Don't be a Victim. Stop Content Thieves Dead in Their Tracks

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on March 11, 2010 in Blogging
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If you blog, you'll likely come across at least one content thief in the process. They'll take your articles (usually in full) and they'll publish them on their own sites so they can either monetize your work or use it to build their own false authority. As someone who makes a living from writing, I find content theft infuriating. I'm also the wrong person to steal from, because while many people won't bother pursuing the issue, I'll go after a thief and hit them where it hurts (and then hit them again).

My Recent Experience With Content Thieves

In the last week or two, I came across two content thieves stealing material from my PR blog -- NakedPR.com. Even though that blog is retired, it brings in a good amount of income, so I really don't need people swiping the content and dilluting what's offered there. In one case, a reader discovered the theft and reported it to me. In the other instance, it was a Google alert that turned up the stolen material.

One of the sites promptly removed my material on threat of further action. The other (MarketingTypo.com -- which apparently does nothing but aggregate full content, including comments, from other sites under the guise of "fair use") is still publishing my content illegally. They obviously don't understand the concept of fair use. That site has already been reported as per my steps below, and is awaiting review by search engines and advertisers.

These two situations weren't my first in dealing with thieves. In fact, I have the "deal with them" process down to a bit of an art -- quick, efficient, and highly successful. Not once have I had to waste my time suing someone over their theft in order to get what I wanted (but I wouldn't hesitate to do that -- being willing to go all out is key, because if you're not why should they bother doing as you ask when they know they'll ultimately get away with it?).

Today I want to share the pre-legal route I take when tackling content theft, so you can put it to use should you ever need to.

How to Discover Content Theft

Before we can get into taking on content thieves, you have to be able to identify the theft. I used to do this monthly. Sadly I've rarely done this over the last year or so, and it's tracking I need to get more aggressive about again in the future. Here are a few ways you can identify instances of theft:

  1. Set up a Google or Yahoo alert for your name. If they just copy / paste, your name might still be included as the author. Some thieves think that as long as they credit you, it's legal to steal and publish your work. It's not. A by-line does not replace permission.
  2. Set up a Google or Yahoo alert for your site's URL / domain. In this case, some people think that as long as they link to you it's okay to steal your content. Again, that's not true. Be careful though. These will return partial hits too (such as people just publishing short excerpts with a link -- which might indeed fall under fair use).
  3. Run title searches. When people copy your content, they often don't change the title. Search for some of your more popular posts and see if anyone's ripped them off.

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You can certainly do more. These are just some ideas to get you started, and they'll turn up the bulk of directly-ripped content.

How to Deal With Content Thieves

Make sure you follow these steps in order. I'll explain why that's important at the end.

  1. Find the content thief's contact information. -- Sometimes this is available right on the site. Sometimes you have to dig for it. You might need to look up the Whois information for their domain name. If they didn't go with private registration you can find a name and / or company name, plus a phone number and email address there.
  2. Send the thief a 48-hour cease and desist notice. -- I find that 48 hours is more than adequate time to check your email and get my content off your site. If you're too generous in your time window, you come across as a pushover from the start. You need to be firm and have a "take no sh*t" approach during the entire process. This notice should provide your name, a note that you are the copyright holder of said content, and a mention of where the content was stolen from. Obviously, also tell them which content you're claiming is infringing on your rights. The person getting your email might not be the same person who published it. In this notice, reiterate that they do not have your permission to publish your content or any derivative work. In many cases, this notice will be enough to have the infringing content removed if you're firm enough. I like to forewarn them about what I'll do if they don't remove the content too. That seems to light a fire under some folks' asses (see below).
  3. Take note of their advertisers. -- Advertisers and ad networks generally don't want to be associated with content theft. They don't want to be used to monetize that stolen material. Track down all advertisers associated with the thief's site and contact them with the details of the original content and the infringing material. The thief almost always loses ad contracts. More importantly, they can be banned entirely from ad networks -- meaning not only would they lose Adsense (as an example) sitewide on the infringing site, but also on every other site they use it on. You just hit them where it hurts -- in the wallet. But hold on. It gets better.
  4. Report them to the major search engines. -- File DMCA notices with all of the major search engines if the infringing content is indexed (it usually is). You'll need to give them the URLs of all infringing material, as well as the URLs of your original material. The SEs will look into the claims, and when they find the infringement is indeed happening, that content will generally be de-indexed. Ouch. Now you hit what's likely a primary traffic source for that thief.
  5. Report them to their host. -- Only after you've done the two previous things should you send a DMCA notice to the thief's Web hosting company. That's because you need the infringing material to be live on the site still when the SEs and advertisers review your claims. Basically the idea here is to put their hosting account at risk -- even on the rare case where the content isn't removed by now, they probably don't want to lose their hosting account and have to move everything to another server because they violated the terms (not to mention the law). Are they hosted somewhere other than the US? Don't worry. Send a notice anyway. Some thieves think hiding in offshore accounts is enough to protect them. It's not. Many hosting companies worldwide still will put them on notice or ban their accounts for violating the company's own terms of use.

