You’ve spent countless hours researching the perfect article idea. You made sure you had a unique slant, that the keywords were just right and that the article was high quality and would rank well in search engines. After slaving over the article, you are thrilled to see that when people search for a particular phrase that your article comes up near the top of the results page.
Your hard work is paying off with a nice boost in traffic when suddenly the traffic drops, and your page isn’t appearing on Google searches the way it was. You may just be the victim of content scraping.
“Unfortunately in the blogging world there is one thing we’ll all have to deal with sooner or later — content scraping. This is when someone steals a post or article you wrote and publishes it on their own site.” – Melanie Nelson, Blogging Basics 101
Will It Really Hurt Your Site Traffic?
The good news is that someone stealing your content may not hurt your site as bad as it did in the past.
One of the new features of Google’s algorithm changes is that they can tell where the original content was posted in most cases and will penalize sites copying the work of others. The bad news is that it may siphon off some readers who don’t know or pay attention to who wrote the article, but only want information on the topic.
Another thing is to consider is simply the fact that someone else is taking credit or skimming your hard work. They are stealing your time, which is worth whatever your hourly rate might be or whatever revenue you would normally make on that article. If you’re like most bloggers, even if someone stealing your work didn’t impact your traffic one iota, you don’t like the idea of someone sitting back and taking it easy while you do all the work and they reap the benefits.
How Can You Catch Copy Cats?
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for a reader to point out the plagiarism or to stumble across it on your own. There are several tools available that can help you discover content thieves quickly and easily.
Ginny Soskey, over at HubSpot, suggests using Copyscape to track down theft of your writing. Although Copyscape has long been used by teachers to catch students cheating, you can also plug your website address into the search box and it will tell you where else on the Internet that content appears. Set a reminder in your calendar to check about once a quarter for content scraping. Copyscape does offer a service called CopySentry that will monitor pages for you to see if they are being scraped. However, if your blog is large, this might not be cost effective.
Set up Google Alerts. Google offers this feature to help you find interesting new content, but you can certainly use it to track key phrases within your articles and receive notification if those phrases are copied by someone else. If you create a large amount of content, then you may want to consider a unique catchphrase for the end of your articles and set up a single alert for that catchphrase. Otherwise, your inbox may be overwhelmed with Google notifications.
RSS Footer Plugin
If you run a WordPress blog add the RSS Footer plugin. This will add a line of text of your choice to any copied content. So, you can add a few words and a link, for example. Granted, a thief may choose to delete that info, but some will keep it and at least you’ll get a link back if a few words or a paragraph is copied here and there. I would just consider that fair use.
Is the Person a Thief or Just Uninformed?
Let’s say you plugging in your website to Copyscape and discovered that someone has lifted an entire article and placed it on their website. Before you take action, and we’ll give you the steps to follow below, try to decide if the person is new to the Internet and could possibly just not understand plagiarism or if he knows exactly what he is doing and doesn’t care. The first may just need information to understand what amount of your work can be quoted or how to get permission to reprint articles while the second is going to be more difficult to deal with.
New bloggers may be looking for excellent content and not realize the etiquette of blogging. I know it’s hard to imagine in this day and age that they wouldn’t understand the basics of stealing another person’s content, but it is possible. Give them the benefit of the doubt for your first communication, unless it is obvious you are dealing with a content scraping site. You may have better luck getting the content removed quickly and could even make a contact in the process that will link to your site and tell others what a nice blogger you are and to visit you often.
Steps to Get Your Stolen Content Removed
Step #1: Take Screenshots and Gather Your Proof
As soon as you find a scraped article on another site, take screenshots and save them. In addition, you’ll want to gather proof that the content is your original work, including:
- Original document, preferably with date of creation
- Screenshots of content on your own site
- Screenshot of results in Copyscape showing the content has been copied verbatim
- Documents from your research, such as notes or search history from your website browser
Step #2: Determine Whether It’s Fair Use or Not
Before you take action, decide whether the site is using your content fairly. Fair use is has some gray edges. Did the other site owner use a short quote from you, such as I did above and source where that quote came from? This would be fair use. This can actually be beneficial for your site traffic, because it does not take your complete work or try to pass it off as their own work when it isn’t. However, if the site lifted the entire article, that is not fair use. Sara Bird posted a very detailed description of what constitutes fair use over on Moz.com. One key thing to note is that fair use always attributes the original words to the author of those words.
