Fighting Plagiarism in Blogging: Why Copyscape (and other plagiarism tools) Matters

Fighting plagiarism in blogging is an important part of running a trustworthy and credible site. Many bloggers are concerned about duplicate content and how it might impact their site rankings. While not all duplicated content is bad, if a site outranks you and is using the same content, then that can be a difficult situation that needs to be rectified. It is probably best practice to make sure that content bloggers submit is not plagiarized and tools like Copyscape are a great help to blog owners.

Detecting Plagiarism

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Dr. Paul Levinson

“There are some people who satisfy their need to be known as a writer not by writing original material, but by taking the works that others have written and publishing as their own,” said Dr. Paul Levinson, Communications Professor at Fordham University in NYC and a popular blogger.

As a website owner, you will run into this issue in various ways. Fortunately, there are some tools that you can use to detect plagiarism. These tools will help you watch for theft of your content as well as check writers working for you to make sure their material is unique.

Copyscape

Copyscape (www.copyscape.com) is one solution to help you combat plagiarism on your website. There are a number of key features to this software that you’ll find helpful in running your blog and making sure your content is 100% original.

  • If you suspect your content has been copied, you can compare two website pages or text next to text for free.
  • Scan purchased articles before you publish them (or guest posts) and make sure they are original content. This is a premium feature.
  • Automated site audits to check for duplicate content along with notifications of stolen content (Copysentry).

Although you will have to sign up for an account to utilize the key features of Copyscape that will keep you from publishing stolen content, the cost is very reasonable. Credits are only $0.05 US each with a minimum purchase of 100 credits (200 if you pay with PayPal).

Using Copyscape Premium

copyscape premium search

Copyscape Premium allows you to search articles for duplicate content before posting on your site.

To use Copyscape Premium features, login to your account, click on the “Premium” button in the top navigation bar, and make sure you have credits. Your screen will look like the screenshot above. Simply copy the text from the article the writer has submitted and paste it into the box. If you’ve already published the article and now suspect it could be copied, you can also paste a URL in this box.

copyscape premium search with sample text

Copyscape Premium search feature with sample text.

To show you how it works, I typed some sample text into the box and took a screenshot (above). The results, as you can see below, were that there were no matches.

copyscape premium search sample text results

Screenshot of search results from Copyscaped

Now, let’s take a look at what happens when you type in something that is copied. I’m going to use a short sample from a classic novel, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

copyscape duplicate content results

Sample Copyscape results when content is duplicated

Note that this search returned 72 results.

You can then go through and access additional features that allow you to compare text in the different results side by side with your sample. Or, click on the link and go to the website where duplicate content has been found.

In actuality, Pride and Prejudice is now in the public domain and you would be in your rights to use it. However, you will be competing with at least 72 other sites, so whether you would want to do that is debatable. Below is a screenshot of what you’ll see when you click on “compare text” and the detailed information that will pop up for you to peruse.

copyscape compare text example

Screenshot of results when you click on “Compare Text” button.

As you can see, Copyscape gives you the tools you need to figure out if the content writers are submitting is unique or not. This can be vital in your fight to combat plagiarism while still bringing in new writers from time to time. Of course, one of the best ways to combat copied content is to work with writers you have an established relationship with and know you can rely on, but in the early stages of your blog owner/writer relationship, it is smart to double-check their work on a frequent basis.

Tips to Fight Plagiarism on Your Blog

Monitoring Your Content for Piracy

There are many different options for monitoring your content for piracy.

  • Search for the keyword terms you want your site to rank for. What is the competition? Has anyone copied you?
  • Set up Google alerts for your brand. This will do two things. You’ll know when you are mentioned on another site. However, you can also embed your brand name within the text and potentially catch piracy.
  • Grab the first paragraph of some of your posts and run a search. Piracy sites will often copy all of your content at one time.
  • As mentioned above, submit pages to Copyscape for duplicate content.
  • Use Google Webmasters Tool to find duplicate content within your own website, similar titles, and duplicated meta tags.
  • Use a service such as MUSO to watch for piracy for you, especially on content such as ebooks or music.
  • Use Google Webmaster Tools to check for backlinks to your site. If a site has linked to your site multiple times, then they may be copying content. Look at it a bit more closely.

Being vigilant can protect your online property from pirates.

Checking Articles Before Posting on Your Site

When working with a team of writers, it is important to check from time to time for duplicated content. While it would be time consuming to check each piece, it is smart editing to check occasionally.

  • Let your writers know you plan to check for plagiarism and that it will be random and hit every writer from time to time. This might be all a write needs to dissuade him from copying content from another site.
  • Of course, make sure writers have a working knowledge of exactly what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.
  • Use Copyscape. However, you are very limited in what you can check for free. You will probably want a Premium account to really watch for copied content as outlined above in the section on Copyscape.
  • Run the text through a plagiarism checker before you post it. A Google search for “plagiarism checker” will turn up multiple free options. Many are used by educators, but there is no reason you can’t also use it to check your freelance writers. Keep in mind that you can check a small portion if you are limited to how many words you are able to check for free.

