When it comes to blogs, websites and other content posted online, almost no one likes having their work plagiarized.
Even if you enjoy sharing your work and having it copied freely, having someone else lift and try to take credit can be pretty painful. This is why, in 2004, Creative Commons did away with license that didn’t include attribution, because they were so rarely used.
But just because people don’t like being plagiarized means that they want to (or are ready to) start chasing down plagiarists and using tools like takedown notices and cease and desist letters to get plagiarized works removed.
Whether one isn’t comfortable with confrontation, doesn’t want to risk getting litigious or simply doesn’t want to spend the time, there are many creators who disapprove of plagiarism but don’t want to tackle plagiarists head on.
But while this means a content creator won’t be able to stop a plagiarist once they’ve discovered them, it doesn’t mean they are helpless. There are many things that one can do short of litigation, legal threats and other actions to prevent and stop plagiarism.
With that in mind, here are 10 examples of steps that almost any content creator can take to reduce plagiarism without having to using the law.
1. Include a Copyright Notice
It might sound silly, but one of the best things that any website can do is include a good copyright notice on every page.
Though a copyright notice isn’t necessary for a work to be protected, many mistakenly believe that it is. Furthermore, it sends a message that you are at least thinking about the copyright in your work and you aren’t someone who takes the subject lightly.
Though some might argue that a copyright notice without enforcement is useless. If it dissuades even one potential plagiarist, it’s probably worth the time to add one to your site.
Referencing earlier works on your site, in particular by linking to yourself, makes your content much more difficult to plagiarize and mitigates the harm if it is copied and reposted without your permission.
If a plagiarist is going to truly claim ownership of your work, they would have to edit out any bits that reference you directly. Furthermore, if you have links to other content on your site, search engines will see that and, more than likely, take it as a sign that your copy of the work is the original.
In short, self-linking makes your work harder to plagiarize and makes plagiarized copies much less harmful.
3. Protect Your RSS Feed
If you’re a blogger, much of the plagiarism and infringement you’ll see comes from people (and bots) scraping and republishing your RSS feed.
You can stop or mitigate this easily. Given that the most common uses of RSS these days are to feed social news sites, you can likely truncate your feed, setting it up to only show the first paragraph or so of your content, without worry.
If you don’t want to stop using full feeds, you can add a copyright notice to your feed and link back to the source. If you do that, while you might not be stopping infringement, you’ll likely be hurt by it less for the same reasons in #2 and any human visitors will know where to find the original work.
4. Watermark Your Image
If you’re a visual artist, this can’t be said enough, watermarking your images well is the best way to protect them.
Though watermarks are seen as annoying and can interfere with one’s enjoyment of the image, finding a way to watermark an image that’s clear enough to be seen, tough to remove but not too “in the way” is difficult, but key.
If you post images online without a good watermak, expect them to get passed around, plagiarized and misidentified. The only good way to completely stop that is to take action before posting them.
5. Offer a Clear License
Copyright law doesn’t give much of a distinction between using a post with and without attribution. If a post is copied in a way that’s infringing when not attributed, odds are it would be just as infringing if it were.
But if you offer people a license to use your work, such as a Creative Commons License or using a service like Repost.Us, then people have a clear path to legitimacy, letting them share your work safely and, along the way, ensuring you get proper attribution.
The easier you make it to legitimately use your work, the less tempted people will be to copy and paste wholesale, attributed or not.
6. Consider Blocking Bad Visitors
If you have a site that you know is scraping your content and misusing your work, you may be able to block them from accessing your domain.
If you use a service like Distil, which blocks bad bots automatically, or Cloudflare, the process is actually trivial to do. However, you can just as easily install a WordPress plugin that enables you to block IP addresses as well.
While it won’t remove any existing infringements, it does help prevent new ones.
7. Create Hard-to-Plagiarize Content
Images are easy to download and share, text is trivial to copy and paste. Audio and video, however, are much tougher to plagiarize.
Consider sharing visual content in a video rather than in images if appropriate. Instead of 50 slides from an event, put it together in a short video. Also, considering creating a podcast or posting audio content to supplement any text.
Multimedia content is less plagiarized because it is more difficult to do so and there is less motivation. In most cases, anyone who wants to have the video on their site can just embed it, ensuring you get proper attribution and full credit for the views.
8. Create Timely Content
Though creating content that’s long-lasting is important for your site, mixing that with content that is timely and intentionally has a shorter shelf life can not only help build your audience, but also make some plagiarists wary.
The reason is that plagiarists, especially those doing it for search engine benefits, want content that will attract a lot of queries and be useful for a long time to come. Works that have a shorter shelf life are less appealing, especially since the plagiarist may be coming across the work after its moment has passed.
Having “evergreen” content is important, but sometimes it pays to be timely.
9. Build Your Reputation and Site
If you wanted to, you could download a copy of Shakespear’s “Hamlet” and slap your name on it. However, you’d fail miserably as almost everyone knows the play and it obviously was not written by you.
The people who are most vulnerable to plagiarism are the bloggers that are just starting out and the fledging sites no one knows (and also lack trust with Google). While popular blogs see a great deal of content misuse, they aren’t impacted by it as users recognize the plagiarized copies as being rip offs and Google rarely mistakes the duplicates as being original.
Perhaps the best thing you can do is build up your name, your site and your work. Let people know who you are and get your name into people’s minds.
While most sites see more plagiarism, scraping and infringement the bigger they get, that misuse begins to impact them less and less.
What’s noticeably absent from this list is technology tricks such as no-right-click scripts and no-text-select scripts. These solutions are tempting for those seeking a quick fix, but they do little to actually prevent content misuse (and a great deal to annoy visitors).
There are better ways to protect yourself and your work without resorting to such tactics.
The simple truth is that there is no way to outright prevent plagiarism. If you post content online, it’s safe to assume that, at some point, someone will try to misuse it. But while you can’t prevent it, you can reduce it and a lot of it just comes down to being smart about what you post and how you post it.
In the end, dealing with infringements should never distract from you creating great content. In fact, if you do it right, many of the steps to fight misuse of your work actually help you create better, more engaging material.
It might seem odd, but sometimes your best defense is simply being better than the plagiarist. Which, really, isn’t a difficult task if you think about it.