How Long Should a Case of Plagiarism Take?

It’s an excuse that I hear almost every week:

“I’d love to stop the people that are stealing my work, but I just don’t have the time.”

While they are undoubtedly busy people with much to do, it also reflects a common misconception that stopping scraping or plagiarism is a long and difficult task. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Though a few cases will always prove to be challenging and will take up more time than normal, the “average” case of plagiarism can be resolved with minutes of work, not hours.

While it requires some planning and preparation, thinking ahead can be the difference between a virtually automatic resolution and long, arduous battle that eats up hours of one’s time.

The Steps

So how long should it take to deal with a case of plagiarism? If we ignore cases involving uncooperative hosts and sites in foreign countries, which still make up a minority of all cases, the answer is surprising small. Less than twenty minutes.

How is that done? Here are the steps that I’ve gone over elsewhere with approximate (and conservative) times to complete.

  1. Detection (Instant): With tools such as Google Alerts, the Digital Fingerprint Plugin and even Copyscape, there’s little reason to manually search for content any more. The results should be sent to you, not you looking for them.
  2. Verification (3 Minutes): Once you receive a result, it should be trivial to find out if the site is actually infringing or is a false positive.
  3. Strategy Decision (5 Minutes): Once you have determined the site to be infringing, determining how you are going to go about dealing with it is one of the harder steps. The choice of whether or not send a cease and desist letter, an invoice or a DMCA notice/host contact will depend on many factors that can only be determined by looking at the site. Most of the time the decision can be made quickly, tougher cases can take a few minutes.
  4. Finding Hosting Information (2 Minutes -if necessary): If you decide to contact the host and the host is not immediately apparent, as it is with free Web sites and blogs, a quick search on a site like Domain Tools can quickly turn up the information needed. Simply performing a whois search on the IP address (click the “W” next to the IP address) is generally the easiest and most reliable way.
  5. Locating Contact Information (5 Minutes): If you decide to send a cease and desist letter, the contact information may well be on the site itself. If it’s not, a whois search on the domain, see Domain Tools above, can find the information registered with the domain if the site has its own. For information on contacting a host, either look on the host’s Web site, most keep DMCA information either with their general contact information or in their terms of use policy, also known as acceptable use policy or on the Copyright Office’s Web site. If all else fails, an email to the abuse@ account of the host generally works.
  6. Sending the Email (3 Minutes): If you have your templates ready and have all of the contact information you need, changing out the needed information and sending the letter should only take a few minutes.
  7. Follow Up (2 Minutes): Most of the time, follow up is not needed as the host or the site owner will email you back to let you know if and how the situation has been handled. If you don’t get such an email, check back in 72 hours to ensure that the situation has been resolved. If it hasn’t create a new strategy and

The combined total of all of these steps is a mere 20 minutes. No case of plagiarism, barring any extenuating circumstances, should take longer than 25 and most, in truth, can be handled in 10 or less. There have even been times, when I’m able to combine letters, that I’ve handed over a dozen in an hour.

However, this type of speed does not come without some effort. Experience is crucial to getting these cases resolve quickly. More important though is preparation and being sure that you are ready for when and if you discover you are being plagiarized.

Speeding Up the Process

With all of that in mind, it becomes a question of what one can do to speed up the process and make it less of a burden. The answer is that there are several reasonable steps one can take to get ready for any potential cases that might come up.

  • Develop a Strategy: Think about about your strategy before hand. What cases will you use a cease and desist vs. a DMCA notice? When, if ever, will you send invoices? What uses are acceptable to you and do you make that clear on your site? If you answer these questions now, you will avoid having to debate them after your work is copied, saving precious time.
  • Use Plagiarism Detection Services: Automated services such as Google Alerts and the Digital Fingerprint Plugin take almost all of the time out of detecting content theft. This prevents you from having to search manually for your work and prevents you from forgetting to do so. You also get alerts along and along, making it easier to handle them.
  • Learn to Use the Tools: If you’ve never performed a whois search before, it can be a bit intimidating. Use the tools mentioned above on some known sites. This site, for example, is hosted by Media Temple. Use the whois tools to confirm that and you should get a better idea of what to look for.
  • Use Good Templates: Locate and set aside good templates for cease and desist letters and DMCA notices. If you have them ready and can just paste them into an email when needed, you’ll speed up the process drastically.
  • Organize, Organize, Organize: If you’re handling several different cases at once, or expect more in the future, organize your handling of them. Create a spreadsheet, database or paper file to keep on these matters. It can be very easy to loose track of things and you can spend time retracing your steps when, ordinarily it would be just a matter of pulling up a file.

If you take these above steps, most of which can be done in a very short amount of time, you will be infinitely better prepared for a situation when and if it arises.

It is important to note that, even with these steps and a good plan, you may struggle with the first few cases. However, after a few runs, the process will seem like second nature and take mere minutes to handle.


When it comes to dealing with plagiarism, preparation is everything. Those who are prepared generally find the process easy and quick, those who aren’t find it intimidating and time consuming. A little preparation before there is a problem, or before dealing with one, can save a lot of time in the future.

In the end, lack of time is not a legitimate excuse for most. Only those with very, very high volumes of plagiarism would run into a serious problem finding time for all of them. If one is serious about protecting their work. almost anyone can find the time to do so.

All they have to do is be willing to put forth the time to prepare and seriously consider the issue, as well as how and if they want to respond.

It truly is a situation where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


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