Nearly five years ago, I wrote a post for the Blog Herald entitled “The 6 Steps to Stop Content Theft“.
While it was definitely a great piece, when I ran across it more recently I realized that it is also showing its age. Many of the services it recommends are no longer operating and many of the suggestions are no longer relevant.
So I’ve decided to revisit that piece and redraft the entire post, with updated tools, information and best practices. So, without further ado, let’s jump in.
The New 6 Steps to Stop Content Theft
It’s an unfortunate reality that, if you post online long enough, someone is going to take your content. Between spammers, plagiarists and well-intended fans, you can pretty much rest assured that your content is going to be on other sites across the Web, in both good and bad ways.
The good news is that, while technology has made it easier to lift and repurpose content, it’s also made it easier to track and protect. In fact, you don’t even need the help of an attorney any more as, for most cases, you can handle the infringement adequately yourself.
However, to do that you need to familiarize yourself with the tools, techniques and laws that will make protecting your work not only possible, but simple.
After all, you’re in the business of running your site, not chasing infringers, so the easier and faster we can make the process, the better off you’ll be.
Note: For the purpose of this article we will be focusing on textual works though may of the steps and tools are useful for other kinds of content as well.
Step 1: Detection
As large as the Internet is, it’s also highly searchable. So, while finding your content elsewhere on the Web might seem like an impossible task, in truth, it’s never more than a quick Google search away. However, it’s important to know how to search and there are tools that can help you either search for your work better or more frequently without any cost.
- Copyscape: Copyscape is by far the most popular content theft detection tool and, by in large, it works well for most content. However, the free version is fairly limited so you may wish to pay the 5 cents per search for the paid product or even consider paying a monthly fee for regular monitoring of your key pages.
- Plagium: Plagium is a Copyscape alternative that uses a different search engine (Yahoo). Plagium works reasonably well and is actually better with certain types of content. Your best bet is to experiment and see which is right for you.
- Google Alerts: Finally, if you have static content that is being infringed regularly, setting up a Google Alert for a key phrase in it (using quotes) you can get emails when new copies appear online. A great way for free “hands off” content monitoring.
Step 2: Preserving the Evidence
Once you’ve discovered misuse of your content, you’ll likely want to preserve the evidence both for your personal records and in case the issue escalates. Fortunately, there are several great tools that make doing as such easy.
- WebCite: Though designed for use in academic settings to preserve a link used in research, WebCite works just as well in preserving URLs for this purpose. Simply install the bookmarklet and use it every time you see your work.
- Diigo: For those who want something a little bit more powerful, Diigo provides not just caching, but a complete bookmarking system with tagging. Ideal for organizing large collections.
- The Internet Archive: If you forget to preserve a page, you may be able to find it in the Internet Archive. Though the archive is not always up to date or complete, if a work has been online for some time, there’s a decent chance that the Internet Archive already has it.
Step 3: Contact the Infringer (If Practical)
After you’ve preserved the evidence, you may want to contact the person involved directly, if you feel it’s a good approach.
While it’s not always practical nor is it always a good step, doing so is often a good way to resolve a disagreement without creating too much trouble for either side.
If you’re dealing with an obvious spammer or you can’t easily get in touch with the infringer, you’ll probably want to skip this step, but if it’s a human and the infringement is fairly minor, it’s likely wise to go ahead.
- Domain Tools: If you can’t find the infringer’s contact information and they have their own domain, you may want to try Domain Tools and see if you can find good contact information in their whois data. Though many anonymize their whois data, there’s at least a possibility that this infringer hasn’t.
- Smartr Contacts: Once you have the infringer’s email, you may want to know a bit more about them, specifically any relevant social media information you can glean. Smartr contacts makes that automatic and works with both Gmail and Outlook.
- Boomerang: Once you email the infringer, you’ll likely want to give them some time to comply and/or respond. However, it’s easy to forget to follow up. Boomerang fixes that by having your message reappearing your inbox after a period of time. For Gmail users only.
Step 4: Contacting the Host
If you are either unable to contact the infringer directly or, for some reason, that should fail then you need to see about contacting the host of the site to see if you can get the infringement removed.
Fortunately, the law is on your side, in particular in the U.S., as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF) requires hosts remove infringing material after they’ve been properly notified. However, filing that proper notification may be tricky.
- Domain Tools (Linked Above): If the site is on its own domain, you’ll need to find out who the host is. Fortunately, that’s fairly easy with Domain Tools. However, you may also want to use WhoIsHostingThis as a backup. Though it’s easier to use, WhoIsHostingThis is less accurate.
- U.S. Copyright Office Agent Directory: Though the best place to find the contact info for the host is on the host’s site, if it’s not there or you simply want to double check, you can see if the host has registered its DMCA agent’s information with the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Plagiarism Today Stock Letters: Finally, you’ll need a proper DMCA notice to get the work removed, fortunately, you can find some here on Plagiarism Today in the stock letters section.
Step 5. Contact the Advertisers
If the host is either unable or unwilling to help, you may be able to reach out to any advertisers on the site and compel them to either drop the site or push the owner into removing your content for fear of losing their account.
- AdSense DMCA Notice: AdSense is by far the most popular advertising service used by other sites. If you see your content on a site with AdSense ads, you can file a DMCA notice with AdSense here.
- Incognito Mode/Private Browsing: If you run any extensions that block, remove or edit advertising, you’ll likely want to visit the infringing site in either incognito mode or a private web browser. These modes will disable your add ons and allow you to see and interact with the ads as necessary.
- GotFreeFax: Many ad networks will only accept DMCA notices via fax. If you have to send a fax, you can use GotFreeFax to send one, up to 3 pages, for free. Faxes larger than 3 pages or more than two faxes per day are relatively inexpensive.
Step 6: Contact the Search Engines
Finally, if all else fails, you may want to consider contacting the search engines, in particular Google, and getting the infringing pages removed from their index.
Though it won’t shut the site down, it will prevent the site from gaining too much benefit from the work and from harming you in the search engine rankings. It might be a small consolation but it is an important one.
- Google DMCA Form: The best place to start is Google’s simple DMCA form. Just fill out the information, agree to the terms and send it off.
- Yahoo’s Copyright Policy: Though Yahoo may not offer an easy form, sending a notice to them is still trivial with a good stock letter.
- Bing Infringement Form: Bing follows Google’s lead and offers a simple to use form that you just fill out and send off.
In the end, there’s nothing magical or difficult about dealing with infringement online. As long as the infringement is clear cut and you only want to see the work removed, meaning you have no desire to sue, you can handle most infringements yourself trivially.
Still, when going about this, it’s important to be careful, to respect the rights of others and to always be professional and compassionate.
While being upset is understandable, it’s important to remember that not ever use of your work is an infringement and, most importantly, that while you may have the right to be angry, you don’t have the right to be mean.
So keep your wits about you and be smart as you protect your work, it will make things easier for you and help make the Internet a better place.