News content

Google has a problem with plagiarized news content, but says it’s up to publishers to deal with it

Plagiarism is serious business, especially in journalism. But while individual writers stealing portions of other creators’ work online is a problem, there’s nothing about sites that wholesale scam countless articles, repackaging them as their own in an attempt to steal the eyes and ad sales without any real work. While it’s hard to stop this process from happening, it’s only really a problem if a major channel like, say, Google starts showing these results instead of unique, original reports. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening – and it doesn’t seem like the company is doing much to stop it.

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The folks at 9to5Google spotted stolen content from their site, our site, and CNBC in Google Discover, throughout the Web Stories feature introduced in 2020. If you’re unfamiliar with Web Stories, it’s probably because you’ve become adept at ignoring any attempt at story-style features. This feature was Google’s keystone in blending Snapchat and news into a single product, initially launched with some major publications like Vice and Input. However, the easy integration with CMS software was the real draw for Web Stories, with WordPress among the partners.

This support has brought us to where we are today. Rather than populating Web Stories with the same major media posts you’re likely to find in Discover, Google seems to be taking advantage of anyone wanting to use the plugin – and increasingly it’s low-effort sites dedicated to theft of content, purely to put it online. In fact, in many cases, these sites are tailor-made for only take over these web stories, cluttering up your Discover feed and reaping ad dollars from anyone who unknowingly clicks on one.


Content stolen from The Verge, with original section highlighted at right. The entire intro has been lifted basically for this Web Stories entry.

Personally, it didn’t take me long to spot the stolen content in Web Stories – in fact, the very first entry Google served me ripped off The Verge. That same “Insane” post previously spotted by 9to5 made its way to my feed, stealing parts of The Verge’s cover of YouTube TV’s 5.1 surround sound update. In an attempt to save face, he omitted specific words and phrases, creating a jumble of hard-to-read slides. Effectively, however, these sentences match perfectly.

Another example, this time outside the world of tech. Rolling Stone’s review of Barry, stolen for a slideshow.


Digging through the rest of the stream yielded similar results. A review of Barry’s Season 3 finale by “Harvest House” was filled with blurbs stolen from Alan Sepinwall’s review of Rolling Stone, and yet it had the nerve to end with a splash screen “Brought to you by Harvest House”. A site called “Google’s Guide” stole coverage of the Meet and Duo merger from TheTechXP, and although they share a WordPress theme, the two don’t appear to be connected. SlashGear and XFire were the only two websites in my feed that doesn’t display identical articles on other sites; they were also the only sites to feature author signatures in their cover.

You might think that Google would care to get this under control, or at the very least save face to watch a little more innocent. While it’s not necessarily the company’s fault that these stories are spamming its feed, it does build the tools that allow these low-effort posts to steal content from sources like this site. Instead, Google shifted responsibility to publishers like us, issuing the following statement to 9to5Google:

“Web Stories are believed to reflect the original works, and we encourage rights holders to report copyright infringement. If we become aware of content that infringes someone else’s copyright , we are taking appropriate action.”

Simply put, the company believes it is the responsibility of rights holders to seek out this content, report it to Google, and wait for it to be removed.

Unfortunately, without an active effort from the search giant, it looks like it’s turning into, at best, a game of whack-a-mole. Launching a new plagiarism factory doesn’t take long, and with Google’s toolset, it’s all too easy to start spamming web stories from a new site. As it stands, the company has let its Snapchat-for-news service crumble under the weight of low-effort content and stolen material. Ultimately, it’s up to Google to deal with this stuff, and without any action on its part, the Discover’s Stories clone seems like a good candidate for the Killed By Google graveyard. As things stand, not much would be lost anyway.