Writer Beware: How to Fight Back When Your Content is Stolen

Writer Beware: Is Your Content Being Stolen? Makealivingwriting.com. Makealivingwriting.comWriting and publishing your thoughts online can be exciting and fun. But once you publish online, it’s writer beware — because plagiarism of our content is common.

Fighting scams and ripoffs of freelance writers is one of my super-passions.

So when I recently discovered two instances where my blog posts were ripped off and republished in their entirety, without payment or permission… you know I was steamed.

Agggghhhhh!

At first there was a lot of shock and awe. Is this really happening? But when that wore off, I realized I needed to figure out an action plan to claim what’s rightfully mine.

Fortunately, there are actions you can take when you discover plagiarism.

Here’s the story of what recently happened to me, and what steps you can take if you discover you’ve been ripped off.

Copyright 101

Before you can defend your content, you need to understand your rights to that content.

  • Your published online writing is copyrighted, whether or not you put a copyright notice on your blog, or send copies of your posts to the Library of Congress and officially register your copyright.
  • Copyright attaches at the moment of publication. Your post has a date stamp on it that proves you were the first one to create and publish it.

So don’t feel like you can’t go after plagiarizers, if you haven’t done the official paperwork. It’s still your content, and it’s still being used without your permission. And that’s not OK.

How to know if your content is stolen

I know many writers who are super-paranoid about getting ripped off, but who have only a dim idea of how to know if it’s happening.

Here are a few popular ways to detect plagiarism:

Google Alerts and more

One easy thing to do is set up a regular search for your own name. Google Alerts is a great free tool for this.

You can set your tool to send you weekly or even daily alerts when you’re mentioned — often a simple way to see a post with your byline or tagline has been reproduced somewhere new.

Writer Beware: Google Alert

At this point, my team is using a paid level of SEMRush for brand monitoring.

Copyscape

This popular plagiarism checker isn’t just used by low-grade content mills and cheapskate clients to make sure you’re not copying others’ posts. It’s a tool you can use to see if your content is reappearing elsewhere.

For this post, I ran a quick, free check on my content on Copyscape, and came up with this result:

Writer beware: Copyscape check for plagiarism

The results

This might look alarming, but in fact all these links checked out as OK. That top one is just my own feed on my Amazon author profile. The essay site seemed to have already deleted my content.

  • The Story Reading Ape blog had cited my post the right way — publishing just a couple of the top paragraphs, and then linking readers to the full post back on my blog. Thanks for understanding Fair Use, Chris!

Writer Beware: Copyscape

The other links Copyscape found similarly checked out as OK.

So how did I find out I was being ripped off?

Strong backlinks mean more monitoring

You may know it’s a good blogging practice to include outbound links in your posts to other authoritative sites.

  • Why? Besides building your blog’s reputation by associating with popular places, it means others may spot illegal reproduction of your content through their own brand monitoring.

In both my cases, people who I had linked to in my posts were doing their own scanning for mentions of their name or site. And they turned up strange new links — from places that were reproducing my post that had their link. Then, they let me know about it.

Both of these plagiarizing sites used a feed to easily republish my blog posts. Here’s how that works…

When feeds republish your content

Remember feeds? Many of us used to drag bunches of these onto our desktop or a browser, to quickly scan sites and newsletters we liked.

But that was the ’00s. Around then, feeds sort of died, for that purpose, anyway.

These days, apparently, feeds are a popular way to illegally import others’ content onto a website and pass it off as you own.

The first plagiarizer I learned about — who operates an odd, self-named e-commerce and writing website — had taken all this one step further. (Not linking to these sites, as I don’t want to give them any link juice.)

  • Writer beware…Under ‘author’ on each post, my name or my editor’s had been erased, and this operator had entered his own name instead.

Using a feed to change authorship

How was this ripoff artist changing the linked author bio on each post?

He used his feed tool, WordPress eMatico, which apparently makes it quick and simple to change the ‘author’ line on an incoming feed to his own name. (WP did not respond to my questions about why their tool provides a feature that makes it easy to erase rightful authors’ names.)

  • The upshot is that each time I published a new post, a new post would appear on this shopping website. Except on his site, it would say the author of my content was…him.

Funnily enough, though he took the time to erase my authorship and claim my content as words he had written, he didn’t remove any internal links to:

  • Other Make a Living Writing blog posts
  • Taglines, or
  • Bottom ad banners.

So it was at least still promoting my stuff. On a garbage site. Cold comfort indeed.

Fighting internet crime?

