Whether it occurs subtly or blatantly, online content theft is an unfortunate fact of the Internet. It’s all too easy for thieves to copy/paste content from one website to another, and then divert Google traffic away from the original site that produced the content. Even more frequently, site content is stolen more subtly — usually in the form of one-off plagiarized articles or blog post. Since the web is so vast, content thieves bank on the notion that they’ll benefit from your content without you ever knowing it was taken.
The good news is you don’t have to let the thieves and plagiarizers get away with it. You can have stolen content taken down by enforcing your rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
How Stolen Content Can Hurt You
What’s the big deal about stealing content? Isn’t everything shareable? Isn’t everything fair game once it’s posted online? A lot of content thieves have this mentality, and in fact, so do a lot of users who aren’t intending to be thieves. (“Shared” photos that are actually copyrighted often get reposted illegally because the user didn’t know better.) But the truth is, stolen content can victimize people on both sides of the theft. For example:
If someone lifts your web content and places it on their own site, the duplicate content can cause your site to be penalized SEO-wise. Likewise, if the stolen content ranks better than the original, the thieves are essentially stealing your web traffic, as well, by using your content to generate clicks for their own site.
If you inadvertently purchase stolen content from someone, either in the form of an article, blog post or existing website, the owners of the content may find it and initiate a takedown. At that point, you’re usually stuck with useless content and out a lot of money — and chances are the people who sold it to you are long gone.
How to Deal with Content Theft
The hard truth is that the way the Internet works, you won’t be able to stop someone from stealing your content. However, you can take steps to detect the theft and stop further use. Your first step is to scan the Internet for instances of duplicate content from your site. One of the most popular tools to use is Copyscape, a search tool that scans the web for plagiarized versions of any URL you input. If you don’t want to pay for the premium version of Copyscape, you can set up Google Alerts for free to scan for key phrases of your site and send you daily reports.
If you discover your content has been stolen, here are a few tactics you can take to address the problem:
1. Contact the website owner directly.
Sometimes the website owner is the perpetrator, but sometimes they may be a victim who unknowingly purchased stolen content. One of the easiest ways to get stolen content taken down is to simply send them an email that includes a link back to the original content and a clear request to remove the offending content. Firmly explain that if they don’t, you will file a DMCA takedown complaint with their web hosting company. Believe it or not, this step is often all it takes to get the offending content removed. (Thieves usually clear out when they are caught, and unaware victims don’t want any trouble.)
2. Send a DMCA takedown notice to the website’s host.
If the website owner has been non-responsive or there is no contact information listed, it’s time to go above their heads and contact the website’s hosting company. To find out which company hosts the offending website, you can do a WHOIS lookup. Once you know who to contact, it’s time to write the actual DMCA takedown notice.
There are plenty of templates out there to get you started, but the basic information you need to include in your DMCA notices boils down to the following:
- Identification of the original copyrighted material and information that allows the host to locate the infringing material. This typically means providing (a) the URL of your copyrighted material, and (b) the URL of where your copyrighted material is appearing illegally.
- Contact information that allows the hosting company to contact you — such as email, phone, and street address.
- A statement of good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materia is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
- A statement that all information in the notice is accurate, under penalty of perjury, and that you are authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
Once you send it off to the website’s hosting company, that’s usually all you need to do. A responsible web hosting company will resolve the issue and provide you with an update within a day or two at the most.
Pro Tip: If you deal with content thieves frequently, it might be useful to draw up a “Notice of Infringement” template that you can use over and over again.
3. One step further: File a DMCA complaint with Google.
If you’re still having issues for whatever reasons, you can also use this form to notify and request the removal of infringing content from Google. If they verify your claim, they will “take down” the content out of their search engine, meaning the offending page will no longer be listed and will be useless to the offender. Note that if you’re dealing with an entire site of stolen content, you’ll have to repeat the process for every page.
Seeing your hard work stolen by copycats is never a good feeling, but luckily, it’s pretty straightforward to resolve! Interested in receiving more website and digital marketing tips and tricks? Scroll down to join our newsletter!