It’s never pleasant to discover that your content has been stolen.
How about if you don’t know it’s being stolen? How do you keep alerted to that?
Once you’ve caught the culprit, then what do you do to get it removed?
How about preventing your content from being stolen in the future?
Is there any way you can get some benefit from it being stolen?
Sorting out content theft issues can be tricky, sure, but not as difficult as you may think. In this post I’m going to show you how to deal with content theft with a simple but effective step-by-step process.
We’ll start with deciding whether to pursue a thief, then ways you can protect your content, and finish up with how you might actually benefit from the situation.
What can be achieved by pursuing a content thief?
As writers, we pour our heart into creating engaging content, so it can be soul destroying to find out that someone might be ripping it off and reaping the benefits.
However, before you embark on finding and dealing with a content thief, you need to understand what the risks are and whether the theft of your content is impacting negatively on your business.
You need to be smart and drop the ego, as there’s always the chance that it’s actually benefiting you! The truth is, under certain circumstances, someone taking your content and republishing it can be an unexpected and potentially major bonus.
For example, if someone decided to republish an article you wrote on Huffington Post, would that be a bad thing? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, if a website that just scrapes RSS feeds publishes your content without any attribution and takes it for themselves, would that be a bad thing? Sure it would.
If someone is distributing an eBook you wrote as a freemium gift to new email subscribers… or is selling it under a different author name… would that be a bad thing? Of course it would.
It’s these types of things that we need to stop—but without locking down our content, disabling right-hand clicks and destroying our website’s user experience. (That is not a price worth paying.)
1. Find out who is stealing your content
There are a number of different tools and services that you can use to do this, and the most popular are Google Alerts or just checking for duplication by doing a manual search.
The problem with these techniques is that they can be time consuming. When using Google Alerts you would have to set up individual alerts for every piece of content you publish. The good news is, it’s a cheap and relatively simple process.
If you decide to use this tool, be sure to add alerts that check for mentions of your brand name and an alert that also checks for new incoming links to your site (as these are often lazy content scrapers forgetting to take your internal urls out of the content).
This set-up should catch most incidences of your content appearing online, including theft by content scrapers.
When adding an alert for your brand, be sure to put your brand name in quotation marks. For instance: “Crazy Egg.” That way you’ll eliminate most irrelevant results.
Setting up alerts for incoming links to your website can work really well because most content thieves (usually those who scrape your content from RSS feeds) end up leaving your internal links intact.
Pro tip: Setting up Google Alerts is straightforward. All you need to do is add the following search operator:
This will make sure it only picks up pages from domains other than your own.
If you don’t notice much coming through Google Alerts, as an alternative you can try using the ‘Mentions Tracker’ within the link monitoring software Ahrefs.
Just use the same search operator that I mentioned above and you’ll be able to see exactly where the links are coming from.
2. Send the site owner a DMCA takedown request
Before I go any further, a ‘DMCA takedown request’ is a request that you can send to content thieves to urge them to remove the content from their web property.
This is underpinned legally thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which you can find more extensive information about here.
The most straight forward way of starting this process is to put together a template that you can easily adapt. This will save you time if you have a significant number of thieves to deal with. You can find a useful guide to putting together an effective takedown request here.
Once you have put together your takedown request email, contact the site owner first before you consider employing more drastic measures.
In most cases, contacting the site owner will be quite straightforward. But there are occasions when you will seriously struggle to find any method of contact at all.
In this case, there are a number of other measures you can take. (Ken Lyons lists these in his very detailed post over on the WordStream blog.)
3. Find out who is hosting the website and contact them
Some website owners may not take your request seriously but that’s nothing for you to worry about, as ultimately it just makes things more difficult for them—you have another viable option to explore, which is sending the DMCA takedown request directly to the web host.
You can do this by checking out WHOIS records, but you will most likely find that different top-level domain extensions (TLD’s) bring back different results and can sometimes be very unreliable.
The most effective method is to use Who Is Hosting This.com. Just type in the web address of the offending site and, voila, you will know exactly who is hosting the website and you can then go directly to the source.
4. Send the DMCA takedown request to the websites hosting company
Most web hosts make this process very straightforward by having copyright infringement or DMCA-related policies available on their websites.
This is exactly what HostGator does:
Each web host may have a slightly different process for the handling of your takedown request, but the main thing is that they are obligated to consider your request.
5. Protect your content by setting up Google Authorship
Now that you have submitted your DMCA takedown request, you need to take steps to try to minimise the effect that any stolen content may have. One way you can do that is by taking ownership of your content with Google Authorship.
Andy Crestodina wrote a great guide on how to setup Authorship over on the KISSmetrics blog last year, which I highly recommend reading.
This won’t prevent all content theft, by any means, but it’s an extra step that will help minimise any potential fallout with search engines by allowing Google to identify your content as the original.
6. Add a footer to your RSS feed
Websites that scrape RSS feeds generally provide no attribution, so you get no credit for being the legitimate author of your content.
Some of these sites can be nasty but, occasionally, due to using black hat hit and run style techniques, they can manage to get content indexed by search engines before the original.
The answer is to add a page footer to your RSS feed that mentions the original site and even perhaps a date when it was posted. This allows search engines to reposition your content ahead of the thieves’.
This footer will also help people who find your content to realise that they are reading a scraped version. By the way, adding this footer is really easy to do if your website uses WordPress.
One of the most popular options is the WordPress SEO plugin, but this may be overkill for you because the plugin has a lot of other features that are related to SEO. If you already have a good SEO plugin setup you could try using the RSS Footer plugin instead. (Check out these useful plugins too.)
7. Find who is linking to your stolen content
When people find your content on someone else’s website published without your permission, chances are good that readers aren’t aware that it was scraped from another site. If the content is good, it’s quite possible it could have built up some back links.
This is a big opportunity for you because these links should be pointing to your website, referring traffic, making you or your brand more visible online and ultimately benefiting you—after all, it’s your hard work right?!
To see who is linking to the content, just grab the URL of the offending post and paste it into Ahrefs or Majestic SEO. This will allow you to find out exactly which websites are linking to your content so that you can start contacting them to point out the error of their ways.
Pro tip: You may actually have multiple links from one website, so it’s a good idea to sort your list in Microsoft Excel. Here’s how:
1. Export the list of links to Microsoft Excel.
2. Remove the prefix http://www. or http:// from the beginning of all URLs.
3. Add a filter and sort the list A-Z.
Now, armed with your list of ‘opportunities,’ it’s time to contact the site owners to explain the situation and ask for those links to be changed to the correct URL.
I’ve covered pretty much everything that you need to know to find and prevent your content from being stolen while turning the process into a possible link building tactic too.
My question to you is: What has your experience been with content theft? Have you managed to turn it around from a problem to a way of promoting your articles or writing?