It’s easy to steal content. With just a few keystrokes (CRTL + C and CTRL + V) anyone with an Internet connection can claim my content as their own. After all, it’s sitting in plain sight.
How do you defend against content theft? Good content is valuable and expensive. I purchase the services of editors, proofreaders, graphic design artists, and others. Plus, it takes me a lot of time to write content.
Before I explain the details of protecting your content, let me make one thing very clear. You cannot totally prevent content theft.
It’s too easy to steal content, no matter what tips and tricks you try. Tactics such as right-click disabling can ruin user experience, and they don’t provide much of a stop for thieves. While you should take some efforts to defend against content theft, it’s impossible to stop it 100%.
I’m going to provide a list of methods of defending against content theft. None of these are foolproof, and you don’t need to do all of them. However, with a few anti-theft practices in place, you can dramatically reduce the incidences of content theft.
In spite of its scary name, Pubsubhubbub is a helpful tool. Simply put, it’s a reference implementation and update notification between publisher and subscriber.
Using the service, you can basically “claim” ownership and original publication of your work. WordPress users can install the plugin to make it easy to use. Jeff Bullas describes the service in this way: “By pinging Pubsubhubub you are informing a trusted source that you are the original source of the content and that you wrote it first.”
Include Your Bio in Every Article
Everywhere you write—guest blogging included—make sure you have a bio. I suggest a standardized bio that you use on every site. Make sure that your bio is marked up with rel=”author” and links to all your relevant social accounts. Don’t depend simply upon linked social icons in a bio. Instead, add these links within the text of your bio itself.
Use Lots of Internal Linking
If you’re following SEO best practices, you’re already doing this. Internal linking is one of the best things you can do on your site in order to strengthen site structure, improve crawlability, and enhance indexing. It’s also a potential thwart to content thieves. If you link in such a way that suggests your ownership of the site, it makes the content unsuitable for publication anywhere else.
For example, you can write a line like this, in which the underlined text is hyperlinked to an article you wrote on the same blog: “Check out the article I wrote on awesome link building a few weeks ago.”
Create Unique Images
If you have the time and ability, you can make your own images. If you make custom images for each article, add your logo or identity to the picture. While a watermark isn’t absolutely necessary, it makes good sense to somehow lay claim to the image.
Tie Your Images to Your Content
Many times, content thieves don’t go to the effort of copying images. In fact, a huge amount of content is stolen via RSS feeds without including the images. Their goal is usually to throw up a lot of content, get rank and search traffic, and get revenue from ads. For this reason, you should include images, and then reference those images within the article itself. Statements such as “in the image below,” and “take a look at the following image” are easy ways to integrate written content with visual content.
Use Personal Anecdotes
Some content thieves try to pass off your article as their own. To help prevent this, sprinkle personal stories throughout the blog. Most of my writing on Quicksprout has a really personal style, because I want to share lessons that I’ve learned, like this article on marketing tactics:
This basically guarantees that no one is going to try to pass my content off as their own. No one else on the planet has the exact same experiences and data.
Write in the First Person
Use “me” and “my” in your writing. Using a first person voice is just good writing. It’s also good theft-prevention, for the same reasons that I explained above. No one can claim to be you as effectively as you can. Self-references, especially linked to your other articles and online profiles, is a powerful way to keep thieves at arm’s length. As you may have noticed in this article, I’ve linked to other works that I’ve written. I often link to my own site, too. This isn’t about ego-building or even linkbuilding. This is about having legitimate ownership over my content and implementing best practices.
Refer Specifically to the Site on Which You’re Writing
When I write for other publications, I work hard to address that specific audience. I also find that it’s helpful to refer to the site itself. Most people who read this article have read other articles on Search Engine Journal. They’re familiar with the site and the news and articles published here, so it make sense to link to other articles.
Register for a Copyright
If you write content, it’s automatically copyrighted. To take it a step further, you can actually fill out a government form for copyrighting your work. Like most form-based issues, it’s a bit tedious, but may be worth the effort. Here is the copyright form.
Use Copyscape and Add a Copyscape Banner
This is optional. I personally don’t do this on my sites, because I feel that it detracts from UX. However, if your content is frequently stolen, this banner may be enough of a safeguard to protect against some theft.
The banners, which come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, say “Protected by Copyscape. Do not copy.”
Use DMCA and Add a DMCA Banner
Another theft-deterrent service comes from DMCA.com. They are specifically focused on getting stolen content removed.
You don’t have to be a paying member of DMCA.com to use their banner, although you may wish to sign up by free registration or as a paying member.
Set Up Google Alerts for Your Content
You can tell Google to send you an email if they find any of your content on the web. It’s called Google alerts. In order to accurately implement this technique, you’ll have to copy and paste a line or two from your article to tell the alert what to search for.