How to Find a Content Thief's Hosting Company

Not sure how to find a site's Web host? Sometimes this is difficult. However, the following tricks and resources will help you out in many cases:

  1. Visit DomainTools.com and conduct a WhoIs search.
  2. Towards the bottom of the WhoIs results, you'll see something called domain servers (nsX.hostname.com is the format). Look at the "hostname.com" part of it. Look up AllFreelanceWriting.com as an example, and you'll see ns29.hostgator.com and ns30.hostgator.com -- HostGator.com is the Web hosting company for this website. If you get the actual host, you can stop and contact them. No need to follow the other steps below.
    nameservers

    Nameservers from WhoIs Record

  3. Sometimes the domain listed in the nameservers isn't the actual host. Let's use my little content thief MarketingTypo.com as an example. You'll see their nameservers are listed with DomainControl.com. Try to visit that site. Drat! Nothing comes up to tell you what host uses that domain for their name servers. Time to move on.
  4. Pull up your favorite search engine and search for "DomainControl.com" to learn more about it. You'll discover that it's used by GoDaddy.com. Oh goodie -- the Vietnamese thief is using a US host, which will make my life a wee bit easier later if they don't remove the content based on the SE and advertiser reports. (How do I know they're Vietnamese? Check their WhoIs record again.)
  5. If this still doesn't work, you can try the tool at WhoIsHostingThis.com. Try both AllFreelanceWriting.com and MarketingTypo.com. When you search for this site, you get The Planet as the probable host. But wait. Didn't I say I used HostGator.com? Yep. The Planet is HostGator's data center. In that case, the WhoIs lookup was a quicker route to the right answer. Now search for MarketingTypo.com and you'll see they give you GoDaddy as the hosting company right away. In that case, their tool would save you time, because you wouldn't have to look up who owns DomainControl.com from the nameserver information.
    WhoIsHostingThis.com Results

    WhoIsHostingThis.com Results

That's all there is to it! It sounds like a long process, but it's really not. Once you do it a few times you'll get the hang of it. Save your notices and requests as templates for future use, and the process will be a breeze.

Remember, it's one thing if you grant people permission to republish your material (such as through article marketing). But when you let people get away with stealing your work, as a writer you do yourself a real disservice. After all, if people know they can get away with stealing and republishing your writing for free, why on earth would they pay you to write anything new?

The only way to deter these kinds of thieves is to be strong and take them on as you find them. When they stop thinking all bloggers and writers are suckers who will just let them slide, then maybe the rate of theft will finally settle down. This is one of those situations where if you aren't a part of the solution, you really are a part of the much larger problem.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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15 Comments

  1. Rebecca March 11, 2010 Reply

    I’ve had my content lifted and my blog posts for my clients have been lifted. Sometimes the articles are taken off and sometimes they’re not. You can report them to Google, but what will they do.

  2. Jenn Mattern March 11, 2010 Reply

    They’ll de-index the stolen content (hitting the thief in a big traffic source which indirectly affects their income). It’s always a worthwhile interim step.

