This post is based on Episode 108 of the ProBlogger podcast.
One day, you come across someone else’s blog online that has surprisingly familiar content.
Very familiar content. Yours, in fact!
In most cases, they’ll have taken entire posts for your blog – images, links and all – by “scraping” your blog’s RSS feed.
Occasionally, it might be a little different. Perhaps someone has copied your whole post onto their brand-new blog because they really don’t know any better. They may even think they’re doing you a favour.
Whatever the exact situation, though, it’s never pleasant to realise that someone has effectively stolen your hard work. It’s even worse if they’re passing it off as their own.
So, you’re probably wanting to know what to do when someone steals your blog content.
In this post, I’ll be outlining the steps you can take to get that content taken down from their website – but first, it’s worth considering whether you want to take any action at all.
Should You Bother Fighting Content Thieves at All?
Let’s be clear: I know you’ll probably feel angry to find that someone is ripping off your content. But if their site doesn’t rank at all highly in Google and is covered in ads … chances are, no-one’s reading it anyway.
Years ago, I all but gave up chasing down sites that steal my content. There are so many that I could spend a couple of hours every single day just dealing with it. I decided, instead, I’d rather spend my time creating more content that serves my readers.
Before that, I’d tried to tackle the problem because, back then, bloggers felt that Google would penalise sites with duplicate content. So if someone else copied my post onto their site, I worried that I would be the one penalised.
Since then, Google has become increasingly smart about working out who’s the original source of the content.
If you find that a piece of your content has been used without your permission:
- Google a sentence or two (in quotation marks) from your post.
- See which site ranks more highly: yours, or theirs.
If your site is ranking more highly … it’s not worth your time doing anything at all. If their site ranks more highly than yours, though, it’s probably worth taking action.
How to Reduce the Impact of Content Scraping
“Scraping” is when someone steals your blog content directly from your RSS feed. They’re probably using some sort of tool to automate their theft, so in almost every case, they’ll simply publish your post exactly as it appeared on your blog … including all the links in it.
That means that it’s a great idea to:
- Include at least one link in each post to another post on your blog. Hopefully you’re already doing this, as it’s a great way to encourage readers to stick around for longer! If readers come across the stolen content, they may well follow these links back to your blog.
- Use a tool like the Yoast SEO plugin to include a link to your blog, and to the original blog post, in the footer of your RSS feed. If someone is scraping your RSS feed, they’ll probably publish that footer too. You can put in any text you want – e.g. “This article was originally published at….” or “The original source of this article is…” which can help clue Google in about which version of the content to prioritise in searches! (And if you’re not already using Yoast, I strongly recommend it for its many other SEO benefits too.)
When You Probably Will Want to Take Action … and How to Do So
While most content theft is the automated type I’ve described above, some is different.
I will take action if people use my content without acknowledging the source. They might strip out any links to my sites, and they might even publish it under their own name.
This only happens rarely, in my experience – but every year or so, I find someone doing this. Sometimes it’s just with one post, but often, it’s with a whole bunch of posts.
I’ve come across a number of bloggers who’ve taken over a hundred posts from ProBlogger or Digital Photography School, put their own names and images into those posts, maybe rewritten the first couple of paragraphs, and published it as their own.
This does make me angry! I put a lot of time into the content, or if it’s been created by a paid writer for dPS, they’ve put a lot of time in (and I’ve paid for it)!
I have a process I follow to take action – rather than just calling them out on Twitter straight away, which is always a bit of a temptation.
Step #1: Contact the Site That’s Taken Your Content
The first port of call should always be to contact the blogger in question. This can be tricky, as there may not be any contact details on their site. If you can get in touch with them, though, tell them clearly that they’re violating your copyright.
At this stage, you’ll probably want to be polite (if not exactly warm and friendly). It’s worth giving people the benefit of the doubt. More often than not, they’ll know exactly what they’re doing and why it’s wrong, but sometimes they may be genuinely clueless, or they’ve been duped themselves.
In one case, for instance, a blogger had hired someone to write content – and that person had ripped them off by stealing a whole heap of content from my site, and also from other bloggers’ sites.
I normally ask people to remove the content within 24 hours. If they’ve done something really bad (e.g. they’ve stolen a lot of content to pass off as their own), I’d also ask them to issue a public apology.
Step #2: Contact the Host of the Site That’s Taken Your Content
If you can’t get a response from the blogger, the next step is to contact their webhost. You can normally track down the site’s host through whois.net: type in the URL of the site and you’ll see a list of details. Look at the “name server” to see where the site is hosted.
(This can also be a way to get contact details for the blogger, if you can’t find those on their site.)
Hosting companies can get into serious legal trouble if they host a site that is violating copyright laws, so it’s in their interests to quickly take down any stolen content.
Many hosts have a process you can follow to issue them with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice against the site in question.
The DMCA notice is a legal document that you’ll need to sign (so do make sure the blog really has stolen your content before issuing it – don’t take someone else’s word for it, but check into the facts yourself).
You can issue the DMCA notice to the blogger or directly to their webhost. Most hosts will take down copyrighted content very quickly after receiving a DMCA notice.
If the blog is on Blogger, Tumblr, Medium, or any other large blogging platform, look in the Terms and Conditions or the Frequently Asked Questions to find out how to issue the DMCA notice.
So that the host can investigate, you’ll need to provide:
- A link to where your content was originally published online.
- Information about when you published it.
I’ve only had to go as far as issuing a DMCA notice five or six times in ten years, so hopefully you won’t need to get to this stage.
If you’re in contact with the blogger, simply telling them “my next step is to issue a DMCA takedown notice” will often be enough to prompt them to take swift action.
Step #3: Bring More Pressure Onto the Blogger
If you can’t issue the DMCA notice, or if the process ends up delayed, you might decide you want to go further.
A couple of ways to do this are to:
Contact the Blogger’s Advertisers
If the site has ads all over it (and most of the sites that steal content do!), then contact their advertisers and explain that their ads are on a site that’s stolen your work. The advertisers may will withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, their ads – and you may well find that a blogger who had no ethical qualms about stealing your content will suddenly take it down when their money is on the line.
Publicly Shame the Blogger
I’ve done this a few times – sometimes, perhaps, a bit earlier than I should have! I’m lucky enough to have a fairly large social profile, so my readers’ outrage probably helped a little. Even if you don’t have a large Twitter following or Facebook page, though, calling out a blogger on social media can prompt them to take swift action.
Hopefully, by this point, you’ve succeeded in getting your content taken down. If not, you have a couple of more drastic options:
- Filing to get the site banned from Google and other search engines, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
- Taking legal action. This can be a very expensive route to go down, so it’s definitely best viewed as a last resort.
In most cases, though, I’ve found that I don’t need to go beyond step one – sending the blogger an email. They’ll probably make some kind of excuse (I’ve never had anyone actually admit to knowingly stealing my content) – but they most likely will take that content down.
With any case of contact theft, it’s worth asking yourself: do I want to spend my time fighting this, or can I use my time in a more constructive way?
Only you can answer that – you’ll want to consider things like whether the site is outranking yours, and whether they at least link back to you as the source.
If you do decide to take action, I hope the steps above help you. Feel free to share your own experience, tips and suggestions in the comments.
Image credit: Markus Spiske