What to do when someone steals your website content

Today, I received the dubious honor of being plagiarized.  My article, “How to make and receive free phone calls using your N810, Google Voice and Gizmo” was re-posted verbatim, without notification, permission, or attribution, as the very first post on a brand-new blog.

I knew this was illegal, but wasn’t quite sure how to handle it at first, so I sought guidance from the Google God, and found some excellent information and tools for dealing with plagiarism.

Brent Ozar (http://www.brentozar.com/archive/2009/06/how-to-take-action-when-your-content-is-plagiarized/) recommends first sending a cease and desist letter to the webmaster, followed by a Digital Millenium Copyright Act take-down notice to the plagiarist’s internet service provider and/or web hosting service.  If you don’t get a response from the webmaster or ISP, you can send a DMCA notice to the major search engines, who will delist the offending site.  He even provides links to sample cease and desist letters at PlagiarismToday.com which can be customized for your situation.

A little more Googling yielded WhoIsHostingThis.com, a remarkable tool where you enter a site’s web address to find out who their web host is.  Using this tool, I learned that my plagiarist had hosted his site with Bluehost.  I visited Bluehost.com, clicked the “Contact” link, and found the email address for their abuse department.

Using one of the sample letters as a template, I sent an aggressively worded email to the content thief, CC’ed back to me, referring to relevant federal laws, including the DMCA, mentioning things like his potential liability for “statutory damages as high as $100,000,” and demanding that he take down the stolen content and post an apology on his site indicating that I was the real author of the stolen content.

After sending this email, I started preparing an email to Bluehost, again using a sample letter as a template.  One of the requirements for a DMCA take-down notice is that you provide links to the pages where the original content and the plagiarized content appear.  I revisited the plagiarist’s site to get a link, and discovered that the offending post had already been taken down.  Not long after that, an apology appeared, along with a lame excuse about “accidentally” copying and pasting my article while “testing” his site.  (Newsflash: that’s what a lorem ipsum generator is for, genius.)

My thoughts on the experience

I’m fairly satisfied with how this turned out.  I caught the plagiarism the same day it occurred, my stolen content has been taken down, and I got my apology.  That said, next time I get plagiarized, I’m going to handle it slightly differently:

I’ll take a screenshot of the offending page, so I have proof even if the plagiarist takes down the post.  I’ll also save a copy of the page on my hard drive.  There will be no delay between the cease and desist sent to the plagiarist and the DMCA take-down notice sent to the web host.  In fact, I’ll probably send the take-down notice first.  If he is running AdSense ads, I’ll notify Google.  There’s a good chance the plagiarist’s web hosting account and AdSense account will be shut-down as a result, and he may lose money.  If someone is going to rip off my original content and present it as their own work, then I’m going to cause them as much inconvenience and hassle as the law and my resources allow.

No excuses

There is no excuse for plagiarism.  If you are web-savvy enough to build a site or set up a WordPress blog, you are smart enough to understand enough about copyright law to know or learn what is and isn’t acceptable.  If you’re not sure, a quick Google search on such things as “plagiarism” and “fair use” will tell you all you need to know.  If you don’t want to write your own content or don’t feel qualified to do so, you can pay someone else to do it, or find original content that is licensed for syndication.  If this guy had bothered to ask, I might have even written him a guest post in exchange for a link back to my site.

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  1. Brent Ozar’s avatar

    Glad I could help. I’m in the midst of sending DMCAs to two web sites at the moment who are ripping off my content. Jeez. It’s so frustrating – it just never stops these days.


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