As self-media booms in China, plagiarism has become a profitable business

Updated 2018-05-16 11:15:04

On Chinese social media, plagiarizing an article is only a click away with special apps

○ Marketing companies skirt copyright laws by slightly modifying popular original articles.

○ Such companies earn revenue from advertisers and clicks, but do not pay the authors of the original work.

○ China has been strengthening its protection of intellectual property rights in a bid to develop intellectual property and encourage innovation.

"How can I stand that? Plagiarizing an author's story is like rubbing his soul on the ground," Mao Li, a Shanghai-based writer, posted on her WeChat public account recently.

Two months ago, Mao began to receive messages from her readers telling her that her articles might have been "laundered" by another account, named Fat Girl After-school Class.

According to online lingo, "laundering articles" refers to changing and editing other's original work to make the entire article "look different" while plagiarizing its most valuable content, including the ideas and structure of the original article.

Mao, a full-time writer, has been running her WeChat account since 2016 and has posted 450 original articles about life and relationships, gaining her 130,000 followers.

"I found three other accounts plagiarized me… but this time the situation was too severe," Mao told the Global Times.

Mao and her fans then began to collect evidence of Fat Girl's plagiarizing. They found that in recent months, Fat Girl always released stories with similar topics, settings, plots and sentences as those Mao published several months ago. Some plagiarized articles even have more views than Mao's.

Then Mao noticed Fat Girl was actually a commercial account run by a marketing company. Such companies attract followers and views by posting "fake original articles" and earn profits through publicizing commercial advertisements.

Posting an advertisement on the Fat Girl account costs 80,000 yuan (,600), a person in the know told Mao, which suggests that the account earns more than 500,000 yuan in just half a year, more than Mao's income.

"These accounts do nothing but plagiarize original articles with opinions that resonate with readers to make sure that the accounts attract as many followers as possible," said Mao.

Mao revealed that many such accounts are run by marketing companies and they steal clients from the original authors.

Mao's assistant told the Global Times that after she had accused Fat Girl of laundering articles on WeChat, many of its previous clients announced that they would not continue cooperating with Fat Girl anymore.

However, when asked if she would sue Fat Girl's company, Mao said that since she did not belong to a company herself, she could hardly afford a lawyer.

"Copying is easy to distinguish, but identifying 'laundering' is really difficult. I understand why these self-media platforms cannot eliminate such behavior," Mao said.

WeChat, the most influential self-media platform in China, had 3.5 million monthly active accounts, according to its statistics in September 2017.

Xinhua reported on May 10 that a pack of 981 public accounts with 240 million followers is worth 3.87 million yuan.

However, as quality original content is rare and highly needed, in order to continue attracting followers, some people turn to "laundering articles," which has formed an underground chain.

Experts said that it is difficult to decide whether a "laundered" article is a violation of an original work, and urged the government to promote people's respect of intellectual property rights (IPR).

Underground laundering chain

"Looking for writers for entertainment work, 300 words with four pictures… five yuan for one article." "Message me if you can launder articles. I decide the topic and you just launder, as long as you are not stupid."

Hundreds of such recruitment ads are posted in a chat group called "self-media articles laundering communication group" on QQ, a popular social media tool. Similar information can also easily be spotted on other social media platforms, such as forum-like Baidu Tieba.

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