Step #3: Contact the Site Owner Directly
Locate the site owner. You can usually find the contact information under “Contact Us” or “About Us”. If the information is not readily available, try:
- Searching the source code meta tags. For Mozilla Firefox, go to “Web Developer” and then “Page Source”. For Internet Explorer, go to “View” then “Source” or hit Ctrl+U. Now, search for “mailto” and see if there is an e-mail listed in the source code.
- Visit WHOIS and see if contact information is listed for the website owner.
- Search for the site on DNS Stuff.
If possible, send them both an e-mail and a snail mail letter. The letter should state what the problem is, what you want them to do and include a date you need to hear back from them by. Here is a sample letter:
Dear Mr. Smith:
On October 1, 2007, I published an article titled “Most Amazing Content Ever” on my blog MostAmazingBlog.com. The content in that article appears word-for-word on your website. This exceeds fair use and it is not attributed to the original author. This is my copyrighted content and I need for you to remove this content from your website in its entirety immediately. Please respond to this letter by December 2, 2013. I can be reached at 555-555-5555 or via e-mail at AmazingWriter@MostAmazingBlog.com.
Typically, the content will disappear but you may not receive a response to your letter. That’s fine. You achieved your goal and the content is removed. Other times, you may receive a letter of apology stating the person didn’t realize they were stealing your content. Of course, they had to know that it was your content, but it is best to be gracious. As mentioned above, some people really don’t understand netiquette. Hopefully he or she just learned a valuable lesson for future reference.
Step #4: Submit a DMCA Complaint
If you do not receive a response to your letters by the listed date or the other website owner refuses to remove your copyrighted material, you may need to file a complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Website hosting company may be liable for copyright infringements if they do not provide a way for you to submit a complaint or do not investigate the complaint.
First, you can use a service like Who Is Hosting This? to track down the web hosting company. It may be listed through WHOIS as well.
According to Bob Nicholson on ArtChain:
“Send the DMCA agent a “takedown notice.” Clearly identify the web address and the material that infringes your copyrights. Provide a statement that you are the copyright owner (along with supporting evidence if you can provide it), and ask them to remove the content in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”
The Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC) offers a sample take-down letter on their website that you can use to contact the hosting company. You can also file a DMCA with Google and they may block the page from their servers.
The DMCA also offers take-down services. Their professionals will handle sending the letter and they even offer a guarantee that the content will be removed. You’ll still need to collect your evidence, of course.
Step #5: Take Legal Action
At this point, if the content is still on the website, you need to determine if it’s worth taking legal action. Perhaps the hosting company resides outside of the US and is not subject to US copyright laws, for example. Keep in mind that hiring a lawyer is expensive. This simply may not be worth the cost and aggravation involved. However, if you have plenty of extra money and you want to make a point, you need to hire an attorney well-versed in International copyright laws.
Prevent Thieves on the Front End
The best course of action is to put safeguards in place to prevent the thieves on the front end. It is easier to add a few features to make it more difficult to copy your content than to try to get it removed when digital piracy occurs.
Add plugins, such as the RSS plugin mentioned above. Disable right clicking and copying on your website (this can be accomplished with a plugin for WordPress sites). Add notices that clearly state that your content cannot be copied and provide an e-mail address for those who have questions. Add a banner to your site that shows it is DMCA protected.
You may even want to write an article about what digital piracy is and link to it from each of your articles in the footer. Consider titling it something like “Stop! Don’t Copy This Article”.
If you write enough content, at some point you will be the victim of digital piracy. Stay calm, work through the steps listed above and your chances of getting your stolen content removed will improve.