I recently wrote about how I attended the recent Boarding Area Conference (BACON), and the various sessions they offered to help bloggers improve in a variety of ways. One of those sessions was a legal session titled “Legal Issues for Bloggers” that covered copyright legal issues, trademark legal issues, libel, privacy, fair use considerations, plagiarism, understanding creative commons, and defamation…among other topics. Unfortunately this was the one session I missed, and I came to regret it almost immediately.
The next day I randomly decided to do a quick Google search to see if one of my recent posts has shown up in Google search results yet. The post I searched for was my Asiana A380 First Class Review. Long story short, I didn’t find a link to my blog, but I did find one to another website that had literally copied my entire post, including the title, content, and images. The only difference was that it started with “My thanks for this guest post…” and ended with “The post Asiana A380 First Class Review – ICN-LAX appeared first on Travel Summary” with a link to the post.
I of course gave no permission for my words or images to be used, so I looked into what I should do to resolve this issue. After all, I get paid for people coming to my website and reading my material, so a copyright infringement like this literally costs me money. Here’s how I dealt with the issue.
What to Do if Someone Copies Your Website or Content
1. Contact the Webmaster
Sometimes things like this can be solved with a quick message to the owner/manager of the website. If content you own was copied, send them an email saying that your content is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Simply ask for it to be removed within a given time period (48 hours might suffice, but pick your own time frame), or if you’re willing to, offer them to pay you for the content.
In my case I checked their “Contact Us” page, but there was no contact information listed. How convenient. I clicked the social media icons and the Twitter profile was locked and had no followers. The Facebook profile had a single like, and it’s from that page that I found they didn’t just copy that one post…they copy every single post I made recently. The copied posts usually appeared almost immediately after my own post was published, meaning they probably have a robot set up to scrape my content and add the fake “guest post” tags. Infuriating!
Another possible place to get contact information is by using the Whois Lookup website. Type in the domain name of the website and it will give you certain pieces of information. Some domains are marked as private, and when this happens you won’t see any useful information. That’s exactly what happened to me.
I unsuccessfully tried to contact the website owner. What do I do next?
2. Find Out Who Hosts the Website
At this point I was done messing around. My next step was to find out who was hosting the website so I could send them a DMCA Complaint letter. The hosting company is partly responsible for the content they host, so they have to comply with copyright issues and generally do so quickly, but first I needed to know who hosts them.
I went to webhostinghero.com and typed in the domain name. I found out they were using HostGator, a relatively popular hosting service.
3. Go to the Hosting Website and File A Complaint
I went over to HostGator and scrolled to the bottom where there was a “Legal” section. The third option listed was “Copyright” – exactly what I wanted to see. I clicked on it. On their copyright page is step-by-step instructions on what to send them in order for them to look into this copyright issue.
Specifically for HostGator, they wanted the link to my original post, the link to the offending post, my contact information, contact information of the offending website if available, a few legal statements that you need to copy/paste, and your signature. I had to either snail mail it or fax it, so I chose the latter since it was faster.
I received a response via email in less than 24 hours with the following:
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Your DMCA has been accepted and processed. Please allow the standard 48 hours for a resolution. If no resolution has been reached in that time the material in question will be disabled. If there is anything we can assist you with in the meantime, please let us know.
It was an impressive response time and I was very happy with the response in general. Just hours after receiving that email, I received another from HostGator:
It appears that the material identified in the complaint has been removed. Please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.
I checked the website to confirm and found the following:
All of my copied content was removed within 24 hours, but your success may vary. It irks me that the website was still up at all. I plan to notify the other blogs/websites whose material is being copied (there’s plenty from the looks of their website), but at least my content was protected.
4. Just In Case, Send Complaints to Search Engines
Maybe the host you contact can’t act as quickly, so go ahead and take the next step as well – contact search engines like Google and submit a DMCA complaint to them in order to have the offending links removed from search results.
Google is the most popular search engine, so I’ll use them as an example. Go to their “Removing Content From Google” legal website and select the following options if your copyright has been violated like mine was:
- What Google product does your request relate to? Web Search
- What can we help you with? I have a legal issue that is not mentioned above
- Choose from the following options. I have found content that may violate my copyright
- Are you the copyright owner or authorized to act on his/her behalf? Yes, I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on the copyright owner’s behalf.
- What is the allegedly infringing work in question? Other
You will then be asked to click on a form where you will fill out your contact information, provide a link to your original content, and a link to the offending content. It’s very easy form to fill out, but note that you’ll need to log on with a Google account to access this form.
Google even allows you to view the status of your complaint in a “Removal Dashboard.”
Great…so now we’ve taken care of that. How do we make sure it doesn’t happen again, or at least be alerted to when it does happen?
How Do You Know When Someone Steals Your Content?
The short answer is to use copyscape, a website that is designed specifically to search for copies of your work on the web. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work. In my example above, copyscape says that “No results were found for this page.”
Another thing you can do is set up Google Alerts. You can enter a portion of your post as the search query and then set up alert rules (types of websites to search, when to contact you, etc) and Google will let you know if something is fishy about a website. Again, this isn’t a magic bullet and won’t solve every problem.
And thus, we come back to how I found out that my work was copied: I manually searched for it. Type in parts of your post into Google using quotes, go through a few pages, and try to find YOUR content. If your website shows up first in search results, you probably won’t be affected much. But like me, you mind find someone else’s website ranks higher using your copyrighted material. You’ll want to take action immediately if that’s what you find.
Oh, how fun it is to be a blogger sometimes!