Small businesses and digital marketing agencies alike know how much hard work, heart, and soul goes into building a unique website created specifically for your business. Every bit of it is tailored to you- from the tone of the copy to the site architecture to the website design. As a website owner myself, I know how hard and how rewarding it is to build an entire site to perfectly represent yourself or your business.
That said, the last thing you want as a small business is to discover that another entity has copied a blog post, multiple pages, or the entire source code of your very own site and called it their original content. While imitation is often considered to be the highest form of flattery, that couldn’t be farther from the truth in this case. Blatant plagiarism of your web content can potentially hurt both your website’s SEO and your company’s reputation and audience reach.
While it may seem far-fetched, stolen content – also called plagiarism – is not as uncommon as you may think. According to a two-year audit that Raven conducted across 888,710 websites, findings showed that up to 29% of web pages had content that matched content on another web page. If you put that into perspective, you could say that up to a third of Google’s web pages may have taken, or plagiarized, their content from other sources. So, it’s very possible that you might find yourself a victim of content theft someday.
Thankfully, there are multiple ways of dealing with web plagiarism and the offending site. We’ll dive in to explore 6 measures you can take to get the copied content removed and protect your entire site from content thieves.
Exactly What Is Plagiarized Website Content?
Let’s start with the basics. At this point, we have been tossing around the terms “duplicate content”, and “plagiarism” without really explaining what they are. So what are they, and what is the difference between plagiarism and duplicate content?
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is when someone takes someone else’s content (words, images, videos, graphics, illustrations, etc.) and passes it off as their own.
Plagiarized website content is any portion of a website that has been taken from that website and presented on an unrelated website as its own content. Often, using someone else’s content without their permission is also a copyright infringement. How do you determine if a particular case of duplication is violating the copyright law? We’ll get into that later.
What is duplicate content?
According to Google, duplicate content refers to content blocks within a single website or across multiple websites that are substantially identical. In most cases, such content duplication is not illegal or malicious.
Duplicate content becomes plagiarism when the content has been taken from one person’s site by a person who has no rights to that content and is displayed on the offending person’s site as their own work.
These are the kinds of malicious websites you should report to Google, and then file a DMCA complaint (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) against. If you come across any republished parts of your site without attribution, it’s important to know what to do if someone copies your website.
Here are 6 measures you should take if someone has indeed plagiarized your website content and committed copyright infringements against you.
6 Steps To Take When Someone Copies Your Website Copy
#1. Collect Sufficient Evidence
The first step is to collect evidence that shows that your own work was stolen. You’ll need it to prove your allegation, just in case the culprit happens to make adjustments on their end, or claims that the copied material was original to them. You can gather evidence in a number of ways.
One step is taking screenshots. Take as many as you need to document not only the copied content but also the corresponding original copies on your site. It’s always better to have too many than not enough!
You might also want to refer to the Wayback Machine for digitally archived copies of the web pages. With that, you’ll at least be able to compare the past versions of the sites, and consequently, show where the content was originally posted.
#2. Get In Touch With The Copycat
After you document everything, you can approach the website owner to remove the stolen content. You never know, they might acknowledge their mistake and take down the plagiarized content on their own.
There are a few easy ways to reach out to a site owner. You can start by looking for the contact information on their website. If you’re lucky, you’ll find several options like an email or the contact form. Plus, these methods of contact retain copies of the messages as proof.
If the contact details are not available on the site, you could turn to “WHOIS” search platforms for the plagiarist’s site registration details. A simple Google search can give you a list of options to use. Some include:
These sites should reveal pieces of information including the domain registrar, as well as the accompanying email address of the site admin.
Often, plagiarizers will list phony email addresses or privatize their registration details to prevent public access. While this can put a bump in the road, there are further actions you can take.
#3. Contact The Copycat’s Hosting Service
With sufficient evidence backing your case, you can compel a web host to take action and remove plagiarized content published on their server. Many of the globally-established hosting services have policies that allow them to remove such copycat website pages with stolen content and websites from their servers. You just need to report the site, attach proper documentation, and they’ll take care of the rest.
