What To Do When Someone Steals Or Copies Your Content Online

A few months ago on a Sunday morning, I was looking through my emails when I discovered a bunch of new Google Alerts in my inbox. For all of you who are unfamiliar with Google Alerts, Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. As an online shop owner, I keep track of the competition for all of my main keywords using Google Alerts which tells me when new websites are indexed that pertain to my industry.

Photo By Nisha A.

Once a week (or whenever Google sends me email), I do a cursory scan of the wedding linens competitive landscape. While most of the new webpages that pop up are from Etsy or Ebay (which I ignore), this time out of the corner of my eye, I happened to notice some content that looked really familiar.

When I clicked on the email and read the verbiage, it was without a doubt my handwriting (I can recognize my writing style). Someone had completely and blatantly ripped off content from our online store.

When I clicked on the link to visit the site, I saw that a good portion of our product photos and our arts and crafts pages were copied word for word. The webmaster didn’t even bother to change any of the content. It was blatant stealing! In some cases, he didn’t even bother to copy the image and was hotlinking it straight off my site and stealing my bandwidth as well.

The Kicker

As I sat there in front of my computer screen fuming, I also noticed an email from the rogue webmaster asking me if I wanted to purchase his products wholesale for our online store!!! He had some nerve! Not only did he rip off all of our product photos and steal our arts and crafts content but he now expected us to add him on as a new supplier?!? No way in hell!

The crazy thing was that he pointed out in the email that the products he carried were identical to the ones that we sold in our store and told us to look at the photos carefully just to make sure. Well f#$%…those are our product photos so how can I trust you?

My First Reaction

At first, I was so pissed off that I didn’t know what to do. I went through the entire site and flagged all of the cases of duplicate content and listed them in an email. Then I wrote a terse but polite email to the webmaster.

To whom it may concern,

Please take down all of the arts and crafts pages from your website as you have blatantly copied both our pictures and content. I have listed the following links in violation below.

(long list of links)

Steve

Three days passed and nothing happened, so I decided to escalate the situation a bit.

Filing A DMCA Complaint

The nice thing about monopolies is that you only have to go to a single source in order to file a complaint. Via an easy to use web form, Google allows you to report content that you believe warrants removal from Google’s services based on applicable laws. In my case, the violation was a blatant theft of content. I’ve listed the link below in case you ever have to file a complaint.

Click Here To File A DMCA Complaint

It’s not a lengthy process to file a complaint by any means, but I wanted to give the webmaster one last chance to remove the infringing content on his own volition so I sent another email.

To whom it may concern,

If the infringing content on your website is not removed in the next few days, I will have no choice but to file a formal DCMA complaint with Google.

http://www.google.com/dmca.html

Please take down the copied content ASAP.

Steve

The DMCA threat did the trick and within a day, all of the content was removed.

Use Google Alerts

Google Alerts is not just useful for managing your online reputation. It also works well for keeping track of your competition and in this case, catching rogue webmasters who are stealing your content. I set up my Google Alerts to send me email on a weekly basis and I keep tabs of any mention of our store as well as new competitors which match our primary product keywords.

90% of the time, I don’t have to take any action at all. But Google Alerts allows me to keep track of new entrants into our niche and to address any negative press about our company online. Literally, it just takes a few minutes to setup and you are good to go.

Prevent Hotlinking Of Your Images

It’s one thing for someone to steal your content but it’s another matter if someone steals your bandwidth. I currently have bandwidth limits imposed on all of my websites. If I exceed this bandwidth allotment, I get charged a significant penalty.

In this case, I could have disabled hotlinking altogether on my server in order to prevent bandwidth theft. Here’s how to prevent hotlinking by adding a few lines to your .htaccess file.

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?mydomain.com/.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule \.(gif|jpg|js|css)$ – [F]

Conclusion

Getting blatantly ripped off is probably not the end of the world but it sure is annoying. Realistically, Google should catch duplicate content and penalize it accordingly but why take the chance? You should use Google Alerts to keep track of your competition, your reputation and any rogue activity.

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28 thoughts on “What To Do When Someone Steals Or Copies Your Content Online”

  1. First of all, thanks for the great post.

    As a consumer & designer I see too many ‘fake’ sites luring unaware web consumers. I think it would be wise to post this info page on your web-shop … don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to work up an anger post & bad mouthing the other company, but as an informative alert for your customers to look out for fraud, make sure they don’t get tricked for bad quality product or even worse their personal info stolen.

    1. @Dannie
      While it may seem intuitive to add this information to my store, anything that mentions fraud, fakes, hacking and security really scares customers. Chances are, a customer will never see the website that copied me since it’s not indexed very high at all and Google usually punishes duplicate content. So why cause anxiety for the customer when you don’t have to?

