If you blog long enough, it is bound to happen to you, even if you aren’t aware. Someone will take your content and republish it on their site, sometimes with a link, sometimes without, sometimes the full work, sometimes just a snippet. There are a million ways your content can appear on other sites, some ways legitimately and other ways less so, but they are all interesting lessons in how your readers interact with your work and, in some cases, problems you have to address.
Because, while most content reuse is fairly harmless. Some uses, especially by plagiarists and spammers, can have a negative impact on your site. This makes it important to know both how to track your content, what your rights are regarding your work, when is a good idea to step in and, most importantly, what you can do if you find that you need to.
Unfortunately, the issues are far more complex than what we can discuss in a single column, but we can definitely give a good overview of the situation and what you can expect.
The pitfall here is fairly simple, people are going to want to use your content on their sites. Some will have noble intentions, such as quoting your content in a response or linking to it to let their readers know about it. Others, however, will have less-than-pure motives, including spamming the search engines in an attempt to gain a higher ranking and to plagiarize your work to take credit for it.
Most of the time even the most nefarious use is fairly harmless and goes unnoticed. However, there are times that a site will either be successful in using another’s content to game the search engines or manage to convince a large number of people that they are the author of a work.
Smaller sites and newer sites are especially vulnerable to these issues. Since they don’t have the trust with Google or a large reader base, it is trivial for other sites to swoop in and replace the original. Spammers, who often have large link farm networks, can often times take the content from new sites and outrank them for unique terms and can be very difficult to unseat later.
This can be a major drag on the growth of a new site, especially one that is in a spam-friendly niche. However, too few bloggers are aware of these problems when they arise and when they are aware aren’t certain what they can or should do.
Fortunately, most of these cases can be easily prevented or resolved, if a blogger is willing to give some thought to how they want their content to be used and are willing to enforce their rules.
How to Avoid It
On my main site, Plagiarism Today, I talk at great length about content misuse issues and what bloggers/webmasters can do to prevent, reduce or stop it. However, much of the process comes down to seven steps that can to be repeated for every site:
- License Your Work: Determine what conditions you want your work to be used under and mark it accordingly. If you are comfortable with some level of reuse, consider getting a Creative Commons license to clearly explain your terms. If you are not comfortable with any reuse, be sure to add a copyright footer that includes the year, the © symbol and “All Rights Reserved”. Though the latter is not needed under the law, it helps prevent confusion.
- Track Your Content: For your blog’s main content, use FairShare to monitor where it is being used on the Web. For content that is outside of your RSS feed, consider using Google Alerts with several key phrases from your work. Both will notify you automatically when duplicates of your content appear online and both are free services.
- Contact the Site Admins: If you find that your work is being misused, contact the site admin and ask that they stop. This is known as a “cease and desist” demand and can take a variety of forms and tones. These requests can be threatening and professional or friendly and polite, the choice is yours based on your approach and the case itself. Sometimes you are forced to skip this step, as with spam sites.
- Notify the Host: If the site is within the U.S. or another nation with a notice and takedown system, contact the host of the site to have it removed. You can find who the host of a site is using WhoIsHostingThis or Domain Tools. When sending a notice to a U.S.-based host, you’ll need a to file a DMCA takedown notice.
- Notify the Advertisers: If the site has advertisers, consider notifying them about the infringement if you believe it to be intentional. Most major ad networks will discontinue accounts of those who infringe copyright.
- Notify the Search Engines: If contacting the host doesn’t get results or is not practical, consider filing a DMCA takedown notice with Google and the other search engines to have the content removed from there. At the very least, you will not be competing with your own work.
- Consider a Lawsuit: Though in most cases of online content misuse, a lawsuit is neither a practical nor an adviseable step, if all else fails, it may be worth considering if the case you are dealing with may be the exception to the rule.
If you take these steps, you’ll likely find that the amount of content misuse you’re dealing with is kept to a minimum and you are able to handle any incidents that do arise. Though it is by no means a perfect system, it is one that is easy for bloggers to follow and doesn’t require any money to complete.
In short, it is meant to be a simple, effective and free way to protect, monitor and enforce your content on the Web.
All in all, protecting your content from misuse is fairly straightforward and shouldn’t take a great deal of time and energy. If you’re doing everything correctly and focusing on the important cases, it won’t be a distraction from your regular blogging efforts.
However, this means being smart about how you enforce your work and realizing that, as a blogger, not all reuse of your content is bad, especially those that create an inbound link. If you license your work to encourage good use, you’ll likely find that very few people actually abuse your content and those who do can usually be stopped quickly.
This will let you protect your work while encouraging its spread and still not spending too much time thinking or worrying about these issues.
After all, if you spend all of your time thinking about copyright issues, you’re not blogging or growing your site and that could be the biggest disaster of all.
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