Read widely in your niche area. You’d be surprised how often you can recognize that you’ve read something somewhere before and then dig deeper into the actual word usage and see if it is plagiarized or just a similar idea.

How to Respond to Plagiarists

Dealing with plagiarism requires more than just detecting the problem, though. You also have to know how to respond to it. As a website owner, there are two types of intellectual property theft you might have to deal with. Type 1: Material others steal from your site and publish as their own. Type 2: Material a writer steals from another site and tries to sell to you for use on your site.

The way you deal with each is very different.

Type 1: Material Others Steal from Your Site

There are many times other people will plunder your website for material and copy it and paste on their own sites. The problem with this is that it makes your content less original. Also, it can hurt your search engine rank. Dr. Levinson mentioned that there are also other situations where someone might plagiarize your original work, such as by taking the idea and running away with it.

I have had a couple of situations over the years with pirates stealing my books, bloggers taking my original recipes (right down to pictures I took in my own kitchen), and a content company refusing to pay for the work and thus voiding our contract.

When it comes to pirating, you can easily file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice with Google or directly contact the site owner or web hosting company where the site resides.

Real life case study

CEO of Author Marketing Experts CEO, Penny Sansevieri has some specific advice for dealing with plagiarism.

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Penny Sansevieri

A couple of years ago we had someone steal one of our blog posts, word-for-word and put it up on their site, taking full credit as having authored it.

Here is what I did:

  • I wrote them, made “best efforts” which is what Google and their hosting company wants/needs you to show. They wrote back some odd/ strange response about not knowing what I meant (even though I included the link).
  • Then I went to Google to report plagiarism. I filled out their report, sent them my original link and the stolen blog post.
  • Their hosting was GoDaddy (our web person helped us figure this out) so I wrote to them as well, they (almost immediately) sent them a notice to comply within 48 hours or their site would go down.
  • Their site went down and it wasn’t until then that they wrote me, apologizing and agreeing to take it down. At this point Google had also written me and told me they had been in contact with them as well.

The whole process took less than two weeks – it’s fairly easy and certainly much easier than trying to go round and round with someone. Had I done that, I think this website owner would have continued to just ‘play dumb’.

I know exactly what Penny is talking about. I once had a blogger take an original recipe from my blog. Not only did she take it word-for-word, but she took my pictures. When I contacted her, she said she had every right to share a recipe as recipes are in the public domain. Umm… no. Not the way it works. I filed the DMCA and she took the page down.

On another occasion, I was working with a company that decided it just wasn’t going to pay its writers 1000s of dollars that were owed to them for content written for various companies. I requested payment, offered to break it down into segments if that would help them, and they just ignored me. I contacted them via phone, Skype, email and snail mail with no response.

Finally, I sent them a letter and informed them that if I was not paid by a certain date that I would file DMCA take down notices with Google for the sites where my work appeared as I still owned copyright on them until paid. Now, normally I would never do that because it really wasn’t the fault of those sites, who had paid for the content and believed the writers had been paid. However, my contract clearly stated I couldn’t contact the site owners directly about the issue.

They continued to ignore my requests for months for them to fulfill their part of the contract. I offered to work with them if they would just contact me, and still no response. So, I filed the notices and their clients let them have it. They paid me in full within three days. While that might be a last resort, the points is that you do have recourse when your intellectual work is stolen, no matter what way it is stolen.

Type 2: Material a Writer Steals from Another Site and Tries to Sell to You

One of the worst feelings in the world is to put your trust in one of your writers to produce unique content for you only to find out they are copying and pasting entire articles and trying to pass the writing off as their own.

Real life case study

Michelle Dupler, the PR & Content Strategist for Postali, a legal marketing company based in Columbus, Ohio, used to work as the Senior Content Developer for the company. Her roles included editing freelancer copy for their law firm websites.

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Michelle Dupler

For SEO purposes, content that is too similar to other content on the web, or that exactly duplicates portion of that content, can result in search ranking penalties. Duplicate content can look spammy to Google’s algorithm, or can confuse Google’s algorithm so that it doesn’t know which of the two similar pages to rank for the primary search term, meaning that we lose opportunities for our content to rank highly and catch the attention of potential law firm clients.

Using Copyscape to evaluate writers’ work

We use Copyscape to evaluate each piece of content that our in-house and freelance writers produce to ensure that nothing gets published to one of our sites that plagiarizes another site — or even our own sites. We also make sure that each piece of content is read by an in-house editor who will catch inappropriate similarities from piece to piece by the same writer, and advise our writers to never use copy-and-paste but to always make sure that when they’re paraphrasing material from another site — or even from their own work — that the paraphrase does more than change a few words and is in fact an original piece of writing.

