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.
10 Replies to “Protecting Your Site from Content Theft”
I was told there is another recourse. You can complain to the domain registrar and the domain name of the copycat is deactivated.
Oh That is a great threat!! Thanks for the article for giving ideas on preventing our website content from theft.
This is a great article covering what you can do if you find your content elsewhere.
With regards copyrighting – do the Creative Commons offer any support in this arena if you have registered you content with them?
I am not sure if you have seen http://www.fairshare.cc which helps automatically track snippets of your content and flag the violation. After that you are on your own.
@Maria, You’re absolutely right and I’m sorry to have irritated you with my word choice. Content is copyrighted regardless of whether or not it is registered. Like you said, unregistered content is much harder to defend.
As @James explains, this may be because the U.S. is the only country where you have the ability to manually copyright register your content. So, people who register their content have an extra weapon in the law.
@F. Seidl, Good point. RSS makes it that much easier for the slimies to get a hold of your content. Everyone keep your eyes peeled!
@Steve, I guess companies with affiliates face a whole other set of content problems.
@venkat, I agree with the “make nice first” approach, but people can’t be afraid to pull out the big guns in self defense.
@Jonathan, Thanks for adding that. I wasn’t aware. It’s good to hear that a DMCA notice will be respected by the hosting provider as well. People in content theft situations can use all the alliances they can get.
@Mal, Thanks for sharing your story. Actual experiences speak much louder than what plays out in theory. And I’m glad to hear about how seriously Yahoo takes these issues.
Excellent article Virginia. One thing I might ad is that it’s much easier to ask the SE to remove the stolen content from their index than to get an ISP to shut a rogue site down in my experience. Most of the time a pirate steals my content I find out because MY content starts outranking ME but on a rogue site. If you search for Yahoo Copyright and Intellectual Property Policy you get to a page that allows you to email Yahoo lawyers who handle infringement cases. They ask you a page worth of questions and ask you to digitally sign your statement and then in a couple days the bad guys are gone from their index.
One thing you did leave out is that you can file a DMCA notice with the host if the site is hosted within the U.S. or the EU and get the content removed that way if the nice route doesn’t work. A nice alternative to going straight to the search engines in many cases.
If you need any stock letters, I’ve got some on my site you can use!
Best of luck and thank you for the great post.
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 surely you must know that your work is copyrighted when you create it. Registration is not required to “earn” the copyright symbol. Just put it there. It applies.
I think it’s your use of the word “earn” that really bugs me in the above quote. You “earn” it by creating it. There’s no magical ritual to go through. PLEASE don’t make people think there is. It’ll just make everyone else think that content without the copyright symbol is up for grabs. It’s not.
I will agree that it could be harder to defend your claim of copyright ownership if a work is not registered, but it is possible. I have done it numerous times. I’ve also had scraping blogs taken down by Google and WordPress.com.
I’ve written extensively about copyright as it applies to authors. (I’ve been writing for a living since 1990.) You can find the first part of my series here: http://www.marialanger.com/2007/08/04/copyright-for-writers-and-bloggers-part-i-why-copyright-is-important/ The series explains how copyright works and what your options are.
Just a quick note in regards to copyrighting content. The US is one of a very very small number of countries in the world in which you need/are able to manually copyright work. In almost every other, work receives automatic copyright protection the moment it comes in to existence. A useful note for those not based in the US.
Copying content from blgos comon now a days even copygators and caopycats can’t identifiying them first thing when site content is copied is to contact him.
Excellent article Virginia, thank you, it’s nice to have a little backup plan when posting original content.
One other tactic I’ve seen quite often is in selling the private label rights, or the master resell, or rebranding rights and offering affiliate services alongside the free content or product. This way the author can benefit in more ways than one. To your continued success, Steve D