In the past I have written about image copyright and how you should read any small print to ensure that you don’t leave yourself vulnerable to a nice big fat royalty bill from a disgruntled photographer. But your website content can also be vulnerable to plagiarists.
Just before I start, the actual definition of Plagarism according to The Oxford Dictionary is this:
The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own
From the Latin plagiarius ‘kidnapper’ (from plagium ‘a kidnapping’, from Greek plagion) + -ism.
Yes, basically someone who kidnaps your content and passes it as their own. You don’t really need me to tell you how unethical a practice that is?
So is Someone Duping your Content?
You can check for duplicate content by going to Copyscape.com. You simply add your page URL and they search for websites that have similar content. It then gives you a percentage of how similar the page’s content is to yours.
The free service allows you 10 searches per day, which is adequate for a small website. For larger websites, it might be easier to subscribe to their premium service.
How it was about 10 years ago
I originally performed a search about 10 years ago, before web copyright was being taken seriously . I noticed my web rankings had gone down. I used Copyscape and found to my horror that a web design company up north had swiped my content and shamelessly added it to their website.
I rang up their company and had to leave a message. I went out for a moment and on my return had quite a snotty message left back on my website. The guy in charge basically thought it was socially acceptable to swipe content from other websites and then palm it off as their own content.
So I rang back this little Herbert to set him straight, but in the time between leaving his answerphone message and the phone ringing again, he either realised that the Essex girl wasn’t backing down or (more than likely) he didn’t actually have a leg to stand on. So he turned from snotty MD to noble and apologetic MD.
Naturally it was one of his employees was responsible for the content and would be “having words” with him and asking him to change it that day. It did get changed that day.
How it was 2 weeks ago
Fast forward 10 years later, and online copyright infringement is quite rightfully taken very seriously. Also action is taken more quickly, even to the extent of the hosting company taking action or, even worse Google.
So, when I came to writing this guide, I ran a check on my website. My content is about 3 years old so I checked my pages and this time I find that not only one but two websites have copied my content: One had copied a section about e-commerce on my services page, but another had blatantly swiped my content from the ecommerce page.
Step 1 – The Cease and Desist letter
It is very tempting to rip chunks out of the website owner, but that could just get messy. So instead I looked up their contact details and dropped them a polite, but firm email.
I did indeed check both sites after a few days: The website that copied the small section from my services page had taken the offending content down and either copied someone else’s or wrote it themselves.
But after one week the duplicate page was still there. Nothing had changed and this little twerp wasn’t taking my email seriously (he hadn’t even told me to get lost!). So it was time for the next stage.
Step 2 – Contact their Hosting Company
So if the web owner wasn’t going to take their content down, then maybe a polite word to their hosting provider would do the trick. So a quick look on http://who.is for the domain name and I can find out the hosting company. In this case one in the Netherlands.
The hosting people not only need to know the whole story but also need evidence that one of the websites they allocate space for is doing anything wrong. It is also worthwhile to prove that you were the originator of the content. https://web.archive.org/ takes regular captures of your website. It doesn’t take regular updates, but in this case it proves that my web content has been on my site for a couple of years.
I sent them a polite email explaining the situation and that they should take down the page (or even better the site) as they are infringing copyright. Again I have given them a deadline to do something about it.
In this case I didn’t have to wait very long. Within a few hours I had a reply. Short but polite.
And on that same afternoon, their website (and at the point of writing this) the website is still down.
So it was resolved with slightly less stress than the case 10 years ago. But if the hosting company hadn’t responded, then there is a step 3.
Step 3 – Tell Google all about it
This is a last resort: Get onto Google Webmaster Tools and file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act)
Big ‘G’ provide a lot of support and information about this process and guide you through the entire process. Take the time to read the support on offer and answer the questions and provide as much info as possible. Google will then in turn review your DMCA and decide which action to take. For a straightforward act of plagarism, that should resolve it.
Can we stop this from happening again?
No not really. Online, you are always going to get hackers, spammers, scammers, cheapskates and general weirdos, and there will always be some imbecile with minimum brain activity, that thinks they just might get away with swiping someone else’s content for use on their own website. The key is to check your content regularly and to take appropriate action.
There are a few workarounds, especially for blogs, but I will cover that in a separate article.