Content Marketing

How to Prevent (and Deal With) Content Theft

You’ve probably heard the phrase “content is king.” And that’s truer than ever in the current age of social media and content marketing.

If you want to succeed online, you can increase your chances by providing high quality content. That’s what people keep coming back for. That’s what people share via their favorite social networks. And that’s what people naturally link to, which in turn influences search engine rankings.

Because high quality content is valuable and takes time to create, it’s no wonder less-than-ethical people try to steal that content for quick traffic or profit. It’s also no surprise when the original creators of the content get upset by this because theft diminishes the value of their own work and allows selfish and lazy individuals to profit off them without their permission.

Let’s take a quick look at some things you can do to prevent content theft in the first place (mostly related to written content although some apply to visual and audio content as well). And then let’s look at some steps you can take to deal with content thieves when they steal your work.

5 Ways to Prevent Content Theft

Here are five things you can do to try to prevent content theft.

  1. Offer only RSS feed summaries. This can prevent scrapers from easily stealing your full articles by simply syndicating your full RSS feed without permission. The downside to this is that it’s an inconvenience for your honest feed subscribers who can’t view your articles in full in their favorite feed readers. I consider this a last resort.
  2. Write with a unique voice. The more recognizable your content is, the more difficult it is for someone to get away with stealing your material. Readers will be more likely to notice and alert you to the issue. This is especially helpful when dealing with thieves who steal content from feeds from several bloggers, collecting them into a single blog. Their own readers will have an easier time realizing all of their content isn’t actually coming from the same source.
  3. Include your byline on all content, and set up alerts for your byline. Put your name on everything you publish. If nothing else, it provides a publication record to show you were the original author. Set up a Google Alert for your name then and you’ll receive a notification whenever someone uses one of your articles (thieves often steal your byline along with the content because they steal it all automatically, making them easy to catch this way).
  4. Use plagiarism detection tools. I’m not a big fan of plagiarism detection tools like Copyscape, because they’re often used by thieves themselves to edit stolen content just enough to fool those tools. But that’s still theft — in many cases only the original owner can authorize that derivative work (usually called a “rewrite” or “spun” version). Rewrites without that permission can be illegal depending on the source. However, these tools can still help you catch exact copies of your content, so they’re worth using if your content is frequently stolen.
  5. Include a rights notice. Sometimes a simple copyright notice is enough to deter content thieves because it makes it clear that republishing your content is not okay. Keep in mind that rules vary around the world. So don’t assume you can reuse material just because there is no copyright notice on the page. In many places copyright holders do not have to include this in order to have their work legally protected. Similarly, a site having an RSS feed does not mean you have the right to publish and profit from that content (the word “syndication” being a part of that name in no way actually transfers rights from the owner). If most theft occurs via RSS feeds, consider including a separate terms of use notice for your RSS feed, so subscribers can use it but thieves cannot.

5 Ways to Deal With Content Thieves

What do you do if those steps don’t work? Here are some things you can do to deal with content thieves when you do find them.

  1. Send a cease and desist notice. Make these polite, but firm. (Remember, the person you contact might not be the same person who stole your content.) And include specifics, like links to the stolen content, so the site owner can quickly and easily remove your content. I usually give the thief 48 hours to remove my content from their website.
  2. Do some background research. You should compile the site owner’s information, ad network account info (if available in their site’s html), and host name. You can find this information by looking at Whois records, ad network code in their site’s source code, and reverse lookups online that tell you who is hosting a website.
  3. Contact the site’s advertisers. If the thief doesn’t remove your content as instructed in a timely manner, contact their advertisers first. If they use ad networks (such as Adsense) their entire account might get suspended for violating the program’s terms. Even private advertisers don’t usually want to be associated with known thieves. But networks don’t want to tarnish their relationships with their own advertisers, so they can be faster to act in removing ads from sites hosting illegal content.
  4. Contact the search engines. If the stolen content is ranking well in search engines, they’re getting free traffic from your material. You can contact major search engines and have them de-indexed. For example, search engines like Google and Bing are required to abide by Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) rules. If you send them a DMCA notice and can prove your ownership, they will de-index the stolen versions from their search engines. Don’t assume that it’s no big deal as long as they aren’t outranking your original right now. That could change with a future algorithm update, or if you rebrand your own site, change URLs, or otherwise move that content in a way that it appears newer to search engines. And it’s an even bigger risk if you’re running a relatively new blog and a more established one steals from you, as happened to blogger Darren Stevens who shared his story at Hongkiat.
  5. Contact their host. Only after you contact advertisers and search engines should you contact the thief’s web hosting company. This is because once the material is removed by the host, search engines and advertisers can no longer view the evidence of theft. This is a last resort when someone refuses to remove stolen content from their website. If the site is hosted in the U.S. (as many internationally-owned sites are), you can send a DMCA notice. But even if they’re hosted locally or in another country, you can send them a notice of the rights violation. Even if they don’t have specific laws like the DMCA, many hosts forbid publishing stolen content in their own terms of service. So if you report their customers they can force them to remove the stolen content or suspend the entire hosting account for violating their terms.

In one particularly bad example, a content thief stole an image-heavy article of mine, using my own personal photos. In that case, I even went so far as to swap out the images on my own site and put up infringement notice images at the old images’ URLs (which the content thief was hot-linking). So the stolen article featured quite a few images telling the thief’s readers he was, indeed, a thief. I don’t recommend this regularly as it’s more time-consuming (and the page should come down anyway). But when you’re particularly ticked off, it’s quite cathartic. Here’s what that stolen post looked like when I did this:

I Steal Content

Many people mistakenly believe that pursuing content thieves is too time consuming or expensive to be worthwhile. That’s not the case. You can create form letters one time and simply plug in the new URLs of stolen content for each report you file. It’s a fairly quick process after the first time. And with services like Google Alerts, a lot of theft is found automatically without you having to do any work at all.

If your content drives traffic, ad revenue, or customers to you it has value that you shouldn’t simply let others profit from. A link back from their spam site littered with other stolen content doesn’t have enough value to let it slide. Just remember to hit them where it hurts — traffic and money. Only after approaching search engines and advertisers should you try to have their hosting company force them to remove the content. In my experience, more than 90% of the time you’ll never even have to go beyond the first cease and desist notice. In every other experience, the site was shut down by the host after my report. I’ve not once had to take it to court to get a satisfactory solution.

How do you deal with content theft (if you bother at all)?

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