The second plagiarizer was even more of a laugh riot. That’s because his site purported to be about fighting internet crime. I believe the focus was exploited children online. They were soliciting donations on the site with this donation box:

This site is operated by someone who lists several advanced degrees after their name on their LinkedIn profile. I’d like to also award him an honorary PhD in copyright infringement.

Despite his supposed mission to fight internet crime, the owner had no problem grabbing a feed and throwing my content on his site without payment or permission.

For a bonus, his site made my posts look like junk. Here’s a screen shot — you can see the weird double-graphic look the feed produces:

Clearly, both of these clowns needed to be asked to stop reprinting my posts.

What do you say to someone who’s ripping you off?

I believe you get fastest results by keeping it polite, and assuming they’re plagiarizing out of ignorance rather than malice. I’ve found that’s usually the case.

What to say to plagiarizers

Obviously, it’s easy to be super-steamed and to snap off at plagiarizing site owners. But I recommend keeping it straightforward.

In both my recent cases, InMail turned out to be the easiest method of contact — as with many spammy sites, there was no obvious contact email posted.

Here’s what I wrote (in what is known in legalese as my ‘cease and desist’ letter):

Hi NAME —

Your site [URL] is illegally reproducing a ton of my blog content. I don’t allow reprints of my content, even with pay. Please remove it all immediately and notify me when it’s been taken down. Otherwise, I’ll be taking action to see your site removed from the internet.

Don’t reproduce others’ content without permission — doesn’t help your brand.

Respond ASAP —

Carol

(If you’d like an example of another, more sarcastic and possibly emotionally satisfying approach to asking plagiarizers to cut it out, check out this epic response from a partner of digital agency Orbit Media.)

Writer Beware: Orbit Media

The plagiarizer’s response

In the case of the name-changer who claimed authorship of my posts, I quickly received an apologetic note that basically blamed his WP feed tool for making it easy to change the authorship line.

  • Him: “It defaulted to my name,” he wrote. He insisted this was ‘unintentional.’
  • Me: I told him I found it disingenuous to claim he was accidentally claiming authorship of my content. But thanked him for removing my feed from his site.

The PhD guy never responded to me — but a week or so later, my content vanished from his site. Good enough.

The key thing is to expend as little mental energy on resolving these situations as possible. Your brain is better used creating more great content.

4 actions to take if plagiarism persists

So far in my decade-plus of blogging, I’ve had 100% cooperation with site owners removing plagiarized content when politely asked. But what if the scammer keeps on ripping you off?

Then it’s time to go to DEFCON 4 with more aggressive moves. These can include:

1. Social shaming

You may get quick results by taking to Facebook or Twitter and posting/tweeting on their page or to their handle, asking when your illegally reproduced content will be removed:

.@company – you are illegally reproducing my content. Please stop the copyright infringement and LMK when you have removed my content from your site.

No site wants something floating around social media like that without responding and showing what a good person they are. So this tends to wrap it up quick.

2. Go for the takedown

I consider this the best option. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects your content from plagiarism. If the problem persists, you can get the web host to be your muscle, and to take down the offending site.

Here’s how:

  1. Find the site’s web host with a free lookup tool such as WhoIsHostingThis or Hosting Checker.
  2. Send a written request to the host that the site be taken down. (Here’s a sample template from the legal eagles at Nolo.com — and some hosts offer their own template, too.)

If the website doesn’t promptly comply with the request to take down the infringed material, its web host will likely remove the entire site. (Sweet, eh?) More details on this option and how it works are available at the DMCA website.

Writer Beware: DMC Takedown

3. Go tell on them to Google

It’s rare that this would happen, because most sites that plagiarize are total junk and don’t appear high up in search results.

But if you found a plagiarized version of your content ranks well in Google search results, you can notify Google that it’s an illegal copy, and seek to have it spiked from the rankings.

4. Lawsuit

I’m not a fan, but a crime is being committed. Suing someone is incredibly emotionally and financially draining, so carefully weigh the pros and cons before taking this ultimate step. Usually, it shouldn’t be necessary.

Writer beware — but don’t be paranoid

Hopefully, this primer has shown you that there are responses and remedies available to you, if your online content is copied. And that most people who plagiarize do so because they don’t know any better, and they’ll stop if you ask them.

I’ve known writers who went down a drain of worry and fear about being ripped off — so they end up not publishing. Don’t be that writer.

Remember, even if you are ripped off, you have a powerful weapon at your disposal: your brain. It’s always better to keep creating more great content than to spend tons of your precious time trying to stop plagiarists.

Have you been plagiarized online? Tell us about what happened, and what you did, in the comments.

