which infringed their rights, igniting widespread public outcry.

The so-called “washing” means rewriting original high-quality articles which are expected to become popular—replacing some words in them with synonyms, realigning some paragraphs, paraphrasing some core content and ideas—to make them look different. Apparently, within short time, the more careful plagiarists could cash in on the technically copied articles built on other people’s hard work.

“When digital media (or new media) first sprang up, a lot of blogs would directly copy and paste reports, reviews, and literary works composed by others. Now, with IPR protection law being more strictly enforced on web platforms, 100 percent copying is no longer possible. Under these circumstances, some people come up with the ‘grafting and transplanting’ method to plagiarize other people’s work and label them as their own original,” an industry insider told CCTV, China’s national broadcaster.

According to Chen Lian, the director of a copyright service agency, the driving force behind the rampant “washing” malpractice is craving for profit. For private new media companies, the advertising revenue, which is their lifeline, relies on the web traffic they could generate. As major news and information platforms all rush to prop up originality, content creators boasting original work could gain access to more resources and preferential policies.

Once an original article becomes hot cake, it means the content could earn more recommendation and Web traffic. However, in most cases, a content creator may not be good at using channels to make his work known by more. Instead, a plagiarist knowing more about operation and promotion could just steal the main story and core ideas to earn much higher Web traffic than the real creator behind the good work.

“I once used a few days to come up with an in-depth article. After it’s being widely circulated via WeChat and before I could realize it, the article got rewritten by a dozen accounts popping out from nowhere, with some of them even labelling their editions “original”. And some of them were really good at spreading. Within a short time, over 100,000 views could be gained,” Mao Hao, a self-media writer, told CCTV in an interview.

According to Mao, he later learned from industry data that the article earned five million views, while on the WeChat platform, his own account posting the original one only ended up with 1.2 million views. “For composing one successful piece, I may need to use several years of experience, while it took them only 10 minutes to take away the fruits of my work and “wash away” 80 percent of the Web traffic and profits that should belong to me. Such things really dampen the enthusiasm of content creators like me,” Mao said.

Self-media commentator Huo Ju sued Chaping, a super-popular Chinese blog based on Tencent’s social media app WeChat, for alleged plagiarism of his article about messaging app Telegram founder Pavel Durov in 2016, and provoked quite an online uproar over similar infringements, according to the South China Morning Post. Chaping reportedly had voluntarily returned a 30 million yuan investment from Chinese Internet giant Tencent after being accused by Huo and several other content creators and bloggers of using their material while labelling it as “original”.

Despite gaining widespread support, Huo finally lost the case. Actually, although the act of “washing” others’ original content could be defined, it could hardly be clearly identified in many real-life cases, by information platforms or by judges. A famous self-media commentator said he once filed a complaint against the platform, although it finally failed to be accepted because “not one paragraph is totally identical in the two articles although core ideas, samples and main sentences were the same.”

Self-media account “Jingling Bell” said “unskilled ‘washing’ could be easily found out. What’s more challenging to define is absorbing the main ideas of your work and presenting them with different examples and means of expression.”

On July 16, Chinese authorities kicked off a campaign called Jianwang 2018 against Internet platform copyright infringement, in which the National Copyright Administration, Cyberspace Administration, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and Ministry of Public Security will join hands in cracking down on unauthorized republication of news and plagiarism on social media.

Still, at the current stage, it’s not easy to use the law to safeguard your rights, a legal expert who didn’t want to be named was quoted by Xinhua. It would consume large amount of time and human labor, while there are quite a few successful cases in which the malpractices of “washing” articles could be ascertained, he said.
Huo Ju once gave two suggestions to content creators—one was not to write information-based articles, and the other was to only write things with strong personal stamp—because the first kind of articles could be easily “washed” while those featuring intense emotions and distinct personal opinions could hardly be re-edited.  

 


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