You may be thinking, “Wow. That’s a lot of work for every article I write!” I agree. One workaround is inserting the same unique line in every article you write. As long as it’s just a line—not a whole paragraph—you won’t be at risk of duplicate content by publishing this on every article. Simply use this line every time you write an article, set up a single alert, and you’re done.
Check Google Image Search for Your Custom Images
Google’s Search by Image tool allows you to find images similar to your own. If someone has plagiarized your image, you might find it using the tool.
Use a Plagiarism Checking Tool
There are plenty of online services that provide plagiarism finding and checking services. Here are a few:
What Should You Do if Your Work was Stolen?
If your work was stolen, you have options for fighting back.
Understand Copyright Infringements
First, it helps to understand what constitutes a true copyright infringement. Obviously, not every bit of copied content is illegal. For example, I quoted and attributed several other authors in this very article. That’s not plagiarism. That’s professional citation, along with the courtesy of a mention and even a link for verification.
To truly understand copyright, you’ll need to become a lawyer. If you don’t have time to become a lawyer, you can ask one for help. Or, for some light evening reading, you can check out these resources:
If you want to take action against a content thief, you’ll need evidence. In this case, evidence is going to consist of screenshots. Screenshot everything—the article, the search results, etc. If you have other evidence, collect it and screen capture it for good measure. This includes the URL the, date spotted, Google alert email, etc. You can use the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) to validate an occurrence of the stolen content.
Contact the Thief and Request Removal
If someone republishes your content and cites you as the author, technically, it is not plagiarism. Still, you can ask them to remove the content. To get in contact with the individual, use a Whois lookup service such as Whois.com or whois.net. You should be able to find some form of contacting the site owner.
File a DMCA Complaint with Google
You can file a DMCA complaint with Google using their online form. Google states, “It is our policy to respond to notices of alleged infringement that comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” Google can penalize these sites, by removing them from the index and informing them of the action.
Inform the Hosting Company of the Plagiarism
Depending on how your correspondence with the thief goes, you may need to take it a step further. You can contact the site’s host to inform them of the violation.
According to some hosting companies, plagiarism falls under the umbrella of “customer abuse”. Nearly every hosting company takes measures against customers who are in violation of copyright laws. Most hosting services even have terms of service that explicitly forbid plagiarism, copyright violations, or other illegal activities.
Send a Legal Request Known as a “Cease and Desist” Letter
Still need to hound the thief? If they are truly in violation of the law, you can send a Cease and Desist letter. This is basically a legal notice that tells them in no uncertain terms to abdicate their use of the stolen content. You can find templates online for Cease and Desist letters.
Let It Go
One of the most maddening situations is when someone steals your content, and then starts outranking your own site for your own content that they stole!
This is enough to send any content marketer into an apoplectic rage. After all your work, they are stealing not only your content, but your traffic!
After you kick a few trash cans and calm down, think through the issue. Is the violation helping you or hurting you? Sure, the content thief has probably committed a crime against you. But is there a chance it will help you?
If the thief’s website is sending you more referral traffic than you would have gotten from organic traffic, you might be better off leaving it there. If the thief’s website is ranked significantly higher than your own site, the linkbacks could be improving your pagerank.
In that case, you could do nothing. If they are sending a lot of traffic to your site, then it could be a good thing for you. In the section above, I suggested that you use plenty of internal links in your content. If the thief has kept these links intact, then you’ve scored some backlinks from a site with higher authority. Check your referral traffic in Google Analytics and see if the traffic they are sending you is worth it.
Additionally, you could ask them to assign proper credit. If a site has published your content and it’s giving you link juice, don’t demand that they take it down. Instead, ask that they give you credit—a bio with links, Google authorship, etc.
Mickey Mellen, WordPress expert, provides this advice: “Don’t stop people from stealing your content.” In Mellen’s opinion, “The act of trying to protect your content is typically worse for your business than the actual theft would be.” He concludes his article in this way: “Most of the things you can do to help ‘protect’ your site will annoy your visitors.”
I tend to agree. If you’re inconveniencing all your loyal readers just to try to thwart one or two would-be thefts, you’re focused on the wrong thing. As long as you have a strong, robust, valuable, and consistent content effort, content theft will not kill your online presence.
As my parting shot to this article, allow me to share a final point of advice.
Don’t plagiarize. It’s illegal, unethical, and a completely devaluing of the web. I take plagiarism seriously, and have no hesitations about targeting plagiarizers. Keep the web awesome and healthy, and never ever plagiarize.
How do you defend against content theft?
Featured Image: hohhew via Shutterstock
All screenshots taken September 2014