The previous two posts in this bloggers guide to copyright series was an overview of Copyright, Creative Commons, Plagiarism, Fair Use and Copyright Infringement and tips for protecting your content and writing a copyright notice. Todays topic is what to do if you discover your content being used somewhere that you did not give your permission for.
I am not a lawyer, this post is based on personal experience and learnings. If you have questions about plagiarism, copyright laws, etc., be sure to consult a qualified legal professional.
How to check for Plagiarism
You can manually check for duplicate content using a Search Engines search function and searching for excerpts from your blog posts, this is pretty tedious but if you suspect a post has been copied then it’s a good way to check. You can use automatic plagiarism/copyright/duplicate content checkers such as Copyscape and Plagspotter that scan the web for you. You can also use Google Reverse Image Search to check for images that may have been stolen from your site. If you have Google Analytics or something similar, check trackbacks and incoming links for unusual activity.
What you can do if someone steals your content
Once you discover the copyright infringement and know you want to do something about it, immediately start to take action. Start by establishing ownership, search Google for your content and screen capture the results showing the original cache file with the date on it showing when it was spidered and published. If you are self hosted screen capture your MySQL database record with the original post date information. Screen capture anything which proves the date you wrote the content or ownership such as dated comments made in response to the original post. Take screenshots of the plagiarised content for future reference. Note that certain things won’t prove the date published – as most platforms allow you to backdate posts. Look for contact information and any other details you may need if you wish to take it further (such as host provider, IP address, date they were on your site, etc).
If you notice another blogger’s content somewhere else, contact the blogger to let them know. Chances are they are not the only one whose content is being stolen. Take screen captures of the plagiarized content.
You can ignore it completely which I do not advice, as you risk your site/post being marked as spam by Search Engines which could negatively effect your site.
Most of the time it is unintentional so I’d recommend contacting them to inform them of the infringement and request removal, correction or modification. Remain calm, polite and professional in all contact, you are creating a paper trial if things turn ugly. State that the content is protected by copyright, that they are violating the terms and ask them to take down the content, to properly credit you, remove certain aspects of the content (reduce to an excerpt/snippet in compliance with Fair Use) or offer to sell them a license for usage rights. You could be entitled to be paid compensation if their blog is monetized, etc.
I always recommend contacting them politely first, giving them a chance to explain and fix the issue. Trying to come up with a solution that works for both of you without the situation escalating is always worthwhile. If that doesn’t work a Cease and Desist letter (legal looking document with a threat of monetary damages) can be sent to the infringer to request they remove the content.
A popular opinion is that bloggers who steal content should be called out publicly online, be named and shamed and peer pressured into removing the content. Seems harsh but this approach can and has worked in the past, just be careful that you don’t break the law yourself in doing so or damage your own reputation.
You can contact their service provider/web hosting service or send them a DMCA Takedown Notice to remove the infringing material.
You can also contact Google. Other services such as Blogger and Facebook have rules against infringement so check the service providers policy. If they use Adsense on their site you can contact Adsense as it violates their rules.
If you want to take it further you can actually hire a lawyer and sue them, once you can prove that the content was created by you.
Typically my first step is to check their other content, if I notice that other posts are copied from my blog or from another blog/site online then I’m more likely to take serious action. I usually give them the benefit of doubt and email them asking to remove the content or reduce it to a excerpt as stated in my terms. It can be handy to point them to your policies also as a way of being taken seriously.
Stuck for what to say in your email? Keep in short and simple, remain calm but professional. Here are some examples of what you could say to someone who has used your content.
I noticed a [blog post/article/image/etc] on your site located at [url of post/page] titled [title of post/page]. This [blog post/article/image/etc] was originally created by me and you are in violation of copyright law. As I did not give you permission to republish the protected content, I would appreciate [removal of the content/the content be credited to me/the content be rewritten to include an excerpt or snippet with a link to the original content] immediately. Thank you.
This is to advise you that you are using copyrighted material on your website/blog. The infringing content is titled [title of post] at [URL] and was originally published on my website at [URL] on the [date]. You do not have permission to republish a blog post from my site, please remove it. It is illegal to copy content from another website without explicit permission and you are in violation of copyright law. Thank you.
This is to advise you that you are using copyrighted material on your website/blog. The [article, image, product, blog post, etc] titled [title] found at [url] is in violation of copyright. As the [creator/author] and copyright owner I own the rights to the content. It is protected by copyright and it is illegal to [redistribute/ republish/ repost/ sell] without my prior permission. As you did not have my consent I would appreciate if you removed them from your blog immediately. Thank you.
This is to advise you that you are using copyrighted material on your blog. The infringing content titled [title of post] at [URL] is originally from my [website/blog] at [URL]. Using copyright material without permission is illegal under copyright laws.
Please take one of the following actions immediately:
– Re-write the post to include excerpt/snippet with a link to the original content.
– Credit the material to [Name] as author and my website [URL].
– Remove the plagiarized material.
This email is a Copyright infringement Notice. The copyrighted material belongs to me and is violating copyright by appearing on your site. Use of copyright material without permission is illegal under copyright laws.
The infringed material is titled [Title] and includes [blog post/article/image] for which I own the copyright, the original content was published on [Date] by [Author Name] and can be reached at the following URL: [Original Post Url]
Please remove the plagiarized material immediately.
Rest of the Copyright Series
What is Copyright, Creative Commons and Fair Use? – An Overview
Tips for protecting your content + Writing a copyright notice
How to check for plagiarism and what to do if someone steals your content
How to legally use images in your blog posts
How to find the source of any image online and see who is using your images
Further Information / References
Creative Commons Licenses
20 Best Free Anti Plagiarism Tools by Blog Herald
Copyright Explained – I may copy it right by Smashing Magazine
What to do when someone steals your content by lorelle
This is just what I needed. I had an article stolen from me verbatim a few months ago, tried to send a letter and got no response. I didn’t have the time to deal with it then but I did notice they had stolen other articles too.
I just went back to check the site and it’s been taken down, phew! I didnt know about screenshotting everything. Good advice for next time. Thanks for this!