Maybe you got a suspicious pingback on a blog post. Maybe something fishy turned up in your Google Alerts. Maybe someone else stumbled across it and brought it to your attention. No matter how you discover it, having your blog posts stolen can leave you feeling angry and violated. Luckily, there are a few things you can do.
Is it really that bad to have my posts stolen?
As I’ve made my way through the world of web writing, I’ve often come across the attitude that content thievery is flattering, or that it isn’t worth the time and effort to get plagiarized articles taken down. Not true!
Aside from the fact that you should feel offended that someone else is swiping the words, ideas, and images that you slaved over, it’s your intellectual property and using it without your permission is a crime. And then there’s the Google issue; the search engine scans the web for duplicate content and assumes that anything that appears in multiple places is less important and therefore pushes the content farther down in search results, which ultimately hurts your pageviews. If your blog is monetized and duplicate content is hurting your traffic, they are taking money out of your pocket.
Even if the offender thinks they’ve done nothing wrong (remember Judith Griggs?), you should always pursue your legal options.
Start with a warning.
As hard as it may be to believe, there are people out there who think that everything on the internet is free and they are welcome to do with it as they please. Always give the benefit of the doubt and try to contact the plagiarizing site’s owner first. Send a strongly worded message explaining that you are the owner of the content, you didn’t give your permission for its use, and you are demanding that it be removed from their site. Be clear that if they do not comply, you will pursue legal action.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get results from this initial contact. If you can’t locate contact information on the website, try doing a WhoIs search on the website to find out who owns the domain. If you’re unsuccessful in making contact or you don’t get a response from you initial request, it’s time to break out the big guns.
Send a legal notice.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act exists to protect your intellectual property from unauthorized reprinting. A DMCA cease and desist letter, also called a Takedown Notice, is the first step in taking legal action, but in order to be official it must contain certain verbiage and be filed by mail or by fax. (Your WhoIs search should provide this information.) You should send cease and desist letters to both the site owner and the site’s web hosting service; see good examples of both of these letters at Plagiarism Today.
Request the site’s removal from Google.
Google takes DMCA violations very seriously and will remove offending sites from their search results. To report a violation, visit the Google Help page and select “Web Search” from the list, then follow the directions to have the copied post blacklisted from turning up in searches.
Hit them in the wallet.
Content scrapers and plagiarists are generally after one thing: easy money. If you notice your blog posts are being reprinted on a site with Google Adsense ads, reporting them to Adsense will result in the forfeiture of their Adsense account, including any unpaid revenue they have earned fraudulently by stealing your stuff. Take that, dirty thieves!
To report a plagiarizing site, visit the Google Help page and choose “Adsense” from the list, then follow the directions to file your complaint.
Still not satisfied? Pull the plug on them.
If you run across someone who really plays dirty, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) can help you fight back. These folks are like the internet’s police force, with the power to revoke someone’s domain entirely if they are proved to be in violation of ICANN’s terms.
When should you contact ICANN? Some websites might not respond to multiple cease and desist letters, or may take down your post only to re-post it days or weeks later. Sometimes after a content thief has their hosting account shut down in response to a DMCA Takedown Notice, they just find a new hosting service and set up shop all over again. You may find, during the course of investigating and filing other notices, that the information provided in your WhoIs search is falsified. If this sounds like your situation, file a complaint with ICANN.
Whatever actions you need to take, you should always be persistent, and always keep a record of your legal actions in case you need to keep pursuing the issue. It might take some time and effort, but in the end we are all better off for shutting down (or at least severely crippling) one more freeloading scumbag.
photo: psycholabs, creative commons