Theft of journalists' work is exploding on the internet thanks to a new wave of automated story-copying software - but news organisations are not equipped to tackle the problem, according to one reporter carving a niche as the web's anti-plagiarism crusader.

Conventional forms of plagiarism, in which writers poach one another's words, resurfaced recently after fired its right-wing blogger for the offence and an unproven claim brought against Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown was heard in court. But now online marketers are harvesting journalists' work to boost their visibility, says Jonathan Bailey, editor of Plagiarism Today, a weblog rapidly gaining popularity with victims seeking help.

"The New York Times, the AP and countless others have been hit with plagiarism scandals recently," he told "While computers and the web have made it easier for journalists to do that, the act is the same as it was 50 years ago.

"What's changing is what is happening to journalists as their content moves online. No longer is their content at risk just from other news sources - they are at risk from amateur bloggers and, possibly worst of all, spammers.

"Automated plagiarism, in the form of spam blogging or splogging, is becoming both more common and more sophisticated. Sploggers can use RSS feeds, which most news sites provide, to scrape content and re-post it on their sites automatically, enabling one person to steal from tens of thousands of sites."

The free content provides valuable keywords against which to place contextual adverts.

Mr Bailey, a New Orleans-based writer and journalism graduate, founded Plagiarism Today in June 2005 when he began a private blog to document an ongoing battle concerning theft of his own work. Bruised by the affair, he turned the site public to chronicle other copycats' misdemeanours and added resources like detection tools and cease-and-desist letters for freelancers to use.

Drawing a wider audience as awareness of the problem gathers pace, Mr Bailey offers free advice to journalists who fall prey to lawbreakers and provides professional "plagiarism strategy" consultancy in weightier cases. He is perhaps the web's only dedicated plagiarism hitman and claims to have shot down more than 350 sites in the past four years - an attempt to bring his first lawsuit against an offender was put on the back burner only after Hurricane Katrina hit his home town.

Mr Bailey advises journalists to create Google Alerts for key phrases in their stories and to request removal of their copied work from web hosts and search services if wayward publishers refuse to remove the material themselves.

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