If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you might know that I have a long history of having my blog content stolen.
From outfit photos being used to sell clothes, to people imitating me online or publishing hundreds of my blog posts on their own sites, I’ve pretty much seen it all. I even once had someone copy my shoe blog, to the extent of actually trying to trademark the name, in order to stop me using it – so THAT was fun. If you’re feeling particularly bored, there’s a list of some of the times I’ve been copied online here: when I started that page, I had intended to update it with each new incident, but honestly, this kind of thing happens SO OFTEN now that I actually stopped keeping track, as depressing as that is.
Now, obviously there are things you can do to try and stop your content being stolen: any time I mention this situation, people always suggest I watermark my photos, add more prominent copyright notices to my text, use right-click disable on everything, and so on and so forth… Trust me when I tell you that none of these things will stop someone copying your content if they really want to: and the fact is, if you post content on the internet, there’s a good chance that sooner or later, someone WILL want to copy it. And they’ll do it, too. And it will feel absolutely awful to see all your hard work (plus photos of your own face, for God’s sake…) being used to make money for someone else.
In the case of content scrapers, it can also really affect your own site, because they will often copy hundreds, if not thousands of posts – and will sometimes basically reproduce your entire blog on their own site, to make money from your content. I’ve had this happen countless times now, so have a set procedure to follow when it happens. How you deal with content theft, however, will obviously depend on the situation: whether it’s just one photo or thousands of posts, and whether it’s a fellow blogger who doesn’t know any better, or an organisation intentionally scraping content to make money. With that said, here are some things you can do when someone copies your blog…
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
I wrote a post last year on copyright basics, which goes into much more detail, but just to quickly re-iterate: if someone uses your images or text without permission, they are breaking the law, and you have the right to take legal action against them: yes, even if they linked back to you, and even if they say they “didn’t realise” they weren’t allowed to copy your work. There are some cases in which limited use of someone else’s work could be considered “fair use“, but for the purposes of this post, I’m talking specifically about cases of outright plagiarism and people using your text/images for profit – whether that be to sell something, or to help them rank higher on Google, and make money from Adsense etc.
In these cases, you always have the option to take legal action: there have been countless cases now where bloggers have been sent hefty invoices for using copyrighted photos without permission (This is why I will never stop telling people to stop doing the whole “Image: Pinterest” thing – FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP IT!), and it works both ways – if someone takes YOUR work, you can also invoice them, and even take them to court if you want to. More on that later, though. For now, here’s what to do…
IF YOU HAVE CONTACT DETAILS FOR THE PERSON WHO’S USING YOUR CONTENT…
01. CONTACT THEM DIRECTLY
As tempting as it might be to name and shame the dirty rotten blog thief by blasting them on social media, you will regret this – and again, you can trust one who knows on that. No, I’m not proud of having done it, but I’m hoping you will learn from my mistakes: honestly, it’s really upsetting to find out you’ve been plagiarised, and I think it’s the kind of thing you’ll only REALLY understand when it happens to you, but while it’s understandable to be angry, it’s always best not to react in anger. Your first move when you find out you’ve been copied, then, should be to try to contact the owner of the blog or website hosting the stolen content – and to do so privately, if at all possible. Look for an email address, and if you can’t find one, look to see if the person has a Twitter account or Facebook which you can send them a direct message on.
Only if this fails (or if there’s no way to do it in the first place), should you resort to contacting the person on social media, or by commenting on their blog. Regardless of the method of contact, it’s a good idea to try to keep your message short and courteous, and to give the person the benefit of the doubt by assuming they meant no harm, and just didn’t realise they can’t just copy someone’s post. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to breaking the law, obviously, but we all make mistakes, and going in with all guns blazing will just antagonise the person, so no matter how annoyed you are, try to stay calm.
02. SEND THEM AN INVOICE
If the person using your content made a genuine mistake, contacting them directly will almost always be enough to get then to remove it. Occasionally, though, you’ll run into someone who stubbornly ignores all your messages, or refuses to take the stolen content down (Ebay sellers are particularly bad for this: I’ve had more than a few angry rants from sellers who feel they have every right to use photos of me in their auctions, and who’ll give me sob stories about how I’m preventing them from earning a living, and now their children will starve or whatever…). When this happens, my first course of action is normally to send them an invoice for use of the content, pointing out that the work is copyrighted, and that I charge for its use.
As the copyright holder, you’re totally within your rights to do this, and although you obviously can’t force the person to actually PAY the invoice (Only once did someone actually pay: I was totally shocked…), quite often the realisation that you could take them to small claims court if you wanted to will be enough to get them to take down the stolen content at least. I often find that people who ignore all of my other attempts to contact them will all of sudden become willing to communicate as soon as money is mentioned, so while you probably won’t actually get paid for the use of your content (Although you CAN take them to small claims court if you really want to…), this can be a useful bargaining tool.
