Ugggh….I have been having to deal with one of the most egregious offenses one can make in the publishing world – plagiarizing content. Over the past week, I have had two separate websites steal and post my content and call it their own. And it seems to be spreading virally around the blogosphere. Last week, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, had to fight this fight, and this week, a good partner at Invest It Wisely had to deal with the same thing!
So, what can you as a site owner do to protect your content? There is actually quite a bit, and the law is on your site. Furthermore, most website hosts don't want to risk being sued, and so they will err on your side as well.
Know Your Content is Being Stolen
To start, you need to know if your content is being stolen. The most common way content is stolen is through RSS Feeds. Most sites have them, and they are beneficial because a lot of dedicated readers like just reading your content in a reader, and not actually coming to your site. However, thieves will just take your RSS Feed and throw it onto their website (and they will usually change the affiliate links to benefit themselves).
You can protect yourself from this by including an RSS Footer at the bottom of your feed. This allows you to add a line to the bottom of each post in your feed. If you include a link back to your post, and someone publishes that link, WordPress will notify you via Pingbacks. You can then follow the trackback and see what the person linked to you for (could be good or bad). There is a great free WordPress Plugin for this, and it is simply called “RSS Footer”. Very easy to use, and I highly recommend it.
The other way to see if your content is being used, or even if you are being mentioned online, is to use Google Alerts. This is a cool feature offered by Google that allows you to choose lines of text, and Google will send you an email with all of the content created using that text. For example, I have an alert setup for “The College Investor”. Everytime that phrase is used online, I get a notification. A lot of times it is fellow bloggers mentioning my posts, in which case I go and thank them! However, every now and then it can be something devious, in which case I take action.
Also, you could add an odd phrase to the end of each of your posts. I don't do this currently, but I could put something like “College Students Rock The Investing World!” Then, my Google Alert would be very specific, and if that phrase showed up, chances are it wouldn't be a good thing.
Someone's Plagiarized You, Now What?
So, now that you've detected that someone has stolen your content, what can you do? Well, there are a specific set of steps that need to be taken to get your plagiarized content removed.
First, you need to attempt to contact the blog owner. This could be through a contact me form, so something similar. Believe it or not, many owners will take down the content, and didn't even think it was wrong. So, educate them, and appreciate that they complied immediately.
If they don't respond, you can't find a contact form, or they respond and tell you off, then you need to go to the hosting provider. The easiest way to find this information is to go to a site like WhoIs.net. By doing a WhoIs search, you can find the IP Address and Hosting Provider of the offending site. I also like SEO Quake Plugin for Firefox. This plugin provides all the information of WhoIs, but also includes the hosting provider contacts for legal and abuse, which you will need for the next step.
Contacting the Hosting Provider
So, now that you have the basic information, you need to contact the hosting provider. Some hosts have specific web forms to get all the needed information, but most do not. Instead, you will need to send an email to “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org”. SEO Quake will give you this information. In this email, you will need to provide SEVEN specific items:
- Your contact information, including name, address, phone number, and email address
- Name and description of the article that was copied, as well as specific web address (not just your domain)
- The specific web address of the copied article, as well as the domain, and even IP
- A statement that he has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law (which, considering it is your article, this is a no-brainer)
- A statement that the information in the notification is accurate (Once again, a no brainer, but it satisfies the lawyers)
- A statement that, under penalty of perjury, you or your agent authorized to act for the copyright holder (this especially applies if you are going to use a virtual assistant or even a lawyer to do this regularly)
- You signature, or electronic signature
Here is a good example of what your email should look like (feel free to use it!):
I’m writing you to report a DMCA violation. A site hosted by you is plagiarizing content from my site, http://thecollegeinvestor.com. I cannot find a link to contact the site owner.
1. Identification of the material that you are claiming that is being infringing, with information about its location, reasonably specific to permit us to locate the material Description of Infringement:
Location of Infringement:
Your URL or Web Address:
Infringing URL or Web Address:
2. Please fill in the following statement:
I _______________________________, have a good faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the owner, its agent, or the law.
3. Please fill in the following statement:
I _______________________________, swear under penalty of perjury, that the above information in this notification is accurate and that I am the owner or are authorized to act on the owner’s behalf.
4. The infringement reporter or authorized persons:
5. The electronic/typed or physical signature of the owner or the person authorized to act on the owner’s behalf.
Indemnification of Host or Registrar
I ______________________________________, agree to defend, indemnify and hold the host or registrar, its affiliates and its sponsors, partners, other co-branders and the respective directors, officers and employees of each harmless from and against any and all claims, losses, damages, liabilities and costs (including, without limitation, reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs).
So, now that you have gone through all of that, what happens next? Since the hosting provider is usually very risk averse, the site will be blocked or removed within 24 to 48 hours of receipt and approval of your email. At that point, the hosting provider will also contact the site owner using the information they have on file and let the owner know that he now has the option of sending a counter-notice to the hosting provider.
This notice must include:
- Contact information
- Identification of the removed article, including specific web address
- A statement under penalty of perjury that the owner has a good faith belief the material was mistakenly taken down
- A statement consenting to the jurisdiction of the owner’s local US Federal District Court, or, if outside the US, to a US Federal District Court in any jurisdiction in which the hosting provider is found.
- The owner’s signature or electronic signature
Given the fact that the site owner has to swear under the penalty of perjury, most site owners will not fight the site being blocked or material removed. However, if the site owner does file a valid counter-notice, the hosting provider must notify you, and then you have 14 business days to file a lawsuit of copyright infringement and notify the hosting provider, or the material will be put back up.
So What Can We Do?
As a community, we should all be vigilant to the theft of materials from all of our sites. What affects one blogger today, can easily effect hundreds more tomorrow. These unscrupulous individuals are just looking for an easy buck on the hard work of other individuals. If you notice plagiarism of articles, please let the site owner know, so that they can go through the proper channels to get it removed!