Take it Back! 100 Tips to Defeat Content Thieves

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Stolen content is perhaps one of the most infuriating things that can happen to a content creator. Whether a spam blogger is ripping off your posts, or you somehow find your favorite photo for sale on a microstock site, these thieves have a nasty way of getting under your skin. Here’s a look at some of the tips and tools you have at your disposal to use against this Internet slime. Know Your Rights Before you kick off any content battles, make sure you know your stuff.

  1. Copyright: Get an overview of copyright law from Wikipedia here.
  2. US Copyright Office: Visit the US Copyright Office to learn copyright law as well as how you can register your work.
  3. What is a Copyright?: Plagiarism Today offers a nice overview of your copyright rights.
  4. Bloggers’ FAQ: Intellectual Property: Check out this FAQ to get a quick guide to copyright law for bloggers.
  5. Protect Your Ideas With Copyrights and Patents: This article offers a quick run-down of how you can go about registering your work.
  6. Copyright Explained: I May Copy It, Right?: Smashing Magazine offers a simple look at the complicated topic of copyright.
  7. Limitations of Copyright: Here you’ll learn about the limitations of your copyright.
  8. FAQ About Copyright: Learn about copyright from a DCMA clearinghouse here.
  9. Copyright situations by country: Find out your copyright rights in a variety of different countries with this Wikipedia reference.
  10. Fair Use: Get clarification on the limited use of your work through fair use with this guide.
  11. What Can’t Be Copyrighted: This publication from the US Copyright Office discusses items that can’t be protected by copyright.
  12. The Sincerest Form of Flattery…And How to Protect Yourself From It: Find out what copyright is, what you can copyright, and how to protect your work with copyright in this article.

Finding Thieves The first step to defeating content thieves is to find them. Get a heads-up about stolen content with these tips and tools.

  1. Set up Google Alerts: Find thieves by setting up Google alerts for key phrases related to your content.
  2. Put a message in your feeds: Add a copyright message to your RSS feeds that asks anyone viewing it to email you if the content isn’t being served from your site.
  3. Create a fingerprint: Set up a string of unique characters to add to your feed, then set up plagiarism searches like Google Alerts or Copyscape to find this fingerprint.
  4. AntiLeech WordPress Plugin: Use this plugin for WordPress to detect sploggers and give them fake content.
  5. Assign offbeat file names: By creating file names you’re not likely to see often, you’ll make it easier to perform searches for stolen content.
  6. Thiefinder: With this script, you can find possible bandwidth thieves.
  7. Mahalo Plagiarism Detection: Stick this tool in your browser to compare any text for plagiarism.
  8. Numly WordPress Plugin: Use this plugin to set an Electronic Serial Number for your blog to prove you were the first to publish your content.
  9. Maxpower’s Digital Fingerprint Plugin: With this plugin, you can detect content theft by placing and searching for a unique string of characters into your feed entries.
  10. Subscribe to news feeds: In addition to Google Alerts, set up feeds for your name, your blog’s name, and content terms with search engines like PubSub, Technorati, and IceRocket.
  11. Place a spy image: Put a small, transparent image at the bottom of your feed or posts, and monitor the sites that use the image.
  12. Do manual spot-searches: Check out your favorite search engine and do a search for distinctive phrases from your work to discover theft.
  13. itScan: Use this tool to search both URLs and offline content for your work.
  14. RSS Footer: This plugin from Joost de Valk inserts your copyright text into RSS entries.
  15. RSS Signature: Put a link back to your original content in each entry with this tool.
  16. Attributor: Track who is copying your content, find out how much money they’re earning off of you, and get an organized way to contact unauthorized sites with Attributor.
  17. Copyscape: Use this plagiarism search to look for alternate copies of your page.
  18. iPlagiarismCheck: This service will look for your content in databases, online, in printed publications, or more.
  19. Copysentry: With Copysentry, you’ll get automatic detection of stolen content, and be able to keep track of your plagiarism cases.
  20. FeedEntryHeader: Put your copyright statement at the beginning of your feed entries using this plugin.
  21. TagRight: By using TagRight, you can restrict access to images and text.
  22. FeedBurner: FeedBurner’s analysis tools and options can make finding thieves easy.
  23. Feelimage: Search for your images using filenames and tags with this search engine.
  24. SplogSpot: Find out if you’re being ripped off by a splog with this database.
  25. Repeat your search with omitted results: Google will often filter out search entries that are similar, and offer you the option to repeat your search while including these results. You should absolutely do this to find thieves.
  26. Check your referral logs: Take a look at who is pointing to your site to find thieves.
  27. Get around IP blocks: Some thieves will block your IP to make you think their site has gone down, but you can verify this with Google Translate, because they’re not going to block Google.
  28. Offer headhunter rewards: Tell your readers that you’ll give a trivial award to anyone who finds someone stealing your content.

Going In For The Kill Once you’ve located your perpetrator, take these steps to hit them where it hurts.

