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The Stolen Troll: A Story About Plagiarism

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

a-troll-stole-my-troll-a-story-about-plagiarism

Not the Trolls You Think

In the world of mythology, trolls ruled the hidden places. Whether it was inside mountains, under bridges or in the dead of night, those creepy creatures kept their presence a secret so they could find the right opportunity to pounce on you when you least expect it. And, often, they took your property and made it their own.

It’s mythology, right? Such things couldn’t possibly exist in the real world. And to be frank ,they don’t (although there are some real, horrifying and very human alternatives out there).

But, what about the wild world of the Internet? Surely, everyone has heard of those pesky trolls that roam chat rooms and forums expressing contrarian beliefs or insulting its users. However, these trolls don’t necessarily sneak in and steal information or other people’s intellectual property. And, they don’t lift articles from various news sites, blogs or writing platforms.

Possibly the closest thing sharing the characteristics of the mythological troll are the plagiarists. They’re sneaky and hide in the deepest darkest corners of the world wide web. And, yes, they’re creeps (even if there are bigger ones coming from the Dark Web). Their goal is to attack when you least expect and take your hard work and make it theirs.

The internet trolls (which is not named after the mythological trolls) get a lot of press. They’ve become the pariah of the Internet. But, the real scourge are plagiarists who will stop at nothing to take your intellectual property.

And, interestingly enough, my first taste of a plagiarist was when an article I wrote on the mythological trolls was stolen by a brazen web page developer.

A Brief History of the Troll Article

Back in 2011, I wrote an article entitled “The Trolls of Norse Mythology” for the defunct content writing platform, Helium.com. The article did fairly well there until 2014. That year, Helium announced they were going offline for good.

As a result of the announcement, there was a mad dash by writers on the site to remove and de-index their articles in order to republish them somewhere else.

Deindexing

Removing an article from a site doesn’t guarantee that it will be offline. The url may stay alive and can be picked up by other sites or be listed in a search engine such as Google or Yahoo. The best way to totally remove it from the Internet is to de-index it.

Deindexing (sometimes spelled de indexing or de-indexing) is a process of removing an url from the search engines. There are various ways and purposes for doing this; however, in my case, it was presented as the best way to totally remove my articles and protect them from theft.

I somehow “plagiarized” an existing online article…that happened to be mine!

In the last few months of Helium’s existence, its administrators offered a particular type of software to help writers perform the deindex tasks. With the amount of articles I had to remove, it became a lengthy job; however, I eventually got all of them. I felt satisfied that I could take my work anywhere, republish them, and continue to get the residuals from them.

I was assured that deindexing worked, and I had good reason to believe that. A little under a half of the articles I removed from Helium were republished on several sites without a hitch. This included the current platform I write for, Hubpages.

Any Norse Mythology Will Do

By mid-2017, I had republished most of the old Helium articles along with new articles on Hubpages. The process was slower than I expected, and I did hit a few bumps in the road in the process (the process was due to reedits and inclusions of pictures, graphs, callouts and other graphic supports).

Issues of unauthorized use of the articles emerged. In many cases, it was not someone who copied the link to an article and placed it on their website. Luckily, they printed the link as well as my name. Still, Hubpage informed me of this by placing a red circle C next to the title when listed in the “My Account” page. In these cases, Ieft it alone. There was no need to contact the website administrators and have them taken off their site.

About this time, however, the real plagiarists emerged. Some lifted the articles and changed my name to theirs. In this case, I emailed the websites and/or the writer directly. Luckily, most of them immediately removed the copied article.

About this time, too, I was rolling. I republished several articles on Norse Mythology as well as writing new ones. Searching my list of formerly published articles, I came across the one about Trolls of Norse Mythology. It would be a good fit, I surmised.

Interest in Norse mythology was high. The movie Trolls became a box office hit and Thor – originally of North Mythology fame before Marvel made him a superhero – was about to hit the silver screen again. Public interest, it appeared, spiked for old Viking legends, including those lowly trolls.

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Giving the Article a New Home

I clicked on the Word document. The article, which was well researched, didn’t need a lot of fixes. Still, I made minor edits (including changing its title), to clean it up for its republication. After an hour, I transposed the article on Hubpage’s template (with photos and call-outs added) and hit the “publish” button. So far, so good. On average, my article took an hour before it was officially published on the Internet.

The wait was a bit longer than usual. However, while going through the final pending process – it received a positive comment from a fellow writer (article in pending status can be seen by those on Hubpages).

People were liking my troll, that was a good sign.

The Dreaded Red Skull

As mythologies and legends often state about these lowly creatures, nothing good happens to trolls. It’s safe to say that this is true for anyone who dares to write about them in some capacity.

That bad thing came in the form of a red skull symbol that appeared next to the story’s title. In addition, the article didn’t reach the full published status (represented by a white H in a black circle).

The red skull icon was one of many Hubpage used. This was the most severe because it indicated that a major violation was found in the article. In this case, written in bold green, the word “duplicate” accompanied the skull.

The Red Skull of violations

The Red Skull of violations

This was a first for me. In addition, this was a serious infraction. The duplicate sign indicated that the article was a copy of another article on the Internet. I somehow “plagiarized” an existing article…that happened to be mine!

It didn’t take long for me to realize this. In addition, I had my suspicions about who did it. Still, at this point I was beginning to understand why trolls had a nasty reputation.

Tracking Down the Troll Theft

As mentioned, a mythological troll’s domain can be under bridges, inside caves, or within a mountain. Wherever they can hide without any detection, a troll will call it home. Ironically, Internet trolls and plagiarists share these characteristics. However, all these entities are not the same. Here’s some clarifications:

  • Internet Trolls are people that infiltrate websites to create havoc. In addition, they get their name from the act of trolling -- a fishing term meaning to dredge the muck at the bottom of the ocean.
  • Plagiarists are in the act of stealing other people's work to make it their own.

