Plagiarism: What to Do If Someone Steals Your Website Copy

You’ve worked hard or invested a lot of money to get high-quality content up on your site. And it’s worked: you’ve seen a big jump in traffic. But not all of that traffic has brought good things. You’re looking around a few competitors’ sites one day, and you find that it’s happened to you: somebody’s swiped your content.
The Internet has historically been a much more casual medium than print. The standards are less well-established, and for a long time it was a free-for-all. But more people are starting to take online plagiarism seriously.

Online plagiarism can hurt your business. That’s because Google doesn’t like duplicate copy. If it finds identical copy on two different websites, it will often list just one. And the one it chooses may not be yours, even if the content was yours to begin with.

So what can you do if this happens? The situation can be tricky; the copy thief could be located in another country, difficult to threaten with legal action-or it could be next to impossible to get in touch. Luckily, there are a few things you can do. Here they are, in the generally recommended order:

Step 1: Send a letter to the website owner. First, be reasonable. While many plagiarists are chronic copyright abusers with malicious intent, some may not understand copyright rules or may have received the content from a third party. In these cases, the business owner may be willing to remove the plagiarized content without a fuss.

Send a mildly-worded letter to the business owner, saying that you have noticed your copy on their site. Explain that you are writing to ask that they remove it. Send the letter by email and by snail-mail if possible. Keep the email in your “sent” folder until the issue is resolved; you may need proof that you sent it if the situation escalates.

If you can’t find the owner’s contact info, try the following steps suggested by Copyscape.com:

  • Send an email to Webmaster@theirdomain.com.
  • Go to this website. Enter the offending domain. The name and physical address of the person the domain is registered under will appear at the bottom of the page.

Step 2: Get formal. If you perform Step 1 without seeing results, you should send a formal “Cease and Desist” letter to the website owner. This letter lets them know that you mean business, and constitutes a formal threat for legal action. Here are the elements such a letter should contain:

  • Information about the infringement itself: what content is plagiarized, where you found the content, and why their use constitutes plagiarism.
  • A list of demands: proper credit, a link to your site, or removal of the offending content.
  • A deadline. Give them a solid date you expect to see results by.
  • Consequences. Tell them what action you plan to take if they don’t fulfill your demands by your specified date. When listing consequences, it’s best to be as specific as possible. Explain that if you don’t see results, you will be forced to notify their web host and relevant search engines that they are using plagiarized content.

Step 3: Notify the web host. If you don’t get a response after Step 2, it’s time to notify the web host. Many hosts look down on plagiarism and will put pressure on their hosted sites to remove questionable content. Let the host know that you contacted the relevant domain on two occasions. Send copies of the letters you sent, including dates, plus any responses you received from the webmaster.

If you can’t figure out who the host is, you can also find this information through Whois. Go to WhoIs, type in the domain, and scroll down. You’ll find the ICANN host name, plus the name of the server.

Step 4: Notify the search engines. Many plagiarizers steal content for quick-and-easy SEO purposes. If you tell the search engines what they’re up to, you’ll really be hitting them where it hurts.

The three major search engines are Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. All three allow you to formally register a plagiarism complaint. Each has its own procedures and requirements. Click here for the relevant pages on Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.

Much of the time, Step 4 is strong enough to get the owner to remove stolen content. Many plagiarists steal copy to garner higher rankings fast-and if you remove their customer stream, they’ll drop your content in a hurry. But some plagiarism cases are extremely difficult to solve.

If you have any SEO knowledge, now is the time to use it. Writing an article about your experience and getting it high rankings for the same keywords the plagiarist uses is a tried-and-true method. Blogging about your experience, writing about it on plagiarism-related message boards, and posting it on Chilling Effects are also good ways to put the pressure on. Many plagiarists don’t look at their copied content as especially valuable; because of this, they may be likely to drop the content if they see it isn’t worth the trouble.

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