To do this, you need to first identify who the plagiarist’s web hosting company is. A web host lookup tool like Hosting Checker should do the trick. It can do more than the WHOIS search platforms and will reveal even the hosting server.
You can get in touch with the web hosting company via email to explain your case. Try to be as explicit as possible by providing all of the screenshots and specifics, down to the last detail. Explain what was copied and where it was taken from. You’ll soon get a reply on the steps they’re taking to resolve the issue.
#4. Report The Duplicates To Google
You can also turn to Google to remove the duplicate content. This is especially necessary if the plagiarized content appears on the search results. It can negatively affect your organic search traffic and rankings, and the trustworthiness of your site.
Google itself is not only a popular promoter of content quality over quantity but also anti-copyright infringement and takes steps to protect the intellectual property rights and copyrighted material of website owners. You can count on Google to take action against websites that violate the laws in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
To get the ball rolling, you must submit a Google DMCA request. This form will detail the copyright claim – including all the URLs of the plagiarized content.
After submission, you’ll be able to monitor the progress of the claims on your dashboard while you wait for Google to act on each of the URLs. This entire process could take days, as Google is often processing many millions of DMCA complaints a month.
Remember that Google won’t bring down the infringing web page or website completely. It just excludes the links from its search results, helping you regain lost organic search traffic.
#5. Perform a DMCA Takedown
While Google’s DMCA penalties only stretch as far as its search indexing, there are bodies that can perform a proper DMCA takedown. Instead of blacklisting web pages or websites from search results, they bring down entire websites for violating DMCA copyright guidelines – so you cannot even get to those sites when entering their domain name in the search bar of your browser.
DMCA.com is a perfect example, as it specializes in pursuing all sorts of content criminals across the globe. It can turn over plagiarism takedown cases fast thanks to its expansive team of legal experts and lawyers. You just need to submit a DMCA takedown request and they’ll get to work. However, the service is not free. Taking down a site will cost you at least $199.
#6. Take Legal Action
This is the last resort after all else fails. Taking legal action means hiring a law firm to pursue all the possible legal redresses for your plagiarism case.
This could be in the form of a cease-and-desist demand letter addressed directly to the culprit or their hosting service. You could also file a lawsuit that seeks to not only take down the duplicated content but also compel the plagiarist to compensate you accordingly for all the damages incurred.
Protect Your Website Content
Although these measures will help you remove copied content, you can protect your site before it gets to that point.
Display a Copyright Notice
On the footer of every page of your website, you should always include a clear copyright notice. Without this basic element, you are telling potential content thieves that your content is available to take.
Disable Copy-Paste and Highlight
Consider disabling the right-click and highlight functions on your site pages to block copy-paste actions. These basic tweaks have proven to be effective in preventing petty criminals from copying content and then pasting it elsewhere.
Don’t Use Relative Links in Your Code
Make sure you don’t use relative links in your website code. A relative link would appear as <a href=”/contact-us”>. It is defined relative to the domain it appears on. So if that relative link were on https://www.mysite.com then it would link to https://www.mysite.com/contact-us, however, if someone scraped https://www.mysite.com and put their code on https://www.stolensite.com then the link would point to https://www.stolensite.com/contact-us.
Use Self-referencing Canonical Tags
Use canonical tags on all of your pages that point to themselves. If someone scrapes your page, then the canonical will point back to your site. Again – the canonical links should not be relative.
Use Copyright/Plagiarism Protection Tools
If you’d like to take things up a notch, you could always deploy DMCA Protection tools on your site. This includes placing watermarks and DMCA badges on your content. It can also aid in facililitation monitoring and help you scan the web for duplicates that may have been lifted from your site.
Other popular examples of web scanning and monitoring tools are Copyscape, and Google Alerts. They should be able to flag up possible content theft cases for early intervention.
While the idea of a copied website may seem catastrophic if it happens, don’t be alarmed or overwhelmed. Ultimately, search engines don’t want duplicate content circulating and and take proactive steps in finding and preventing it from happening. By following these steps yourself, or by enlisting the help of a digital marketing agency to walk beside you through the process, your site will be back to being the only one of its kind in no time!