Working with new writers

We explain our anti-plagiarism stance up front whenever working with a new writer, and structure our freelance writer contract to specify that each piece of writing must be completely original. When we catch a writer plagiarizing, we don’t work with them again unless there are compelling circumstances that suggest the writer truly didn’t intend to plagiarize and should get a second chance — but they never get a third. Understanding what plagiarism is — and how to avoid it — is simply a baseline requirement for all who consider themselves professional writers.

How Other Bloggers/Experts Protect Themselves

If you’ve had your intellectual property stolen, you aren’t alone. Many website owners have experienced just this problem.

Brock Murray, seoplus+

Brock Murray, Co-Founder/COO, seoplus+ (www.seoplus.ca), Digital Marketing Agency shares his thoughts:

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Brock Murray

Plagiarism abounds on the Internet. I even had an instance of another SEO company plagiarizing my website content. If anyone should know better, it’s an SEO company. Actually, there is someone who should know better: an intellectual property lawyer. We have a law firm client whose legal services content was lifted word-for-word by another law firm in a different province!

Plagiarism is a high compliment, in a way

Plagiarism is a high compliment, in a way. For one, it means that your content reads well and was deemed rich enough and accurate enough to be lifted wholesale by a copycat. It also means your web content is ranking well, because the thief likely found it through a simple Google search. But plagiarism is also illegal and threatens the status of your website if for any reason a search engine, or searcher, believes the duplicated content to be original.

You can’t prevent plagiarism, but you can do your part to make sure that search engines know you came up with it. Always index your content via Google Search Console as soon as you post it. Even though any content you post online is automatically your intellectual property, to be safe, include a copyright notice on your site and terms of use page that outline the limits on reproducing/reusing your content. Use Copyscape to check for plagiarized content. If you find it, report the website directly to Google. Another fortifying option is to create a Google authorship profile to organize your original content under your name.

You have every right to take an aggressive legal approach

You also have every right to take an aggressive legal approach, sending cease and desist letters to the thief, take down letters to the host, or suing for damages as per copyright law. This is an individual approach, however, and there will always be new content thieves ready to profit from your hard work with a simple copy/paste.

It is worth noting that duplicate content and plagiarism doesn’t strictly exist on external sites. If you run a blog with multiple writers or have a more open source format, be sure to scan your site using Siteliner to check that your entire site contains unique content internally. You never want to unknowingly have plagiarized content your site, which can happen if you have untrustworthy writers, or hire a bad marketing company that doesn’t care. Be sure to be vigilant and proactive about your web content, or you could face serious penalties in terms of your rankings and web presence.

If you [want] to include or repost another source’s content on your site for any reason, be sure to include proper attribution, and the code tag “rel=canonical” at the top of the page. This tag ensures that search engines see your content as duplicate but will not penalize you.

John McDougall, McDougall Interactive Marketing

John McDougall, the author of the award-winning book, Web Marketing On All Cylinders, and President of McDougall Interactive Marketing shared some thoughts on plagiarism with us:

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John McDougall

We have seen clients’ sites suffer from content that is duplicate or plagiarized.

We often have people that write for us submit proof via Copyscape that their work is in fact original.

While Google Panda can hurt a site with duplicate content even if the content was not intentionally stolen/scraped, often it just means that the content won’t rank well. That may not cause a massive penalty but it will hurt you in the sense you think your blogging is helping and for SEO it is not. There are syndication / indexing / no indexing tags that can help Google understand your intentions.

A decade ago we saw law firm clients with content written once by Findlaw – a large law website building company and directory – and then given to the masses.

Just recently we saw one website by a new small legal client that has been made for him and then copied dozens of times by the company who made it and given with the exact same picture in the banner of the guys hand holding a pen to a long list of their companies.

We have also had numerous financial planners and banks just recently mention they are taking content they pay for and posting it on their blog even though that content is made for hundreds of other financial institutions.

So the issue is common not just in blog writers who intentionally deceive but in clients having no idea that content they buy, that is not unique to them, will hurt them.

John makes an excellent point. That cheap content that you’re so excited about gaining may be exactly worth what you’re paying for it.

Plagiarism Is Unethical

You might be able to get by with having some copied content on your site, but why would you want to? It is unethical to steal the work of other bloggers, whether you did it or you failed to check the work of your writers and they did it. If you consistently copy material, you may suffer the consequences. These can be anything from people filing DMCA notices against your site, to readers losing trust in you to provide unique content, to legal consequences for the theft. It just isn’t worth it to be lax in watching for plagiarism.