When it comes to blogging, there is not much that gets my blood boiling more than someone who shamelessly rips entire blog posts (or, for that matter, blogs themselves) and republishes them on another site.
Content duplication has serious consequences. Not only is copyright infringement against the law, but Google and other search engines (“other search engines”…ha!) will ding the true creator of duplicated content in search results. This, of course, affects rank positions and can seriously screw up the blogger’s content strategy.
It’s a dick move to copy someone else’s content. And, the more popular your blog becomes, the greater the likelihood of someone ripping off your stuff.
It most recently happened to Our Next Life. I won’t link to the site that stole their content…for obvious reasons.
What can you do if you find out that someone stole your digital masterpiece?
How to find out if someone copies your stuff
WordPress makes it easy to uncover blogs that link to your stuff. If a criminal copies one of your blog posts word-for-word that contains internal links (naturally, to your site), WordPress will alert you by default. This will show up as a “ping back” or trace back to those external articles, and the notification will contain the URL of the referring page (the criminal’s blog).
If you have no internal links (or if the criminal removed them), there are other ways to uncover stolen content. The easiest and cheapest way is to search on Google for particular sentences within your blog post. If Google has indexed a duplicate copy of your blog post, Google should return it as a result.
However, manually searching Google for stolen content can be a pain in the ass. That’s where Google Alerts helps. Use Google’s alerting platform to automatically run searches for particular phrases or sentences within your blog posts. If a match is found, Google will send you an alert.
Copyscape is another helpful tool. Supply your web site address and Copyscape will return possible copyright infringers from around the Internet who might be jacking your stuff.
What to do if someone steals your stuff
If you’re in the blogging business, you’re bound to come across some asshole stealing your stuff. If that happens, what should you do? Are you stuck? Not necessarily.
Take a screenshot with timestamp
First, take a screen shot with a timestamp to record exactly what you’re seeing. This puts undeniable proof that your material was indeed stolen and reposted without your permission.
Write a friendly letter
Look for a Contact or About page. If you find one, submit the contact form or look for an email address. Sadly, this doesn’t always work because many content thieves have no interest in being contacted. All they want are the page views. As a result, you may not find a way to contact the content thief.
Keep your first letter friendly. Inform them that the content has been copied and reposted without permission and request the removal of the content within 24 hours. But remember – you are not simply asking them to take it down. You are requesting/demanding. It’s a statement, not a plea. If the blogger wants to avoid confrontation and just otherwise be a more decent human being, they will oblige your request and apologize for their error.
Some bloggers will offer to let the thief keep the content published in exchange for a fee. While I would never allow this, it’s entirely up to you whether or not you will allow a thief to pay to avoid further trouble.
If this doesn’t work (aka: the thief ignores you), consider speaking with a lawyer and issuing a “Cease and Desist” letter (email). This provides more legal authority behind your request and lets the offender know that you’re serious.
If a “Cease and Desist” letter doesn’t work, consider a DMCA complaint. More on this option below.
This is all well and good…but what if you can’t find a contact form or email address?
If you cannot find any way to contact the individual behind the web site there are other ways to get into contact with the blog’s upstream provider (ie: their web hosting provider). Web hosting providers routinely delete web sites that violate their terms of service, especially if the violation is egregious. More on this below.
For the record, I always give the blogger a chance to remove the content before escalating the matter to their web hosting company or lawyers. Luckily, I’ve never had to escalate. But, I would not hesitate to escalate with repeat offenders or those bloggers who ignore my requests to remove the content.
Contact the web hosting provider
Web hosting providers can (and do) terminate web sites that break their Terms of Service, which commonly includes content theft. Unlike the blogs of thieves, web hosting providers will typically provide a mechanism to submit a message. Try Twitter if you have to.
How can you tell what hosting provider hosts the thief’s web site? There are a couple ways. One way is to run a “WHOIS” search, which returns basic information about a web site, including its name server provider. Without getting too technical, name servers point to the network that directs traffic to and from a web site. In many cases, the name server will reveal the web hosting provider.
For example, run a WHOIS search for thinksaveretire.com at DomainTools.com and view the results. Scroll down on the result page until you find the “nameserver” listings (usually at the very bottom). In my case, they point to ns1.rockawayhosting.com and ns2.rockawayhosting.com. Rockawayhosting.com is the service that hosts this blog, making this search quick and easy.
Sometimes, the Registry Admin and/or Registry Tech details in a WHOIS search will reveal the web hosting provider as well, but not always. In my case, you can see that the domain name was registered with 1and1.com, but they are NOT my web hosting provider. The domain name provider and web hosting provider do not have to be the same.
Other times, the nameservers won’t point directly to the web hosting company. For example, it’s possible for a blog to setup custom nameservers that match its own domain name (in my example, something like ns1.thinksaveretire.com and ns2.thinksaveretire.com). In this case, you can’t simply uncover the hosting provider. But, not to fear – there is another way.
Try WhoIsHostingThis.com instead. This web site will go the extra mile and return the name of the upstream provider regardless of the nameservers assigned to the domain name. For example, running a search for thinksaveretire.com returns Digital Ocean as the hosting provider. While this is technically true, Rockaway Hosting is my immediate provider. However, Rockaway Hosting uses Digital Ocean as their provider.
Either of these searches can work. A regular WHOIS search through a service like Domain Tools can provide the immediate upstream web hosting provider. But if this information is unclear or unavailable (ie: a custom domain name), then try WhoIsHostingThis.com for some deeper research.
Contact ad providers
If you want to take this one step further – or were unsuccessful at contacting either the blog owner or the web hosting company, consider reaching out to any ad providers that display ads on the blog. Ad providers are typically VERY sensitive to the web sites on which their ads are displayed. Of course, they only want to be associated with upstanding and legitimate bloggers and companies.
Common ad providers used by bloggers include Google Adsense, Mediavine and AdThrive. Some providers will include their name below the ad. If they don’t, view the page source and inspect the area of the page where the ad was placed. Take a look at the markup to decipher who the ad provider is, then submit a complaint straight to the provider.
Not only will the ad provider terminate their agreement with that blogger, but they probably won’t ever do business with them again.
File a DMCA complaint with Google
One of the more serious methods to combat copyright infringement is by submitting a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA) complaint. Google also calls this a Legal Removal Request, and can effectively remove the offending web site from Google.
Since I’m not a lawyer and do not claim to be one check out Sara Hawkins’ post about submitting a DMCA takedown notice. She IS a lawyer, by the way.
Have you ever had your stuff copied and republished? If you have, tell us about it. Or if you need any help determining who the web hosting or ad providers are for a criminal’s web site, comment below and I’ll try to help you out by taking a look. Content theft hurts EVERYBODY and I’m always anxious to lend a hand in any way I can.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.