Top Menu

Dealing With Content Theft

Content theft on the Internet ranges from the wholesale theft of entire sites and blogs to the theft of a single photograph or article. Unfortunately, despite that it is legally stealing, it is so easy to lift content on the Internet that it happens at an alarming rate. It is virtually certain that someone will reprint your content if you spend enough time posting on the web. It is just the nature of content creation these days, but you do not have to let it happen. As with any other ownership issue, you can feel free to protect your property.

Dealing With Content Theft

There are steps to combating content theft online. You can prevent it, discover it and deal with it in various ways. It is going to take some work, as the Internet is a big place. Furthermore, if you have as much content as a smaller version of Wikipedia, you can be assured that you will never find every instance of the theft of your content. However, you can be sure that the ones you do not find rank so low that even Sherlock Holmes could not find them.

Prevention of content theft

The first step in your battle against content theft is prevention. Approach your content creation with theft prevention in mind. Of course, you will have different types of content, so you will need different strategies.

For photos:

  • Disable hot linking
  • Change the code on your site so that image hot linking returns as an image pointing out the theft
  • Use a watermark on your original photos

For articles and blog posts:

  • Put up a disclaimer on the site that you track links and actively pursue thieves

Identifying theft

Sadly, there is not much you can do to keep someone from simply highlighting every word on a page other than adding code to prevent right clicking that negatively affects the site’s usability in a big way. Your real weapons for content theft when it comes to words comes with identifying and reporting theft.

Site tools that help prevent theft include:

  • Trackbacks that notify you every time a link to your site appears (this works best when you use the next tool on this list)
  • Tynt and similar tools create code so that a link is added every time someone copy pastes your content. A trackback will let you know when these links appear so you can check the source for theft.
  • Hyperlinks to other articles and your site within articles, which will also trigger trackbacks

Google Alerts is a tool you can use outside of your site to find your content online. The best way to use it is to copy a random string of words from each piece you create (make sure it is long enough to be unique) and then enter it into the Google Alerts form in quotes. For example, if you wanted this post to be tracked using Google Alerts, you could type, “Google Alerts is a tool you can use outside of your site to find” into the form. If exact wording appears anywhere else on the Internet, you will get an email from Google to the account you used to set up your alerts.

Warning: be sure to use quotes or you will get a ton of irrelevant alerts.

One of the best tools you have at your disposal is your readers. Make sure that you have comments turned on, but go ahead and moderate them if you get a lot of spam or hate mail on your site. Sometimes, a user is commenting to tell you that they have seen your content on another site. It may not happen often, but it happens often enough to warrant having commenting turned on. It is also a good ego boost to know readers are looking out for you.

Following up on theft

Now that you have found the rotten scoundrels who have indiscriminately lifted your content, how do you follow up? There are a few things you need to do before you move forward with any kind of official action. This will make your life easier and also keep you from feeling a little sheepish later.

Is the content really yours? It is possible that you used an image or snippet that was in the public domain? If this is the case, it does not matter if a person got it off your site. It is not yours. You cannot police the use of it or launch any kind of formal complaint about it. Even informal complaining will only make you look bad. Therefore, you should say and do nothing unless you have purchased full rights to whatever was stolen or you have ownership by right of original content creation that has not been sold.

Once you have ascertained whether or not you have any right to be peeved, do the following:

  • Check the usage against fair use to see if enough of the content was lifted to count as theft or plagiarism
  • Check the offending site for contact information, be it the information of the “author” or of the hosting service, which you can find using Who is Hosting This
  • Check the site for more of your content
  • If you are feeling particularly kind, check other content on the site via Google to see if other content creators are being victimized

Once you have everything you need to make a case against the content theft, start with an olive branch.

  • If you wish, inform other authors that their content has been stolen
  • Write a polite, but firm letter explaining that the content belongs to you and that the site owner/offender has an allotted amount of time to remove it. You may also inform him or her that you have contacted other victims of this thievery.

Last resort

If all else fails, you can head to the host of the offending site and Google with DMCA takedown requests. This is an official request for the site to remove the content and for Google to take it off the search engines. This is not always as successful as one would hope, but do your best to rank higher in search engines and people will find the original copy first anyway.

Do you have any experience battling content theft? If so, share what worked for you and what did not in the comments section.

Small Business Can Newsletter
Small Business Can is run by businesspeople for businesspeople. We share our experiences, successes and failures. Sign up for our insightful (and sometimes funny) newsletter and stay up to speed with all the latest insights.

3 Responses to Dealing With Content Theft

  1. Tony Reddington July 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Thank you for an interesting read.
    Another option you can try if you find your images on another site is to offer the offending site the option to license the image for use on their site.
    The web owner may offer to give you credit and a link back to your site in exchange for using your image . This is a judgement call as to whether you think credit on a web site is worth it or not. If the image is good enough to use then its good enough to pay for, The other argument put forward is ‘its great exposure’ for your images.
    Remember credit for and exposure of your photo on a web site does not pay any bills

  2. Ericka July 15, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks Tony, you’re right it can be a great way of getting additional exposure.

    It doesn’t pay the bills directly, but there is always possibility that it could have an indirect benefit at some point.

  3. Debi Harper July 17, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Great blog,we had this very issue recently from a US company using our blogs,all ended well after contacting them. Apparently a staff member gave it to the boss as their own. Ended with a big apology and the blog been credited and linked back to us. We have no problem with people using our blogs as long as they ask and give credit to the author.

Leave a Reply