Someone’s stolen my stuff! What to do when someone copies your content

10/12/2010 15:33pm
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No more Mister Nice Guy

Sometimes your polite emails are ignored and the offender’s host clearly doesn’t care. Time for legal action? Perhaps. “For many businesses, particularly where the infringer is overseas, the cost of legal action will be prohibitive,” Robertson points out. “Even if you can trace the infringer and succeed in court, the cost of enforcing an order overseas can be huge.

It only makes sense to take action if the cost can be justified financially. That depends in part on the depth of your pockets, and in part on the value of the stolen IP to your business. That means in some cases, writing off the loss will be the only pragmatic thing to do.”

If all else fails, there’s social media. Naming and shaming the offender on blogs, on Twitter or on Facebook may well embarrass them, but be aware that you could be playing with fire: the Cooks’ Source plagiarism we mentioned at the beginning of this article generated a social media storm that quickly snowballed, and at the time of writing the offending editor appears to have been driven out of business altogether.

How you can prevent it happening again

There are several things you can do to prevent people from stealing your content. Photographers have long watermarked their images to prevent unauthorised re-use, but with website copy you can do something similar: if you include some distinctive phrases you can easily Google to see if someone’s ripping you off.

A more sophisticated approach is to use a service such as CopySentry, which starts at $4.95 per month. The service scans your site and then searches for copies of your copy, emailing when it thinks it’s found something. “You then click on the link provided and CopySentry highlights the exact text plagiarised from the original,” Burns says. “You then use their contact information to send them a cease and desist… does it work? I have never had a plagiarist keep their text up for more than 18 hours after getting my email.”

Services such as CopyScape's CopySentry can monitor the web for copies of your website text.

For Burns such plagiarism is an annoyance – “This is just my own business website’s sales text,” she says, “so it only damages my business in an emotional sense” – but if words are your living, it could let you know if others are trying to profit from your hard work. “For a professional writer or blogger these alerts might inform them that their piece has been published in an overseas magazine under another author’s name,” Burns points out. “It does happen.” Just ask Cooks’ Source.

With images, code and media files, blocking the worst offenders can be worthwhile. The Webdistortion blog has ASP and PHP code that blocks the most common site scrapers, software programs designed to download sites’ entire content.

If the content thieves are dumb enough to hotlink – that is, using your images, JavaScript or CSS files by linking directly to the files on your server – then a few quick changes to a folder’s .htaccess file can prevent that. We think that’s a more professional approach than the – admittedly more satisfying – revenge tactic of replacing hotlinked images with something appalling.