I wish I could tell you that this won’t happen to you. But it might. And if your site gets popular, it will. How can you keep people from stealing your content?
The last time I checked there were more than 50 sites that had copied our content (particularly our homepage content) onto their websites. And here’s the thing. I haven’t checked in a long time. Because it’s upsetting, and there’s not much I can do about it.
Here’s what happened the last time I looked. I found a bunch of sites that had copied my content. So I went to them, individually, and explained how their content was identical to mine and that was a problem and would they please change it. I had a few different responses.
- No response at all.
- A response with an apology, and a promise to change the content.
- A response saying they paid a web designer or copywriter for the content, and that person had copied my content.
- My least favorite response: I had several people tell me that they didn’t copy my content, but that I had copied theirs. (A quick look in the Internet Archive could dispute that.)
That’s the issue with anything you put on the Internet these days. It’s super easy for someone to copy it. And a lot of times, it’s your word against theirs.
What is copyright and do you have it?
Copyright refers to the legal right that creators have over their original works of authorship. When it comes to content on a website, copyright applies to various forms of creative expression, including text, images, videos, and other media. The person or entity that creates the content generally holds the copyright to that material. You don’t have to file an official copyright notice or paperwork. If you created it, it’s yours.
Here are some key points related to copyright for website content:
- Ownership: The creator of the content is usually the initial copyright owner. However, if the content is created as part of employment or under a contractual agreement, the employer or the party commissioning the work may be the copyright owner.
- Rights Granted: Copyright provides the creator with exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and perform their work. Others need permission (usually in the form of a license) to use or reproduce the content.
- Duration: Copyright protection is not unlimited. The duration of copyright varies by jurisdiction, but it typically lasts for the life of the creator plus a certain number of years.
- Fair Use: In some cases, the use of copyrighted material may be considered “fair use,” allowing for limited use without permission for purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. However, what constitutes fair use can be subjective and depends on various factors.
- Infringement: Unauthorized use of copyrighted material without permission is considered copyright infringement. Copyright holders have the right to take legal action against infringing parties.
- DMCA: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a U.S. law that provides a framework for addressing copyright infringement on the internet. It includes a notice-and-takedown procedure for online service providers to address copyright violations.
How do you find out if people are copying your content?
I mentioned above that I found more than 50 websites had copied our content. How did I find out? I used Copyscape. You paste in your domain, and it then shows you a list of websites with identical or nearly identical content. It’s that simple. You can get some results for free, but if you want to see ALL the people who are copying your content, if there are more than that, you’ll need to buy some credits to get them all. It’s not that expensive if you really want to know.
Other ways I’ve been alerted to stolen content
Copyscape isn’t the only way I’ve found my content on other sites. Some people who create websites just aren’t that bright. One person copied pages of my content without making any changes to it, and they inadvertently linked to my site and the content they had taken, and I got a pingback notification. Not only did they have my business name in their content, a link to my site, but they had my images as well, and those images were hot-linked (meaning the image was showing on their website, but the image was being pulled directly from my server). This time, I sent a message and the guy did the right thing and took it down, but was very perplexed about how I found it.
Another time I got a message through my website contact form, and it was from a guy alerting me that he thought this other site was stealing our content. I went to that site and saw four of our blog posts in a row, word for word, including hot-linked images.
I asked the person who alerted me how he knew this, and he informed me that this was a “friend” of his, and this friend was posting these blog posts on social media as his own, and he knew this guy was full of crap so he Googled it and found our blog posts. But he asked me not to rat him out, which I didn’t. I contacted the person, who took down the posts but told me he’d hired an intern who stole them and he was firing them right away. (Which of course I think is not the truth, but you can’t argue with that.)
Most of the time, people take it thinking it’s not a big deal and no one will ever see that they’ve copied your content. There are millions of websites, so they feel like the odds are you’ll never stumble upon it. But that’s a naive viewpoint because there are a lot of ways to find out where your content is being published.
What should you do if you find someone has stolen your content?
Here are the steps that Copyscape recommends, and I’ll give you my feedback on why I think they are or are not worth pursuing.
- Contact the website owner. This was the step I attempted, and it mostly lead me to frustration, with several of those contacted accusing me of stealing their content. Turns out, people don’t like being accused of plagiarism, even if they did it.
- Contact the web hosting company and report it. You can find out where a website is hosting by using Hosting Checker. In my experience, most hosts aren’t going to take down a website based on your word and this ends up being a wasted effort. These hosts don’t want to lose their customers by removing their content.
- Send a formal ‘Cease and Desist’ letter. You can use your lawyer, or you can find free samples online to use. If you have access to a lawyer to send them, that’s much more effective. And you also have to find the mailing address of the website owners, which can be difficult if they don’t have it on their website and use a private domain registration. If you want to put the time and energy (and money if you use a lawyer) into this one, I think it’s probably your best bet if you want the content removed.
- File a notice of Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) infringement. This was another thing I attempted. You can file a notice with Google and provide evidence that your content was first, and the other site is copying it. This doesn’t take the site down or remove the content from the site, but it can remove the content from the search engine results, which may also be an effective alternative and can punish the other website owner for copying your content.
Does this mean you shouldn’t pursue having the content removed if you see your content appear on another website? No, but it means you should go into this with the understanding that you may not get it removed, that it could be stressful and cost you money. You need to evaluate if it’s worth the time and energy to fight. For me, I decided the anxiety it gave me wasn’t worth it. (I am indeed a delicate flower when it comes to these things.)
Why it might be worth it for you
There are a lot of reasons why you might want to put the time and energy into having your content removed from websites who’ve copied it. Other than the obvious, that you created it and it belongs to you, here are some additional reasons you might want to pursue it:
- Having your content on another site could misrepresent you or your ideas.
- If your blog makes money through advertising, having that content on other sites could have an economic impact.
- Duplicate content can be harmful to your SEO efforts.
- Removing copied content can prevent it from further distribution. If someone claims they didn’t copy your content, they copied it from somewhere, and the more sites that have it, the more sites will continue to copy it.
You don’t have to register your content for it to be protected. When you publish, it’s yours.
When is my work protected?Copyright.gov
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.
Here are some steps you can take to minimize the risk of having your content stolen
- Add a copyright notice to your footer.
- Add your byline to content. One note at the top and again in a short bio at the bottom of your posts. A lot of thieves are lazy and will copy your attribution right into their website.
- Add a plugin like Secure Copy Content Protection which disables copy selection, right click copying, and more. Personally, I don’t like this option because it’s very disruptive to your regular users and it can prevent you from being quoted.
- Set up a Google Alert to monitor if another site published identical content. You can do this by taking specific phrases from your website to track.
- Use internal links, and keep your trackbacks turned on. If someone copies your content, you’ll get an email to let you know where.
- Change your RSS feed to summary instead of full text.
- Watermark your images. If you are a photographer and want to keep your images from being used elsewhere, add a small or light watermark. People are less likely to take your image if it’s tagged.
Amy is the co-owner, developer, and website strategist for Sumy Designs. She's been making websites with WordPress since 2006 and is passionate about making sure websites are as functional as they are beautiful.