Still, both Internet groups tend to have places they call “home.” It might be their favorite forum. Other times it is a poorly designed webpage or blog.

a-troll-stole-my-troll-a-story-about-plagiarism

In addition, there are times when the line between the two groups gets blurred. Some trolls will copy and paste an article in a thread. Usually to get back at someone or to raise an opposing view with evidence to some argument. Usually, those doing this are not smart to realize that they committed a violation.

The plagiarists, on the other hand, are smart enough to know the difference.

To find this violator, I copied the first few lines of my article and used Google’s search engine. The first site to pop up was a familiar one: The PitlaneMagazine.com.

My History with PitlaneMagazine.com

This incident wasn’t the first time I had to deal with plagiarism. However, it was the first time I was inadvertently and unfairly accused of doing it. Interestingly enough, the biggest plagiarists of my materials played a major role in this latest incident.

The first time I heard of PitLaneMagazine was in 2016. Back then, I was informed that four Hubs -- all originally posted on Helium -- had been copied. All of them were plagiarized by PitLane.

By appearance, the site was not remarkable and appeared to be similar to a cheap Internet writing platform. It had various pages for several topics. It was hard to tell how many articles were on the site. However, it appeared that the site was only a year old and it had amassed a lot in a short time. This was an amazing feat, considering that there was no indication that there were any freelance writers, staff writers or an editorial board in existence.

I didn’t have to swim through a sea of articles. Hubpages made my job easy by supplying the links to those articles. When I perused the copied version of these articles, I gritted my teeth in anger. The copied articles didn’t mirror the Hub versions; it was an exact copy of the original Helium articles.

More perusal made matters worse. In addition to the four articles deemed “copied”, I found more than 20 articles that originated on Helium. These were articles about education that I had planned to republish on Hubpages. I identified approximately 100 articles on this topic, alone. All of them were the Helium versions.

I wasted no time confronting the owners and the hosting sites, via email, to have them remove these articles. In addition, I threatened to file a complaint through DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

I wasted no time confronting the owners and the hosting sites, via email, to have them remove these articles.

My actions turned out to be futile. The only response was a meager, “We will look into it.” from the host for the site.

Months later, more articles (many that had been republished on Hubpage two years after being removed from Helium) were marked with the dreaded red-circle C. Again, PitLaneMagazine was the culprit. This time, seven articles got the marks. All of them had several things in common:

  • Most were about the paranormal or mythology;
  • nearly all of them had my name removed (in one case, they had my name, then removed it when I attempted to contact them);
  • and they were published on the site a year or two AFTER the original ones were republished at Hubpage.com.

Again, I did more research. Thirteen more articles had been republished on their site. A realization set it; if I was ever going to republish any of these articles I would either have to:

  • Contact the site again and see if they will remove them (which they didn’t the first time around); or
  • Drastically rewrite the old Helium articles, word per word.

Due to the lack of success with an email to the site made, my decision was made. To this day, I have rewritten nearly every article I’ve had on the former site.

Why and How They Did It?

I got into the habit of Googling the first paragraph of the Helium articles on my flashdrive. If nothing showed up, I felt comfortable republishing the article on Hubpages.

The article that would eventually become “The Trolls of Norse Mythology” went through this process. No duplicates popped up. Thus, I felt safe enough to work on it and prepare it for republication.

In hindsight, that was a big mistake. Unbeknownst to me, Pitlane was still posting old Helium articles from me and other writers. Like the mythological trolls or yore, they had a treasure trove of stolen ideas. That included my troll article, which they must have republished on their site while I was going through the process of preparing it for Hubpages.

John Bauer, 1915

John Bauer, 1915

How did they do it? I inferred that the Pitlane creator (or creators) :

  • was possibly a Helium writer that decided to cut and pastes pages upon pages from the site before it went offline and well before other writers could deindex their articles;
  • the person kept the articles (most likely in the 1000s) and waited for two years before he or she felt safe to publish them;
  • the violator(s) created the site and started republishing the articles, possibly believing that there would be no repercussion; and
  • may have believed the Helium articles were not protected by copyright laws.

The latter may have been true. I never recalled seeing anything mentioned about work being copyrighted; however, many of the articles of mine that were republished on their site had been copyrighted upon publication on Hubpages.

This left me with one simple fix for this particular article; I had to do a full rewrite.

“404 Error”

One thing about trolls; they survive in popular culture, even evolving from the lowly beast to the lovable imps we know and love. So goes the original article. After dramatically writing a new article to replace the old one, it went on to be published as “Trolls: The Loveable Rejects of Mythology”. It garnered a few more positive reviews and would eventually be good enough to be moved to a niche site (over 3500 views as of this writing).

All is good for the troll article. That can’t be said about PitlaneMagazine. One day, when I was on the My Account page, the red circle C for stories taken by them were gone. I googled the Pitlane link and opened it. I got a “404 Error” instead.

After years of getting away with their violations, the site was eventually removed. Most likely, the move to remove it had to do with their name. It was the same name as a popular motor sport online magazine. In other words, the site plagiarized another site’s name.

Trolls and plagiarists may be two different entities. But eventually, they will be forced out of their hiding places. The plagiarist in this case was exposed and put out of business. The mythological troll, as I pointed out in the article, evolved and is now a joy to see on the silver screen and beyond.

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Work Cited

© 2018 Dean Traylor

Comments

Dean Traylor (author) from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on February 12, 2018:

Sweetroll? smh

Aaron Denee on February 07, 2018:

Someone stole your sweetroll?

Walter Shillington from Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada on February 07, 2018:

I've had a few articles plagiarized as well. Sometimes you can get then taken down, sometimes you can't.

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