03. SEND A CEASE AND DESIST LETTER
Assuming you have contact details for the person using your content, another thing to consider is sending a Cease and Desist letter, which is a formal request to take down the content, and which normally warns the person that you will take legal action if they don’t comply with the request. A lot of people assume you need a lawyer to send a Cease and Desist, but you can actually do it yourself – you’ll find tons of templates online which you can use. Although this type of approach normally threatens legal action, it’s not legally binding in itself, so unless you really are willing to go to court, it might be seen as something of an empty threat. In a lot of cases, however, the formal language and threat of legal action will be enough to let the person know you’re serious, and to get them to remove the content.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE CONTACT DETAILS FOR THE PERSON…
The options above, of course, are all well and good if you have some way to contact the person – and if they’re willing to respond to you when you do. Content scrapers, however, don’t normally provide a handy email address you can use to contact them, nor do they read the comments on their websites (if they even HAVE comments on their websites…), maintain Twitter accounts, or interact with the people they’re ripping off on Facebook. The fact is, content scrapers are criminals: they’re not people who make a mistake and feel bad about it, they’re people who have deliberately taken your content, KNOWING they’re breaking the law, and not caring. Even some brands/bloggers will think that if they ignore you, you’ll just go away, so if you find yourself in this position, here are some other things you can try…
01. FIND OUT WHO HOSTS THE WEBSITE
Web hosts have a legal responsibility to remove any illegal content they’re found to be hosting on their servers, and that includes cases of copyright infringement. What this means is that even if the blogger/splogger won’t remove your content from their site, their host may do it for them – and will sometimes remove the entire website, if they deem the theft to be serious enough.
Your first task, then, is to find out who the host of the website is. If the person is using a site like Blogspot, say, or is posting your content on Facebook, this is easy enough – you can contact Blogspot and Facebook directly, and ask them to remove the content. I’ve had to do this numerous times, and have found both Blogspot and Facebook very helpful: they both have departments which deal with this kind of request, and although you will obviously have to prove that the content is yours (You do this simply by providing the link to where it appears on your own blog), I have never had them refuse to remove the copied content: in fact, as I said, in many cases they will close down the entire blog/Facebook account. (Which is why you should never ignore someone who is asking you to remove their content, by the way!)
If the content thief ISN’T using a free hosting service, however, it can be a little more difficult to find out who hosts their blog. There are a few sites designed to do this, however (here is one of them), and a quick Google search will normally provide you with the information you need to contact the host of the copycat blog, and ask them to remove your content. I’ve had varying levels of success with this, and it depends very much on the hosting service: some are super-helpful, others can be quite obstructive. It’s worth bearing in mind here that, as well as having a responsibility to remove illegal content, web hosts also have a responsibility to the people who use their service, and can’t just take down someone’s blog because you asked them to. They will require proof that the content you’re reporting is yours (again, the link to your own website will be enough), and they will normally contact the owner of the blog and give them an opportunity to dispute your claim before taking any action.
If, after all of this, they refuse to remove your content, however, it’s time to move to the next step…
02. FILE A DMCA WITH THE HOST
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires web hosts to take claims of copyright seriously, and a DMCA notice is an official “takedown” request, which hosts are legally obliged to respond to. This is a document which you sign to assert your rights as the copyright holder, and you can write it yourself: again, you’ll find lots of DMCA templates online, although sites like Facebook and Blogspot have online versions which you just have to fill in, and check a box instead of signing.
On receipt of a DMCA, the host is obliged to inform the owner of the website using the content, and give them a timeframe within which to remove it (they obviously DO have the person’s contact details if they’re hosting a site with them). I’ve found this normally results in the removal of the content and/or site, but the issue you might have here is that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act is U.S. law, so it’s only really recognised by U.S (And also UK, actually) web hosts. A lot of content scrapers use hosts based in China or elsewhere, and if that’s the case it can be impossible to get them to even respond to you, which is when you have to move to the final option…
03. FILE A DMCA WITH GOOGLE
The point of content scraping is to use your content to make money – normally via Google Adsense. If a site that’s infringing your copyright is using Adsense, then, you can first of all report them to Google, who will investigate and cancel the Adsense account if necessary (this is a huge blow to the splogger, obviously, especially if they’ve taken hundreds of posts). You can also file a DMCA notice with Google themselves by using the forms you’ll find here. This won’t get the stolen content removed from the site that’s using it (except in the case of Blogspot and You Tube, which they own, Google isn’t a web host, so can’t remove content from sites), but it will get it removed from the Google index, which will prevent it showing up in search results – and also prevent the thief making any money/getting any traffic from it.
AS A LAST RESORT…
There is, of course, one other thing you can do if the content theft is serious enough, or really affecting your livelihood…
04. CALL A LAWYER
Every time I’ve had content stolen, people have instantly wanted me to jump right to this option, and call in the lawyers – I’ve even had people be quite scathing about it, telling me they’ve NO IDEA why I haven’t taken legal action yet, I mean, am I stupid or what?! The fact is, though, that even when you’re in the right, legal action of any kind can be hideously expensive (especially if the person who stole your content is in a different country from you), which is why I’ve put this option last: for most of us, it really is a last resort.
I’ve only reached this stage once: it did work, in that it stopped the person copying my blog, but it cost Terry and I a LOT of money in the process. Our blogs are an essential part of our business, so we felt we had no option but go down the legal route, but I don’t recommend it unless it’s absolutely essential to you that the copying be stopped: lawyers will charge you for every email, every phonecall, every letter they send, and if you DO end up having to go to court (we didn’t, thankfully), you could be looking at a very hefty bill at the end of it. Yes, you’ll probably win, and the content thief will be told to pay your costs, but you can’t force someone to pay if they don’t have the money, so as I said, consider this one very carefully, and don’t just call a lawyer at the first sign of trouble.
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WHEW! So, that ended up being a whole lot longer than I intended, but this is a subject I get a lot of questions about, and I know from experience that if it happens to you, there’s no such thing as “too much information”, so if you are unlucky enough to find yourself looking for information on this, I hope it helps!