In a post entitled “Want To Know Why Newspapers Are Going Out Of Business? Because Adding Value Never Seems To Be An Option“, Mike Masnick writes:
As we’ve pointed out repeatedly, there are a bunch of sites out there that copy all our content. Not just the headlines and the ledes, but all of the content. Some are pure spam sites. Some are aggregation sites. Some are trying (and failing) to prove the point that we’d get upset if someone copied our stuff. But, that’s not what happens — because this site has much more than just the content. It has the community. It has the Insight Community, where we actually help the community make money. Some of our community members made five figures in 2008. What newspaper has done that for their community? Our community has great ongoing discussions all the time. These other sites can’t replicate that. All they can do is end up sending us more traffic.
I don’t always agree with Masnick (see this debate as an example) and I feel strongly that wholesale copying is unethical, not to mention that it violates fair use. I doubt Masnick disagrees on either count. But he’s right that preventing copying through technical and legal means is, for the most part, a futile battle: at most, you can go after high-profile, blatant offenders.
But community can’t be copied. Even if you mirrored all of this blog’s content and put someone else’s name on it, the comment threads would still live here. You could copy those too, but only the readers who came here could participate in the conversation, and I believe that would still draw most of you.
I’m not encouraging anyone to test this theory–I’d really rather not have rogue versions of this blog proliferating in the hands of unscrupulous spammers. But I do think that Masnick is onto something: the only real copy protection is making your value proposition inherently uncopiable. Building a community where readers partcipate is a great way to create such value.