Grow Your Writing Income. Freelancewritersden.com

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17 comments on “Writer Beware: How to Fight Back When Your Content is Stolen
  1. Patrina says:

    Carol,
    Your content was provided in an email link promoting your site by Hope Clark at Funds for Writers today.

    While you’re content was very knowledgeable… Yet unsettling at the same time… It was your summary last two paragraphs that hit a homerun for me.

    You wrote…

    “I’ve known writers who went down a drain of worry and fear about being ripped off — so they end up not publishing. Don’t be that writer.

    Remember, even if you are ripped off, you have a powerful weapon at your disposal: your brain. It’s always better to keep creating more great content than to spend tons of your precious time trying to stop plagiarists.” ~ Carol Tice

    In short….
    USE YOUR BRAIN… Create more great content than waste Hours fighting PLAGIARISTS!!!

    My blog was created in 2009… And shortly after, I discovered plagiarism on several sites to generate income, using my entire posts. I have never generated income on my site. How I discovered this Plagiarism is beyond me. They just appeared in a search for my blogger name. None of these tools were available back then to help settle my mind. It floored me! It was so discouraging to see that others were PRETENDING TO BE ME.

    Worse… My blog contents are intended for spiritual inspiration… And these PRETENDERS were advertising quite the opposite… for income!!

    The sad thing is… I have become one of ‘those writers’. I stopped posting. I didn’t stop writing, I write every day. But I stopped publicizing my words.

    So my words to you today…

    THANK YOU!

    Thank you for explaining what was actually happening way back then. It helps me today to know that it happens to everyone who puts their words out there. I took it personally. That was my first mistake.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge and expertise with us. Because of the time I spent with all the research you shared… I am no longer defeated…

    I have HOPE

    HOPE deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of LIFE. Prov 13:12

    Thank you for encouraging me to begin again. Maybe with a different Blog name. You have helped me get unstuck. I HOPE to move forward… using my brain to create great content, rather than waste hours ruminating about THE PRETENDERS.

    Hugs
    I appreciate you and your knowledge
    Patrina

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m so glad you read this Patrina!

      I really learned how to breathe and let go about plagiarism when I started guest posting for Copyblogger. They get scraped SO much! I would point out places that were duplicating my guest post for them, and they’d say, “Yeah, site doesn’t seem to have any traffic. We just breathe and move on.”

      If nobody is SEEING the plagiarism, does it really matter? I agree with Copyblogger — better to keep creating posts that help people than to get wrapped up in threatening or suing people. You don’t need the negative energy. And the good news is, most people are happy to take it down once you explain to them that what they’re doing is wrong. They do it out of ignorance usually, rather than malice.

  2. Azhar Khan says:

    Wow Great article thanks for sharing such an eye opening content.

  3. Robbyn says:

    Wow! This has really opened my eyes. I have a question though. What if someone steals your content and then goes to google or the host and claims that you are doing the plagiarism and then you get shut down? Do they give you time to prove it is yours or will they just shut you down and then you have to show them proof?

    • Carol Tice says:

      That wouldn’t happen, Robbyn, because the date stamp on your blog-post’s publication proves you were the first publisher and the creator of the content. I’ve really never heard of a case where that happened.

      • Robbyn says:

        Good to know! I am wanting to start a blog but want to make sure of all the legal stuff first. Thank you so much.

  4. Nancy says:

    Thank you for the invaluable info. I am in the process of starting a blog and want to make sure I have my t’s crossed and I’s dotted. Do you have any recommendations on websites to use for the legal side of properly setting up copyright, T&C, disclaimers etc?

    Thanks
    Nancy

    • Carol Tice says:

      Nancy… there’s really nothing you HAVE to do except publish. I’m not mailing a folder of my emails to the library of Congress or anything. I have no T&C statement on my blog. There is no disclaimer.

      All you have to do is publish. Copyright attaches at the moment of publication, and the Internet provides a date stamp that proves when you did it. You can spend a lot of time worrying about legal fine points, or you can put that energy into simply creating great content.

      As I say in the post, all the people who’ve ripped off my content have been happy to take it down when asked. I’ve been doing this since 2008, for over 1000 posts, and I’ve never really had a problem.

      It’s rare that you’ll find a case of deliberate plagiarism where they don’t respond to a request, because if they continue to steal your content, you can have their site taken off the internet by showing that plagiarism to their site host. So that’s a pretty strong incentive for them to behave ethically. Hope that helps ease your mind!

  5. Jim McCarthy says:

    What do you do when the pirate of your content is Facebook, itself?

