Earlier this week, a Macworld reader posted a comment to an article I wrote last summer, indicating that in a Google search for the topic he found another site's take on the issue. Clicking through he discovered that it was a poorly ripped-off version of my piece—written the day after, mangling a lot of the English but still pulling phrases and words directly from it, and even using my screenshots (one of them from this very site).
Or, if the cache eventually disappears you can see a comparison of my words versus those first published by iMacland (thanks to my colleagues @DanFrakes and Lex Friedman, who produced comparison images). The words in purple are changed. Those in white are identical.
As someone who writes a lot and that writing gets noticed every so often, it’s not uncommon to have your stuff lifted—sometimes a little and other times more than a little. It can happen honestly—where someone thought they had the right to use it (even without credit)—or, as in this case, when it’s just a sleazy form of theft from someone who thought they could get away with it.
Because I’m naturally curious I thought I’d dig in to see what I could learn. First of all, the piece was “written” by someone going under the byline Nancy Plank on a site called iMacland.com. I lend this air of suspicion to her identity for a couple of reasons. First, her Twitter bio reads:
Nancy is a #Tech #Writer and She write about #android and #Imac #IOS. Smith is a shining personality who works to enlighten the mind of thousands of readers.
More hmm: Her bio photo bears another person's name:
Even more hmm: Dori Smith uncovered Nancy's twin on Facebook, whose name appears to be Sophia Marie.
And then there’s the notion that she lives in California (as claimed by Twitter). Her iMacland bio reads:
Nancy is a Tech Writer of iMacLand. Her mighty caliber helps iMacLand readers in finding out some of the latest and coolest gossips of the day with full-fledged expert opinion.
You’ve seen this kind of writing before. Something translated by a person or bot whose grasp of the English language is tenuous at best. Read other pieces on the site and you realize that whoever is putting this together (and I suspect this is one or two people at best), English is not their native tongue. So where might this site originate?
I turned to a Whois lookup to find out. It seems that iMacland.com is registered with GoDaddy, registered to one Zakir Hussain (the name of a famous Indian musician/actor, so likely fake), who is allegedly based in Faisalabad, Pakistan. That would explain the language issue.
So, having done my homework I sent the mythical @NancyPlank1 a tweet or two, indicating that I was onto her scheme and that she and her host should really take the thing down and move on with their lives.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked by the response but it’s always surprising when you catch someone red-handed—safe blown open, black mask over eyes, gun pointed at the bank manager—and their first reaction is “What did I do?”
First of all, Nancy and iMacland went into radio silence. Then the page went dark with a 404 error. “Good,” I thought. “They’ve seen reason.”
Ah but no. Instead the story is reposted, with new screenshots (giving me photo credit for shots they had just created) and reworded (still mangled, but at least not as many of the words were mine). And then the remarks you see below.
At the risk of aiding and abetting, here are two words of advice for those thinking of starting an exciting career in the plagiarism business: Google Cache.
To view a cached webpage, all you need to do is enter:
followed by the URL for the story you’d like to view. So, in this case:
When I did this I discovered, despite Nancy’s protestations that "My words…have not change (sic) even a full stop" the edits to her second "draft" of my article were even more extensive than the first pass. At least she finished her tweet with "If I have copied any of ur (sic) words then I will be guilty." Were I modeled after Perry Mason I'd turn to Della Street and smile "Case closed!" and waltz out for a steak dinner with all the trappings.
So. Very. Clumsy.
I’ve since relayed this information to both Nancy and iMacland via its Twitter account. No response so far, but I hope that they finally see that they’ve lost this one and slink off after taking down the page. On the other hand, every move they’ve made to this point has been ham-fisted so more hijinx may ensue. (Update: Nancy has changed her Twitter bio to remove the "Smith" reference and all the negative comments attached to the story have been removed and further comments shut down. In the meantime, John Braun has taken it upon himself to investigate just how deeply iMacland has stepped in the plagiarism puddle. Turns out the site has ripped off just about every major Mac site on the web. My guess is the site's future is none too bright.)
What I hope is the final update: It appears that iMacland has taken down the story and @NancyPlank1's Twitter account has moved to protected status. All staff pictures from the site have been removed as well, hinting that, like "Nancy's" image, they were pilfered from Facebook or some other social media site. The person running iMacland appears to welcome no more scrutiny as he or she has blocked the IP addresses of some of us who have been looking into their activities. Of course there are countless ways around this, but I got what I was after—the removal of my work and the tacit admission that they'd done wrong. Flowers and candy would be nice, but I know the postal rates from Pakistan can be ruinous.
Lessons learned? Surprise, there are sleazy people in the world. But more than that, there are stupid sleazy people in the world—people pushing junk through the web whose work can be unraveled in a matter of minutes.
I hope that whoever runs iMacland will learn a lesson or two from this. First, if you’re going to be a douchenoodle, at least try to be smart about it. Secondly, if you’re not very bright, perhaps it’s best to find honest work. Being both stupid and sleazy is not a formula for success.