How to Deal with Content Thieves, Scrapers and Online Plagiarism
A guide to the most effective way to deal with online content thieves - aka scrapers and article spinners - who steal your original web content.
May 28th, 2011 by Becky Turner
If you run a successful website or blog, you run a good chance of having your content stolen and posted elsewhere on the web. Technology has evolved so quickly in the world of blogging that the law just hasn't caught up with it yet - and online plagiarism is rife.
You may only discover the odd article, or you might have entire chunks of your website, videos, journals and blog posts copied without permission. So here's a step-by-step guide to what actions you can take to deal with such scrapers and help keep your online business safe from future attacks.
Definitions of Content Theft
Did you know that you automatically own the copyright on everything you create? So whenever someone re-publishes your work without permission, it's an act of content theft. In blogging, this appears in three main forms:
- Scraping is when an automated program scans your website for content and re-posts it onto the scraper blog, word for word. Scrapers don't attribute any credit to the original author, although many are daft enough to leave your links intact, so readers can click back to your blog. Scrapers may also monitor your RSS feed and re-publish your own articles just minutes after you published them.
- Article spinning is the use of software to take original content and use a thesaurus to swap certain words around. Often this results in low quality articles with poor grammar but the overall appearance that the content is original (in the eyes of Copyscape robots at least). Article spinners just want to quickly create lots of fake content for their blog and get ranked on Google. Their sites are then used as link farms (to create link juice for other spam blogs) or advertising portals which make money from clicks.
- Plagiarism or adaptation is where a content thief steals your work, manually adapts or edits the wording, then passes it off as their own. Earlier this year I found an entire website clone of one of my sites, in which the site name, concept, branding, images and 50 pages of content were plagiarized. I believe it was part of a scam to sell the site for profit, or blackmail me into buying it off them.
What To Do if Someone Steals Your Content
The fact that someone has plagiarized your articles, images, videos or any other type of online content just means that your ideas are good. That's not something to stress or panic over. That's great news.
Keep in mind that you are the one with talent who can create quality, original content. For that reason, you'll always be one step ahead of the game, no matter who tries to piggyback on your success. And of course you are not alone - the world wide web is fraught with scrapers and spinners stealing content. Google's Panda Update 2.2 has helped to demote these scrapers who were previously ranking ahead of the original sites they were plagiarized from. The Google algorithm will continue to improve.
If you feel the need to take direct action, follow the steps below. These steps should work in 90% of cases. Just know that sometimes content theft can be resolved in 24 hours - other times, it can drag on for months. So don't let things get to you or you could be facing many hours of pointless anxiety and sleepless nights. You may even ask yourself: is it even worth it? Would your time be better spent ignoring the thieves and focusing on creative more exclusive content of your own?
Are Scraper Sites Worth Pursuing?
If you find an automated scraper site stealing your work, stop and ask yourself: is this really worth the hassle? Although it IS duplicate content (which Google supposedly frowns upon) it does also provide direct links back to your website (if you use internal links in your text, which is a good practice anyway). So at best, an automated scraper can send you more web traffic and a bit of link juice.
Step 1 - Contact The Site Owner
Firstly, there is a chance that someone has plagiarized your work without actually realizing that what they're doing is illegal. I've had this happen to me a few times, always with amateur bloggers. So start out by writing a fairly neutral note to the website owner via their contact form or email address. I suggest the following wording to get your point across:
Sample Copyright Warning
It has come to my attention that you have plagiarized my original online work at [cite your work title and URL].
Reproducing my content without my permission is an illegal copyright infringement. I must ask you to take down the page at [enter the work title and URL where the stolen content is located] immediately.
I will be monitoring your website and if you do not remove the stolen content I will take official action.
Step 2 - Write a Cease & Desist Letter
Wait a few days and if the informal contact doesn't yield a result, it's time to stake your claim by writing an official Cease & Desist letter. (Some people skip straight to this stage if they feel the content thief is a pro. However if it looks innocent, I still give them a warning shot first.)
