There’s almost a guarantee you will, at one time or another, discover someone online has copied your website content verbatim and posted it as their own. With multitudes of people from all over the world trying to make money on the web these days, there are very different standards on what is morally acceptable; in many cultures, copying isn’t considered as unethical as it is in Western countries. On top of that, some people really are just cheaters who will do anything to make a buck, whether they know it’s wrong or not.
Source: flickr.com/photos/shcat So, what do you do about it? Here’s a breakdown of a tiered approach I recommend.
Step 1: Seeking Out Your Copycats
You may have stumbled across your copycat by accident, but even if not, there’s a good chance there are people out there already using your written material that you put so much time and effort into. How can you find them?
Well, there are tools that will do this for you, but I find the most reliable method is to simply take a unique sentence from your article or page, put it in quotes, and then search for that string in Google. The quotes will ensure Google returns any websites that have the sentence with the exact same wording.
If you find none but your own, you’re probably good to go. But don’t be surprised if you find one or more search results with your sentence.
Some will just be content curators who aggregate content from around the web with a link back to your site. I wouldn’t worry about these ones too much. Often though, you’ll also find websites that have posted your article or page completely without linking to your site or giving you any type of credit.
Step 2: Finding Their Contact Details
If the website doesn’t have direct contact information, you can try running a whois search. Just go to whois.com and enter the web address of the copycat’s site. You will get back a name and some contact info, at least with an email address.
Now, you need to realize this isn’t always reliable. Sometimes the contact info will be from someone else who registered the domain (you can try to contact them anyways to see if they can connect you with the site owner) or the info will be private.
If the whois search doesn’t give you anything useful, you can also try emailing a few random possibilities. Try email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. You’ll often find one of these works.
If none of these options works, skip to step 6.
Step 3: A First Approach
Now, I know you’re probably tempted to fire off an aggressive email blasting this person, insulting them, and making all sorts of threats, but I don’t encourage that at all. Surely you have reason to do so, but where is it going to get you?
I highly encourage you to act like a gentleman or lady online, even when dealing with the lowest of the low. Why? Well, a couple reasons.
For one, everything you do or say online, even in private, reflects on your business – do you want it to get out somehow that this is how you behave? It’s always best to be professional at all times.
Second, it’s just a good habit to practice empathy and goodwill towards others, even your enemies. Maybe this all sounds a bit feel-good to you, but if you run around having outbursts at every person online that deserves one, you’re going to become a very bitter webmaster, fast.
Another reason is the cultural differences and inexperience of some online users. Believe it or not, stealing other people’s content really isn’t considered a bad thing to many, and some naive amateurs just don’t perceive online content as copyrighted work. They will often come around when the error is pointed out. In fact, maybe they just didn’t know how to ask permission or attribute the work properly.
In any case, I always recommend an easy-handed first approach.
Drop a message introducing yourself and saying something like, “I noticed that you’ve got some content of mine on your site without without any type of attribution or link. I’m not sure what happened, but I would really appreciate it if you removed it immediately so I don’t have to look into taking any further action. Thanks a lot.”
You can expand on that if you like. And be sure to link the copied content.
Step 4: A Second Approach
You won’t always get an email back on first approach. Once again, don’t get fired up and hostile. They may have just set the email aside and forgotten. You might have gotten caught in their spam folder. Or maybe they just overlooked it. Emails don’t get answered for all different types of reasons.
You might look for another email to try. Maybe even another contact channel – if you can get a LinkedIn account, those get great responses.
Just send a follow-up, reminding them of who you are, referring back to your original email, and again asking them to remove your content. You might remind them at this point that it technically qualifies as plagiarism.
Step 5: Up the Intensity
Still no response? Time to up the intensity a little bit. You should still avoid being outright hostile or insulting, but at this point, you can firmly assert your frustration and let them know you’ll be filing a DMCA Report if the content isn’t removed within a specified period of time.
Step 6: Cease and Desist
If you’re still getting radio silence, it’s time to get serious by following up with a “cease and desist” request and DMCA Complaint. Options include alerting the search engines, their web host, and their advertisers. You can also file an official complaint with the U.S. Copyright Office. This wikihow article gives a breakdown on that process.
An Alternative Solution
Maybe it’s just me, but all that sounds like a ton of work. If I get no response on the first two emails, I often let it go at that. As long as the search engines found the content on my site first, I see no reason to get up in arms – there is way too much of this copying going on and I don’t feel like giving it my time as I can make a lot more progress focusing on my business and continuing to grow my site.
In fact, with some sites I never even bother searching for copycats.
Also, sometimes I actually don’t mind people using my articles as long as they give me a link back to my site. So in my original email I’ll let them know they can keep the content if they include a resource box and a clickable link, and then I’ll provide a resource box for them.
You’d be surprised how often people just follow through and keep the article; now you’ve just created a partner out of a possible enemy! (By the way, the idea that duplicate content rules would affect you here is a myth – don’t buy into that).
What’s your take on copycats? Share your opinions and experiences below.