  3. Veronica March 13, 2010 Reply

    Great information Jen. Here’s a completely different route you could take! I actually came across this while doing research for a post on Noobpreneur.com. It’s called Tynt. What’s Tynt?

    Say someone copies something from your site. When they paste it, whether it be in email or on a blog/site, it will automatically create a link back to your site. It will link to the original content. In their words…

    “Each time a user copies content from your website and pastes into an email, blog or website, we automatically add a URL link back to your site’s original content. When someone clicks that URL, they are directed back to your site and see the original content.

    Read more: Tynt Insight » Why Tynt Insight? ”

    See what that just did? I copied and pasted it from their site. It can also auto-tweet your most popular content to an account of your choice.

  4. Jennifer Mattern March 14, 2010 Reply

    Not a bad idea. However, it could be seen as granting permission to republish as long as there is a link back, so I’d worry it might promote the incorrect assumptions that credit and links back make it legal to publish someone’s work without their permission. Perhaps it would be ok if the copyright holder could include a note w/ the link saying this content was published without permission instead of “read more.” Is that an option people can set, or are they stuck with it looking like more of an authorized republication?

  5. Jennifer Mattern March 14, 2010 Reply

    Just another thought — it also wouldn’t stop what’s probably the most common form of content theft. That’s when people assume an RSS feed created for reader convenience is the same thing as a license to reproduce and profit from someone else’s work (it’s not). I can’t imagine this tool could stop that — if it did, it would also put the message in every time someone read a feed in their own feed reader and not just a splog.

  6. Cathy Miller March 14, 2010 Reply

    These are great tips, Jenn! I had no idea what you could do. My problem with setting up a Google Alert with my name is that it’s so blasted common! It just might crash my computer. :-)

    Do you routinely run your title searches or just when you suspect problems? Thanks again for the information.

    • Jennifer Mattern March 14, 2010 Reply

      I haven’t done it regularly recently. I used to make it a monthly thing for title searches. While looking at my monthly stats I’d run titles on the most popular to see if anything was swiped — the ones that I want to protect the most. After I finish my site updates on this and a few others, I’ll probably move from development mode to administrative mode, where I can have more time to deal with these things.

      As for your name, try combining your name with a keyword from your site. Or better yet, just do your domain name. The thieves who are dumb enough to leave our names on it are usually the ones dumb enough to leave a link back, thinking that makes the theft okay.

  7. This is truly helpful Jenn (why am I not surprised ;) ) and there are things here I didn’t know. I’ll be able to do a better job of following through with these idiots now.

    Thanks.

  8. Russell Aleksic April 9, 2010 Reply

    Hi I’ve been robbed by a man!!!!! He stole all my wording and images as well as the web design intent. I run a small Heating and Cooling business in Melbourne Australia. I hooked up with this guy for about a year as a subcontractor and when we parted ways he got a web design business to steel my site which I evolved over five years and have all my old design notes. You can see my site www.anchorageair.com.au and the forged site www.airpower.net.au

    Please help me!! I don’t know what to do to get him black listed and shut down…legally that is :-(( thanks in advance Russ from Melbourne Australia

    • Jennifer Mattern April 9, 2010 Reply

      Russ, Unfortunately I can’t speak to Australian copyright law, so I’m not sure what you can do. :(

      Chances are good that it’s against his hosting company’s terms of service though, so send proof to them. They might give him a warning to remove it or eventually suspend the hosting account for terms violations.

  9. Alex August 18, 2010 Reply

    Hi,

    Use this link http://www.copyscape.com to check if content is stolen .. very easy and save time :)

    Hope this would help :)

    Bye..

    • Jennifer Mattern August 19, 2010 Reply

      Copyscape is the biggest crock of sh*t and waste of time out there when it comes to content theft. No one serious wastes their time with it. You get better results with a Google search of select text. and Copyscape can’t deal with one of the worst kinds of content theft out there — “rewrites” (illegal derivative works). If that’s the extend someone will go to defend their work, they’re pretty much asking for it to be stolen.

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