A C&D letter is a bit of legal wording that serves as an official warning to the content thief. Usually this formal notice can scare them into action, because it shows you're serious about pursuing them.
Here is a sample Cease & Desist letter you can use:
Sample Cease & Desist Letter
I am the proprietor of all copyright in the literary work entitled [your website URL] (The "Work"). I have reserved all rights in the Work, which was first expressed in material form on [date first written].
It has come to my attention that your work entitled [infringing URL] is substantially similar to my copyrighted Work. Permission was neither asked nor granted to reproduce my Work and your Work therefore constitutes infringement of my rights.
In terms of the Copyright Statutes, I am entitled to an injunction against your continued infringement, as well as to recover damages from you for the loss I have suffered as a result of your infringing conduct.
In the circumstances, I demand that you immediately:
1. Delete all remaining online and offline copies of the infringing content and notify me in writing that you have done so;
2. Cease any further use and distribution of the copyrighted material on other websites;
3. Undertake in writing to desist from using any of my copyrighted Work in future without prior written authority from me.
I await to hear from you by no later than close of business on [date in 5 days' time].
This is written without prejudice to my rights, all of which are hereby expressly reserved.
Step 3 - File a DMCA Complaint
If the first two emails to the content thief are ignored (or bounce back or are met with a negative response) then it's time to go Google.
It's Google's policy to investigate claims of scraper sites, article spinning, plagiarism, and other types of online copyright theft - and remove offending sites from their search index. After all, Google just wants to provide people with quality, relevant web pages, and they don't want their search engine to return a high level of spam sites.
To have them investigate your copycat, visit Google's DMCA form (where DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and select the product Web Search. Fill out the form in as much detail as possible. If the thief has stolen multiple pages of your work, be sure to list every relevant URL from your site and the offending site. Make it clear what they're doing.
Google receives hundreds of DMCA complaints every day so don't expect them to jump into action. It can take days or weeks for them to respond. Typically you'll get one of two responses:
- CONTENT WILL REMAIN INDEXED -- We have received and reviewed your attached DMCA complaint. At this time, Google has decided not to take action based on our policies concerning content removal. As always, we encourage you to resolve any disputes directly with the owner of the website in question.
- CONTENT WILL BE DE-INDEXED -- In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have completed
processing your infringement complaint. The following web pages have been
removed from Google...
If you get a failed response but are sure you deserve justice, reply to their email explaining your case in more detail. I actually got a failed response the first time I reported the cloned version of my website. However, after a second look, Google decided to remove the plagiarizing website from their index. As a result, the copycat will likely see a cataclysmic fall in their web traffic overnight, since much internet traffic comes from Google.
What's more, a Google takedown will also result in the site being removed from AOL's listings too, as it is fed by Google. I recommend you file an identical complaint to Microsoft at dmcaagent[at]microsoft.com with regard to its search engine listings which populate both Bing and Yahoo.
Complications: The DMCA Counter Claim
Now here's the rub. Once a website has been removed from Google's index for verifiable content theft, the copycat still has the chance to file a DMCA counter claim. This is a legal document (filed via Google's website) which disputes the action taken by Google.
By disputing your claim, the content thief may lie and commit perjury (knowingly give false or misleading information under oath). Unfortunately if they do, you are back at square one. Google doesn't like to get its hands dirty when both parties provide conflicting claims. So they pass the case back to the original claimant for the next action. You'll receive an email from Google stating:
- DMCA COUNTER CLAIM NOTICE -- We received the attached DMCA counter notification in response to the
complaint you filed with us on [date]. As described in 17 U.S.C.
512(g), by this email, we are providing you with the counter notification
and await your notice (in not more than 10 days) that you have filed an
action seeking a court order to restrain the counter-notifier's allegedly
infringing activity. If we do not receive such notice from you, we will
reinstate the material in question in the Google search results. If you
have any questions, please contact our DMCA agent, at 650.214.4053.
