Protecting Your Site from Content Theft
Like a wise and savvy webmaster, Bruce monitors the company’s Web site content religiously. Someone has to. Despite being copyrighted property, our content pops up around the Web faster than fungus. Scraped and copied content is a scourge of the Internet and happens to everyone, but that doesn’t make it less annoying.
Content development requires time, money and talent — three things that usually come in short supply. But once you’ve published the content to the Web, anyone can come by and steal it with unprecedented ease. It’s important that website owners take the initiative to defend their site content by copyrighting the content and monitoring any duplication. Lisa Barone wrote a short and sweet guide to copyrighting your content, which you should definitely read if you haven’t you haven’t yet earned the little “c” next to your name.
But what if your content is copyrighted and people are still playing unfair? Then what?
Susan and Bruce wrote a helpful chapter about this predicament in the Content Creation book of Search Engine Optimization All-In-One For Dummies. I thought I’d sum it up for our benefit here. Or maybe I should just copy it… Kidding!
These recommendations are in no particular order and we suggest you decide how to proceed based on your unique situation.
Ask the Site to Take the Content Down
The first thing a nice person like yourself should do is to kindly request that the content be removed from the site. With copyright protected content, it’s your job to police your property. And even though they may have been sneaky and rude, you don’t have to play their nasty game. Turns out, a lot of people will respond to request letters like this, but just in case they dispute ownership it’s a smart idea to include notice of copyright on all pages of your site. If content is scraped, the copyright may be swiped up and reproduced with it. This makes it very easy to identify who the true, original owner is.
We recently found our content copied by a supposed Web design and SEO company. They hadn’t included our copyright notice, but they did manage to give us an inadvertent plug by explaining how the Bruce Clay, Inc. site offers SEO info and help. By mentioning the company or Web site name in the body copy, you increase the chances of finding the content when it has been stolen.
Ask the Search Engines to Remove the Content from the Index
Search engines hate scraped content almost as much as rightful owners do. Not only does it clutter up the index, but it requires the engine to find the original, authoritative source. The search engines have provided webmasters with a way to report scraped content and will possibly remove the naughty pages from their index. As explained in Lisa’s post on copyright protection, this process is based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Google, Yahoo and Live Search have all made DMCA reporting available.
Ask the ISP to Shut the Site Down
Alternately or additionally, you may try to get the site taken down through a more direct source. Look up the site’s Whois information and you can find the registered owner and the host server, or ISP. It’s probably safe to assume that an Internet Service Provider has a lot to lose if found to be assisting theft, which is essentially what content scraping is. Chances are, the ISP will err on the safe, non-litigious side of the situation rather than waiting for the offending site to right their wrong.
File a Report with the Police
Being that copied content is theft, it’s possible that the police might have some jurisdiction in the matter. Of course, you’ll want to have proof before you walk into the station claiming such serious allegations, and a witness doesn’t hurt either. Years ago, Bruce had watched his content show up so many places that he began expecting to see it in bathroom stalls. He was fed up and decided to do something about it, so he called the police. They said they would be happy to help if the content was officially copyrighted. At the time, it wasn’t. You can bet that changed fast.
Send a Cease and Desist Letter and Litigation
Something that will usually shake things up is a cease and desist order. Drafted by a lawyer, a C & D threatens legal consequences if they fail to comply with the request. Things begin to get costly when lawyers get involved, but if you plan to file a lawsuit if your requests are not heeded, a C & D is an important first step. Filing a lawsuit may make sense if material damage has been done to your business. As with filing a police report, legal options require that you show lots of proof in order to be successful. The Associated Press recently served a cease and desist to bloggers and sites copying their content. However, the AP’s aggressive tactics have been frowned upon by most of the blogosphere, so be sure you’re not overzealous in your content policing.
Rewrite the Content
Rather than trying to control a third party, it may be easier to rewrite the stolen content. With new content you will eliminate any filtering your site receives due to duplicate content. However, content development is costly and time consuming, so don’t be fooled by the perception that writing new content is the most cost-efficient solution. If you choose this solution, you risk losing your rankings for the optimized content — rankings you worked hard to obtain — but you will have the most control over your site in the end.
That is, until the next scraper stops by to say hello.