    In 2014 I opened a FB timeline called “shihtzumania” and a companion website, Shihtzumania.com – both to simply promote rescues and adoptions of the shih tzu breed, worldwide.

    It gathered 10,000 followers per month for the first 6 months (at which point I stopped promoting it)and, by the end of the first year, nearly 100,000.

    Throughout the five years I ran it, I posted every 3 hours, 24/7.

    Those 8 daily posts were usually a new photo of followers’pets (Shih Tzus and/or mixes) but the mid-day post often linked to a post on the website – either a video or one of a series I called “Shih Tzu Stories.”

    Three months ago, FB notified me that within 48 hours I would be blocked from my page for “violating facebook standards. 24 hours later, I had no access to my timeline.

    When I tried to inquire about what standard my dog photos had violated, or how I could remedy the problem, the only response I could get our of FB was that the decision was final, and that there would be no more discussion on the subject.

    I had no chance to say goodbye to my 121,000 followers, or offer any explanations to them.
    But, to this day, the page is still running: facebook (dot)com/pg/shihtzumania4u/posts/?ref=page_internal

    It still looks the same, except for the absence of my name; followers have increased from 121,000 to 137,000 and I have no idea who is running it at facebook, or whoever they sold it to.

    The masthead photos are the same, but the content is missing the follower interaction, where we used to share ideas, tips, suggestions and occasional condolences.

    I’ve no idea who is running it, but I’d love to know why it is not me?

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s… very weird, Jim. Usually when they say they’re blocking a person off, their page or profile would also disappear.

      Have you tried contacting them about it?

      I feel like this is a very different situation than the one I was talking about. And if the links to your own website still work, at least you’ve still got the link juice!

      But this story spotlights one of the reasons not to simply post in-depth content on a social-media platform — because you could lose control of it or see it disappear one day, on little notice.

      Sounds to me like SOMEONE else was on this page account — you had no partner in this? I’d be considering legal action personally, if a 130K+ audience was stolen from me.

      • Jim McCarthy says:

        I tried to contact them several times but was shut down with the statement that they would no longer entertain any communications on the subject.
        The page drove traffic to the website, and generated Google adsense revenue averaging about $300 -$400/year – well below the cost of operation, not including value of time spent.

        I paid a consultant $4,500 to set up both the page and the site, in 2014, but never recovered any of the investment and see no gain in investing more in a legal fight with Zuckerberg’s Nazis.

        I think, instead, it’s probably time to change horses and put your golden ideas from the Pitch Clinic to work, and forget about looking back. Thanks for being there 🙂

        • Carol Tice says:

          That just feels wrong to me, Jim. Feel like I’d pursue it.

          But if you don’t want to… if there’s that much interest in that topic, why not just build and promote and put ads on a website on the same theme?

          • Jim McCarthy says:

            Could do that – I still own and host the domain (shihtzumania.com) but all that was done at great expense in time (8 posts/day x 5-1/2 years = almost 17,000). And, it was all before I discovered the Den, too, so you’ve given me a lot of new stuff to pursue.
            In fact, I’m discovering there’s quite a market for copyediting and proofreading, which I enjoy, so I hope to find some training in those areas in your curriculum some day. 🙂

            • Carol Tice says:

              Interesting, Jim — because my experience is copyediting and proofreading jobs are very scant these days, as so few places seem to care, everything is so casually edited. What sorts of industries and what marketing methods have worked for you on that? I might be interested to have a guest post on it if you developed a system that works for finding those!

              The good news on the blog is that nobody is posting 8x a day anymore, and you could probably operate it more easily. Maybe you could do books and stuff like the I can has cheezburger folks and monetize it!

              • Jim McCarthy says:

                As of now, I have all the Copyediting work I can handle, because I’m trying to allow time for more study on the subject, too. As that tapers off – later this summer – I’ll be setting up a “pro-active” email marketing plan, based on Jay White’s “Email Made Easy” system which has worked well for me in the past.
                The American Copy Editing Society (ACES) has some great resources and discounted training that is far more reasonably priced than anything at AWAI, though they view the subject much as you do and offer nothing on Editing/proofing, either.
                Industries? Probably just Publishing, at first. I’m not too swift on News, Scientific and/or Academic – they’re more work than is Publishing, and I’m in it for the fun, more than for the money.
                The closer I get to my 150th birthday, the more I just want to see how long I can type before I start drooling on the keyboard 🙂

                • Carol Tice says:

                  LOL! Thanks for sharing your approach. If you’re in it for the fun rather than the money, you’re probably good to go with this niche. For people looking to feed families and make a living, editing and proofreading (especially the latter) seem highly challenging these days.