Stop Thief! How You Can Fight Back Against Online Plagiarism

Stop Thief!  How You Can Fight Back Against Online Plagiarism


It’s ironic that this article about plagiarism will probably be stolen and illegally published on many websites across the world! That’s the nature of the web, but can you do anything about it? How can you fight back?

This article provides you with some tactics and actions to get back at content thieves who are abusing the web and copyright laws.


Why do people steal content?

The number one reason that people steal online content is so they can make money from advertising. They will take your article and put it on a webpage on their websites. They will then place advertising on the page, which earns them money. The most common adverts, by virtue of their ease of implementation, are Google AdSense ads. People simply add a piece of code to the webpage and relevant ads are automatically displayed alongside the content. Every time a visitor to the page clicks on an ad, the website owner earns a small commission. If someone has thousands or even millions of pages of content showing these ads, the earnings can be very significant.

Content is expensive and time consuming to create, so it is far easier for these website owners to steal it, particularly as the risk of getting caught is so low.


Who is stealing the content?

The majority of thieves are amateurs who are trying to earn a bit of cash on the side. They use such simple, cheap website creation tools as Blogger, TypePad, Homestead or Moonfruit to quickly create websites that they populate with content they cut and paste from sites around the Internet. Or, easier still, they take RSS feeds from sites and have the content automatically delivered to their new sites.

Whilst most the thieves are amateurs, they are not the biggest problem.

The sums of money that can now be earned from online advertising have attracted the attention of far more organised gangs. New tools have been developed that can strip thousands of articles from legitimate sites and use them to populate thousands of websites. Some of these tools are programmed to change words within each page so they are harder for the author to trace. This has become known as synonymizing.

These professional content thieves don’t care what they are stealing and from whom (although they avoid plagarising articles from the bigger news agencies and newspaper and broadcasting sites).


What content gets stolen?

Anything and everything! Sometimes whole sites are stolen and recreated with a new domain name.

The most commonly stolen stuff is short text articles, such as blog posts. There are thousands of them, many of which are distributed via RSS. They are perfect for driving targeted traffic and thus ad clicks.

Next are images. Why? Because they are difficult and expensive to create, yet very easy to steal. Many image thieves actually leave the pictures on the original server and link to them so they don’t have to foot the bill for hosting!

Some distance behind these two content types are marketing copy, web-design elements (templates, buttons, icons, etc.), video, blocks of code and web applications (e.g. an online mortgage calculator).


How do you find your stolen content?

If you want to find out whether your articles have been copied, the cheapest and easiest way to do it is to copy and paste a unique line from the article into several search engines – try Google, Yahoo and Ask. There is a good chance that if that line appears verbatim on another site it will be found.

Alternatively, there is a dedicated service that can help, called Copyscape (www.copyscape.com). You can use a restricted but effective version for free, and if you like what you see, you can pay a nominal amount for the premium service. Copyscape looks for copies of all your website content across the web.

Searching for stolen images is much harder. The easiest technique is to give every image a distinctive and unique file name. Thieves usually don’t bother changing the file name, so you can undertake a search using Google Image search to locate pinched pictures.

The only other way is to ask your loyal visitors to notify you if they see any of your content published on other websites. They can be your team of unpaid copyright police.


Fighting back! How to get content thieves to remove your content

First let me set your expectations straight. Very often you cannot get your content removed from other people’s websites however hard you try, so you need to decide how much time you are going to spend pursuing thieves and not get obsessed by the process. It can become very time consuming, frustrating and demoralising. If you do decide to pursue the culprit(s) make sure you keep a detailed paper trail of everything you do and all of the correspondence. 


So here are seven tactics you can use to pursue and outwit the thief:

Tactic #1 – Ask them to remove your content. If you can find out who runs the website on which the stolen content appears and you can find away of contacting them, the first thing you should do is simply ask them to remove it. If they are amateur thieves this might be enough.

Tactic #2 – Cease and desist letter. If your first request receives no response and the content remains on the website, you can step up the pressure by sending them a cease and desist letter. I recommend sending an email and a physical letter (if you can find a postal address). You can often find this information out by doing a Whois search (try www.nominet.org.uk for .co.uk domains or www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp for .com/.net domains). A cease and desist letter is often enough to scare the amateur thief. However, it is unlikely to deter the professional gang.

For example cease and desist and DMCA letters go to http://performancing.com/legal-issues/stock-letters


Tactic #3 – Do some research to find out who is hosting the website. You can find this out by doing a Whois search (try www.nominet.org.uk for .co.uk domains or www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp for .com/.net domains). In the US under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) and the UK under the European Union Copyright Directive (2003), you can contact the hosting company, explain that the site is breaching your copyright and request that the site be taken down. Sometimes you won’t get a reply; often you will get asked to provide additional information. Rarely, they will agree straight away and act on your behalf.

Tactic #4 – Report the site to its advertisers. As mentioned above, most stolen content is used to drive traffic to pages with adverts so the website owner can make money from advertising. Most of these websites use Google AdSense because it is very easy to set up. In the AdSense terms and conditions, as with those of most reputable ad networks, it is very clear that ads must not be served against stolen content. Send the advertisers copies of the cease and desist letters that you have forwarded to the offending webmaster. If the website loses its ability to serve ads, it will have lost its reason to exist.

Tactic #5 – Report the site to the major search engines. Content sites without traffic from the major search engines are like fish without water. Without the oxygen of free traffic they wither and die. Whilst getting a site blocked in a search engine will not get your article removed, it will ensure that it is hard for other people to find. You can report the copyright infringement to all of the major search engines, and within their terms and conditions, they are obliged to act. The key search engines to report to are Google, Yahoo and Microsoft/MSN.

Google: http://www.google.com/dmca.html#notification
Yahoo: http://info.yahoo.com/copyright/details.html
Microsoft/MSN: http://search.msn.com/docs/siteowner.aspx?t=SEARCH_WEBMASTER_CONC_AboutDMCA.htm

How to send notification to the search engines: http://www.seologic.com/faq/dmca-notifications.php  


Tactic #6 – Take them to court.
If your content is registered as copy-protected material, you can file a lawsuit against the thief. You’ll need to take expert legal advice before going down this route.


Conclusion

Content theft is a growing problem on the web, and it is difficult to see how it will ever be prevented. If you find yourself a victim and you want to take action against the thief or thieves, use the tactics outlined above. They can be effective deterrents against the majority of amateur content thieves. Don’t do anything illegal in your pursuit or it could be you who ends up the wrong side of the law.


Useful articles and websites:

Detailed article about dealing with content theft: http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2006/04/10/what-do-you-do-when-someone-steals-your-content/

Site dedicated to dealing with content plagiarism: www.plagiarismtoday.com  


Useful Resource to Detect Copyright Theft

Copyscape: www.copyscape.com

The Copyscape website helps you detect thefts of your articles. You simply insert your URL into the Copyscape search box and it scans the web to see if any of your articles are published on other websites. You can then go through the search results and look at the sites it has identified. If you have been publishing online for some time you maybe shocked by the results. You can try a stripped-down version of the service for free. If you want to use all the functionality, you have to pay a nominal fee per search ($0.05).