      1. Lyn Pont says:

        Dear Steve: A company that provides a similar service has taken word for word, and even the placement, verbatim, of maybe five web pages of my EXACT content. When I use the “removing content from Google” page, do I check the Google or the Web Search box? A little confused and greatly appreciate your assistance. I am, as you were, very upset. The “pirate” is in Tanzania. I am in the US. What do you think?
        Thanking you in advance,
        Lyn

  2. Josh Harness says:

    A lot of businesses add watermarks to their product images. Photoshop or gimp can easily do this for you. In this manner, even if somebody illegally uses your images, it is even more obvious to both you and the unscrupulous vendor’s potential customers.

    1. @josh
      A watermark is a good solution. You just have to take care that the watermark is large enough that it can’t be easily cropped out and small enough that it doesn’t distract from the image itself.

  3. Unfortunately, this happens all the time in the Virtual Assistant industry, and the excuses that violators make are just too funny (i.e., my webmaster did it, my copywriter did it, I didn’t know, etc.).

    Bottom Line: It’s your business, and you’re ultimately responsible.

  4. I haven’t heard of Google Alerts. But now I have an email coming once a week with websites related to my industry.
    Another plus of receiving this list from Google is that it’s a good source to find related forums and blogs to participate in and get back links.

  5. The internet is really scary, but I’m glad you took such force against them! I mean, anyone should, but some people just let it slide, which they shouldn’t! I had no idea about DMCA, but am glad I know about it now! Thanks for this. :)

  6. If you’re going to take the time to use rewrites to prevent hotlinking of images, it might be worthwhile from a customer service point of view to only restrict linking from infringing domains. If one of your customers wants to put up a picture on their own site (say sallyandjohnswedding.blogspot.com), you wouldn’t want to frustrate them or lose out on the link…

    1. @Kane
      That’s entirely true. To be honest, I usually don’t worry about these things that often. This particular instance of plagiarism really pissed me off since they copied everything verbatim and tried to become a supplier and competitor to our store.

  7. Cynthia says:

    I love DCMA and have used it a few times in the past when I’ve had people repost images of mine without my permission. It’s a great way for artists, models, photographers, and writers to control their material as well once it’s on the web.

    1. drew says:

      One of the sites we manage had a DMCA complaint filed through Google, against their logo.

      Turned out the logo was similar but not identical to an animated character. However the logo creation date preceded the animation character creation date.

      A law suit was filed and the person who filed the complaint was obligated to pay lost revenues plus damages.

      The point of this post is that if there is any question, you should seek legal advice first.

  8. Wow Steve, I remember when you first had the issue, glad it got sorted out. There’s a couple RSS scraper sites I might file the DCMA against, so thanks for the link to that!

  9. Thanks for the post. I can’t say that I know many bloggers out there that this has happened to, but I would imagine that it really happens all the time.

    This is a good one to bookmark. Thanks again – Mike

  10. Sam says:

    Steve, what is your website address, I would love to see it. I’ve been a long time reader and have never seen you post your website link. I would love to see it in context. Thanks!

  11. Thanks for the reminder to check this, Steve. I found around 10 sites totally ripping off one of my more popular blog posts. Some of these fakes have been online since 2009. I’m questioning whether this duplicate content might be the reason that I was taken down in the latest Google Algorithm. :(

  12. Nice Google Alert, i will try use of it. I just know that Google will help you on this. It better for you to get a copyright. Lucky you are not survive in China, poor copyright law there. Which they can duplicate whatever they want and is legal. That time no matter how much you piss off, you also cannot do anything of it.

  13. Thanks for the information…This really will help me…
    As a reviewist i have lost my work to copiers.
    -Alvin

  14. Steve, what if the website that copied content does not list contact information? Today, I found that a website had coolly copied a post I wrote in December 2009. Their site published it in June 2010 was copied in June 2010. There’s no contact info on the website. What then?

    1. Hi Vidya,

      You can usually do a whois lookup on the domain to get their contact info as a last resort. If they don’t respond, just go ahead and file the DMCA complaint

  15. Nicole says:

    Plagiarism is a grave issue and it will be difficult to combat the issues of copied content unless you start using a reliable free plagiarism checker tool that can detect whether someone is cheating on you.

  16. Hi Steve,

    A great post. Just what I was looking for.

    I just searched for a few paragraphs on my website (in quotes) and found 3 results in Google. On the top was my website and the other two had copied a lot of content from my website and these guys were not replying to any of my emails neither taking the content down. What I will do is send them the same email you sent and see if it works for me. If it does not then I will file a DMCA complaint.

    I have a question. If someone copies my content and uses it on their website, their website will definitely get penalized by Google, but will my website lose rankings too? Should I be worried? Does Google know who wrote the original content and who copied it?

  17. I am so much excited after reading your blog. Your blog is very much innovative and much helpful for any industry as well as for person:)

  18. I would like to tell you that your site have superb information. Your writing hand is easy everyone knows it easily.

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