Firefox: The Plagiarist’s Worst Enemy

Over the years I’ve been fighting plagiarism, I’ve experimented with a lot of applications. Some have been free, others have been commercial. Some have been open source, others have been closed. All in all, if there’s an application that’s promised some benefit in my plagiarism fight, odds are that I have at least tinkered with it.

However, of all the applications that I have tried, none have proved as useful or invaluable as the Firefox browser. It’s the one application that I consistently wonder how I survived without and have watched as, over the years, it has radically changed the way I deal with plagiarism incidents.

In the end, it’s a tool no Webmaster should be without.

Why Firefox?

Though much of Firefox’s plagiarism fighting power rests in its extensions, which we will discuss later, the browser itself has some critical features that make it a powerful plagiarism-fighting tool.

Tabbed Browsing: Dealing with plagiarism can require a lot of open browser windows. You need at least one for your site, one for the plagiarists, one or two for your email (if you use Webmail) and one for search results isn’t a bad idea. If every window requires a new instance of your browser, not only can you clutter your desktop up beyond all hope, but you can slow your system to a crawl. Browser tabs is not an option and is a feature executed very well by Firefox.

Security: Plagiarism doesn’t happen in the best parts of town. Many times sites that engage in plagiarism also partake in other illegal activities, including spyware and virus distribution. This is especially true of spam blogs. Though Firefox’s security record isn’t perfect, it won’t fall victim to the most common attacks and adds an extra layer of protection.

Accessibility: A browser has to go where the plagiarists are. If a browser chokes on plugins or can’t load an invalid page, it’s almost useless. Since plagiarists’ sites are rarely shining examples of compatibility and standards, a browser must be fault-tolerant and highly compatible.

But even though these features set Firefox apart from most browsers they aren’t the reason that Firefox is my first, and currently only, choice for fighting plagiarism.

Scrapbook

The greatest power in Firefox lies in the ability to add extensions to it to customize the browser to your liking. Of the extensions available, one of the most useful is the Scrapbook Extension.

The Scrapbook Extension is a classic case of unintended benefits. The extension is designed to allow users to capture and organize Web pages to their hard drive. The extension offers a folder system for organizing saved pages, a note system that allows you to leave notes inline, on stickies and at the footer of the captured page and a powerful search feature for finding content in your saved library.

The extension is a boon for researchers, individuals with only limited access to the Internet and, fortunately for me, those dealing with large volumes of plagiarism. The extension allows me to visit a plagiarist’s page, capture it to my hard drive and leave notes on it regarding the infringing material found and the steps that I have taken to deal with it. It also allows me to organize instances by cases I’ve just discovered, cases I’ve taken some action against and cases that are "handled". Finally, it makes it simple to follow up on instances that are awaiting reply, a right click to visit the original link is all that it takes.

This is many times easier than the old system, which consisted of using a traditional database to keep track of plagiarist data. The system was sluggish, required a large volume of manual entry, provided no visual reference, was difficult to search through and offered no easy means of follow up. The use of Scrapbook to track plagiarist information has literally shaved fifteen minutes off of my handling of each case.

Even Webmasters with significantly less plagiarism can benefit from scrapbook. When combined with screenshots and archive images on Google and the Web Archive it can provide proof of the activities and serve as a visual reminder should a similar plagiarist emerge later.

Other interesting features include the ability to highlight text (IE: The infringing material), the ability to crop out extraneous information to reduce file size and the combine feature, which merges multiple pages into one lengthier one (useful for plagiarism that’s spread across multiple pages).

All in all, Scrapbook has become an indispensable tool for me when dealing with and organizing plagiarism.

Signature

The idea behind Signature  is very simple, constant access to the blocks of text you use the most. As the name indicates, it’s commonly used to append signatures to outgoing email and forum postings.

However, even though the extension was designed to work with shorter blocks of text, there’s no limit to how long the entries in Signature’s database can be. The extension, which is also available for Thunderbird, has often been used in lieu of a "reply with template" feature found in other email clients.

This ability to paste templates into any text box, anywhere on the Web is invaluable. If you load up your predefined plagiarism templates (cease and desist, DMCA notice, etc.) into Signature you can paste it into any Web form including any Webmail, an abuse form on a site or even a messaging program on a social networking site. Almost anywhere you can type text, you can paste your template.

While it’s true that this extension is mainly a time saver, especially considering that much of it could be done with just files on your desktop and traditional copy/paste. It enables you to keep the number of open applications to a minimum and generally streamline the process.

It is worth noting that, currently, Signature has trouble pasting into Gmail’s rich text editor (easily fixed by switching to plain text mode) and that the system for editing templates is rather basic at this time. Despite these minor drawbacks, it’s more than adequate and, once its set up, becomes completely natural.

A Word on Opera

It’s worth taking a moment to note that Opera is easily my second choice for plagiarism-fighting browser. It has many advantages over Firefox including a built-in notes feature that replaces Signature and a mail client that can be useful if you don’t use a Web-based email.

Also, Opera user Dmitry Antonyuk has developed a Scrapbook Analogue entitled OBook . Though OBook is still in beta, it is very impressive and does many of the capturing and organizing features Scrapbook does. However, at this time, it lacks notetaking and other features in Scrapbook that are critical to me and OBook is Windows-only, requiring a separate install.

That, coupled with the fact that I’ve had trouble loading several sites with Opera have kept me from making it number one for this purpose, though I do often find myself using it as my regular browser.

A Word on IE

Internet Explorer 6, the version on most computers, is almost completely useless for plagiarism fighting. Security flaws, lack of tabbed browsing and other problems make it a kludge to use for this purpose. Internet Explorer 7 addresses many of those problems but doesn’t, at this time, offer much in the way of extension support.

Despite this, it’s possible to replicate many of the effects of the above mentioned Firefox extensions. Netsnippets, for example provides a service very similar to Scrapbook and several applications, including FastPaste can simulate Signature.

However, all of these applications involve installing another piece of software to your computer and keeping them running in the background. Also, most of the powerful applications are not free and can be quite costly, especially when compared to the "free" price tag that comes with Firefox extensions.

Still, if one has to use IE for plagiarism fighting, it can be done.

Conclusions

Firefox is more than an incredible browser, it is a versatile tool that has many potential functions, one of them stopping plgiarism and content theft.

However, like any great tool you have to have some idea how to use it in order to gain the most from it. It took me a long time to learn how to apply Firefox as I have and I’m learning more every day.

Secretly, I’m hoping that someone out there knows of another useful extension that I missed and will let me know.

For I’m always open to new ideas from friendly souls.

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Firefox, Thunderbird, Mozilla, Signature, Scrapbook[/tags]
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