This means that unless you hire a lawyer and seek a court order within the next 10 days, the stolen content will be reinstated on Google's index.
See what I mean when I say that you may be better off leaving it alone in the first place and focusing your efforts on content creation?
Step 4 - Contact The Web Host
If you are unfortunate enough to have come this far, you can still disrupt the scraper's activities by reporting the theft to their website host.
Go to Better Who Is and look up your copycat's website domain. The records will list the name of the domain registrar and the contact details of the website host with which you can file your complaint.
I suggest writing the following email to your thief's website host:
Sample Web Host Warning
Dear [website host]
This is to inform you that your client [thief name] is infringing on my copyright with their website [infringing URL] which has been hosted by you since [creation date listed].
The stolen content has clearly been [scraped / spun / plagiarized] from my website at [your URL] [and is now blacklisted by Google as per my DMCA complaint - if applicable]. Your client has ignored my Cease & Desist letter and if the infringement continues I will be seeking legal action.
As per copyright laws, I request that you remove all content from
[infringing URL] within the next 48 hours and notify me of your action.
Below is a complete list of URLs infringing on my copyright:
[If the stolen content appears on multiple pages, list them here.]
At this stage, keep the pressure on the web host. A reputable host will take action and terminate the thief's account, causing the website to go down. It then depends on how determined the copycat is to continue abusing your work, by switching to a new host. As frustrating as this may be, it does create some downtime for the scraper site, and more work for the scraper.
Step 5 - Prevent Them From Making Money
If you continue to be pursued by your content thief and are determined to fight back, there are still powerful courses of action.
This particular one involves monitoring the website and individually contacting their affiliate partners and advertising partners (even better if they use Google AdSense). You're making an unofficial, personal appeal.
Explain that you are the original copyright owner and how this person is not only stealing your content and claiming it as their own, but also making money from your original work. People can verify your claims by checking your respective Better Who Is records of the domain creation date, as well as your superior Page Rank and traffic data. They can even check out both sites at the Way Back Machine which contains website archives.
In my experience, affiliate partners are very sympathetic to the situation as they have likely had to deal with scrapers themselves at some point. They can refuse to do business with the thief, thereby cutting off their ability to make money from affiliates in your niche.
At this point the scraper will be forced to switch to other partners, who you can simply notify in the same fashion. In this way, you can make the content thief's life very difficult indeed, should you choose to do so.
How to Protect Yourself From Content Thieves
As you can tell by now, dealing with persistent content thieves can be a very time-consuming affair. Once you've been through this drama a few times, you'll see that prevention is better than cure.
So here are some good tips to help protect your website from scrapers and article spinners - and keep your creative work original on the web. At the very least you'll help get your due credit for it.
- Put a free DMCA badge on all your web pages. This deters potential content thieves and creates a date-stamped record of all your pages and when they were created. You can also arrange DMCA takedowns to occur on autopilot, which go straight to the web host.
- Keep creating original content. You will always be the first to publish your high quality content. Anyone who scrapes, spins or re-hashes your work is just trailing in the dust you leave behind. That will never change - and one day Google's algorithms will catch up too.
- Use the DMCA watermarking tool to protect your original images.
- Create YouTube videos and brand them with your website address so viewers can see where they originate from. People can still embed your videos in their sites - and I encourage that - but they can't be blatantly lifted and re-claimed without a messy editing job.
- Start an online forum (if it's appropriate for your niche and market size) which your copycat can't duplicate. Done correctly, forums are a great way of increasing traffic and growing your website on autopilot, as well as hitting on lots of longtail keywords at Google.
- Create content in a variety of formats which are difficult to simply cut and paste from your site. You could do video blogs, audio interviews, and teleseminars as a way to set your site apart from the myriad scammers and scrapers in your niche.
If you found this free article helpful please consider making a donation to the author. Thank you so much for your kind support.
How to Get an ITIN (Apple Publishers)
How to Deal with Content Thieves
How to Write Killer AdWords Ads
How to Make Money by Blogging
>> Career Blog Archives