What do I do if my website content was stolen?

Each experienced webmaster knows that content is the main site’s feature, being ultimately responsible for SERPs positioning and the conversion rates. Successful online businessmen never save on content creation, choosing professional copywriters, because the notorious formula “content is everything” proved to be the driving force of website’s promotion. So, while sites’ owners spend money on hiring qualified copywriters, and the latter spend time on creating something really brilliant and persuasive, there exist… hm, say “users”, who take other people’s content and place it on their web pages without any pangs of conscience. And day by day this problem becomes more widespread, as many new sites appear regularly. Of course, taking someone else’s content is easier than creating that of your own, but, actually, in the real world it is called plagiarism and refers to an illegal action. It is also penalized by search engines. Search engines usally know which website had the content first.

Usually if a thief steals your wallet, he will be penalized (provided the police managed to catch him). But on the Internet it may be just the opposite: while the infringer is earning by placing your high quality and converting copy on his/her site, you can be penalized be search engines for duplicate content. Of course, the swindler is likely to be punished as well, but who cares? Does it really matter, when your reputation is ruined, your subscribers left you forever and your advertisers ask to give their money back, because now your website’s conversion rate can be evaluated only in negative numbers? So, the best way to fight an infringer is to prevent the content stealing as such. And, fortunately, there are several effective methods of theft prevention, which can be equally used both by experienced website’s owners and by absolute newbies.

First you have to discourage potential infringers from stealing your content. The most powerful way to do this is to place a copyright notice on the home page, or better, on each page of your website. The text of the notice can vary from simple “Copyright[your company’s name], 2007” or “All rights reserved” to something more sophisticated, like “All content on this website is copyrighted by [your company’s name], 2007. You are not allowed to use, distribute or reproduce anything from this site without written permission.” This method doesn’t guarantee 100% safety, and the most perfidious and shameless thieves won’t be stopped by the copyright notice, however, by doing so, you will eliminate those who didn’t intend to break the law but love free content passionately. At least you warned them. You should also have a copyright page that lists your trademark and copyright reference numbers and the amount per violation. Please consult a copyright/trademark lawyer for more information.

The second step is to regularly check whether you content is still unique on the Web, using special online analyzers, like Copyscape and Article Checker. The only thing you have to do is to enter your site’s URL, and the analyzer will show all the matches with your content on the Internet. The weak point of such tools is that they focus mainly on separate words and expressions, without taking into account the overall text structure, that means, if someone took your content and passed it through some spinning software, you stand little chance of proving the content was “borrowed”.

But what if you detected that your content was insolently stolen and you already know by whom? First contact the owner of the site where your content is placed. If the site doesn’t include the Contact Us section, go to whois.dot.sc and enter the infringer’s domain name – and the contact details will be provided. Write them that your copyrighted content was published on their site and ask to remove it as soon as possible. Try to be polite: actually, that site’s owner may be completely unaware of the matter, having bought your content from some unreliable copywriter who is to blame in reality. Anyway, inform them about the incident, and if there is no response to your message, send them a legal cease and desist letter, adding a print out of the page your content was placed on. As an official document, the cease and desist letter is a powerful asset in asserting your rights, so apply it without hesitation. You should of course consult an attorney and follow their advise.

Finally, if all the above tactics were quite useless, send a DMCA/Copyright Infringement Notice to their webhost – all in all, if the infringer asks for trouble, you can provide it easily! DMCA – or Digital Millennium Copyright Act – is a US law that criminalizes removing copyright data and copying content. Standing guard of the copyright safety, DMCA dislikes plagiarists, implying such penalties as banning the infringer’s website, imposing a fine or putting the swindler into prison.

How to make a DMCA notice? A proper notice should contain the identity of the copyrighted material, that is the identification of the site where the information was published and its URL, along with the name, title and date. After that the identity of the circumventing page comes, followed by all related pictures and posts, if needed. Then you should give your contact details, like email or fax, put a signature and the date. Take into consideration that some hosts require handwritten signatures, so make sure everything was made in a proper way.

The majority of hosts will reply you within 1-3 business days and, most often, their response is positive to you. It’s obvious that any host doesn’t dream of having a plagiarist website on its service, yet before sending the notice, be absolutely sure your content was used by another webmaster.It may be a good idea to take a screen shot of their violation. Again, consult an attorney.

This technique is the most effective of all, however, in case DMCA notice didn’t work, you can resort to the last method – no, I don’t mean hiring a witch or a killer – that is about taking the thief to court. That is likely to cost a fortune, so, before you start, consult with a qualified lawyer who specializes in copyright issues.

Using these tactics you can protect your reputation and your content from plagiarists. Actually, very often the two later methods aren’t necessary, as, if you applied the previous ones correctly, the infringer will apologize and remove your content; but you would better be aware of them – just in case.