  1. Send them an email: Some thieves, although not all, are just overzealous fans who don’t quite understand that they can’t use your work word for word. Send these people a polite email to give them a heads up before you take things a step further.
  2. Try email tricks: If you can’t find a contact email, try [email protected] to find a catchall account. You can also run a Whois check.
  3. Rat them out to AdSense: Let Google know about these spammers to let their site’s finances take a hit.
  4. Report them to their service: Most sploggers are on free services like Blogger, so it’s easy to flag them and notify their blogging service that they are slime.
  5. WebCite: Store a webpage cache as evidence of infringement with WebCite.
  6. Check out their source code: View their page source to get a look at what they’re running on their site. You may find a service that’s enabling their theft, as well as advertisers to contact.
  7. Team up: It’s very likely that you’re not the only victim of content theft, so let others know when your thief is targeting them, and band together to take them down.
  8. Send them a modified RSS feed: If you can single the offender out, change out your RSS feed just for them so they’re not serving your content anymore.
  9. Send a cease and desist letter: Send your thief a letter explaining that you’re aware they have stolen your work and plan to take action against them if they do not follow your request by a specific deadline.
  10. Find their host and report them: Locate a site’s host by checking out their Whois, then find their Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA) contact information to let them know what their customer is doing. If the host doesn’t have DCMA contact information, find them through this database.
  11. Borrow legal letterhead: Use your lawyer buddy’s letterhead, or even create your own, to give your correspondence with the thief more weight.
  12. Inform search engines: Send search engines DCMA letters to get your thief removed and blacklisted from searches.
  13. Spread the word: Shame thieves into giving up on your content by letting your readers and others in your industry know what they’re doing.
  14. Furl: This bookmark service lets you save a cached copy of any site, so even if your thief’s site goes down, you’ll still have evidence that they ripped you off.
  15. Stock Letters: Plagiarism Today offers a few well-written stock letters that you can use to get your content removed from sites and search engines.
  16. Contact their advertisers: If they’ve got advertisers beyond AdSense, seek them out as well.
  17. Hire a lawyer: If it’s worth the trouble and time, go after your thief with legal action. Just be sure that you actually do have legal protection and that you have enough evidence to back your claim up.
  18. VeRO: If your work constantly ends up for sale on eBay, use VeRO to get authorization to close these auctions.
  19. Create templates: Make templates for your cease and desist letters so you won’t have to spend lots of time on each individual offender.
  20. Make a separate email account: Keep your thief work separate from regular emails by setting up an account specifically for corresponding with thieves, search engines, hosts, and other entities in your fight.
  21. Create a database: Keep all of your incident information handy and organized with a database.

An Ounce of Prevention Try these tips to keep your content from being stolen in the first place.

  1. Make your feed annoying: Use HTML or Javascript in your feed to make your text small, blinking, or otherwise annoying so that feed scrapers will post unusable content, while text-only news readers will serve your content appropriately.
  2. Offer partial feeds: Use your feeds to deliver links to full articles so that your content can’t be scraped straight from a feed reader.
  3. Use transparent images: Put transparent images over your real ones, so when a thief tries to save them, they’ll only get the transparent one.
  4. Block bad bots: Modify your .htaccess file to keep out bad bots that scrape your content.
  5. Use a watermark: Although some will remove them, others are just too lazy. By putting a watermark on your work, you’ll leave a trail back to your site and make it glaringly obvious that content thieves are stealing from you.
  6. Cut your images up: Turn one image into two or more segmented pieces, and it will be harder for a thief to save.
  7. Use Poor Man’s Copyright: Print a copy of your work and mail it to yourself to prove via postmark that you created the content on that specific date.
  8. Creative Commons: Use Creative Commons to clearly define the ways in which your content can be shared.
  9. Eliminate hotlinks: Disable thieves who link to images and files on your server, and you’ll both prevent them from using your work and make their mistake known to all who visit their site.
  10. Avoid publishing high resolution photos: If you don’t want your images stolen, keep them small. This will at least help deter those that want to upload them to stock photography sites or put them in print.
  11. Is Your Work an Orphan?: Check out this series on orphan works from PlagiarismToday to learn how to avoid orphaning your work.
  12. Blog Copyright Plugin: With this plugin, you’ll display a dated copyright mark on each and every one of your pages.
  13. Duly Noted: Get copyright registration for UK content here.
  14. Pictureshark: Place a watermark over images with Pictureshark.
  15. Stop Content Theft Buttons and Badges: Use these badges to make your position on content theft known.
  16. GoDaddy’s C-Site Copyright Service: Register the content of your site with this automated service from GoDaddy.
  17. Add formal information: Although you can’t count on it, adding formal copyright information as well as a terms and conditions document can help to dissuade some thieves.
  18. Creative Commons Configurator WordPress Plugin: With this tool, you can set a visible warning that your work is copyrighted and define exactly what that means.
  19. BotSense: With BotSense, you can keep unwanted bots out of your site, and thus cut down on scraping.
  20. Blogstamp: Get certified timestamps to prove when you created your content with Blogstamp.
  21. Link Protect: Stop unauthorized access to your content and eliminate bandwidth abuse with this tool.
  22. Registered Commons: Create a permanent link, license, and digital timestamp for your work with Registered Commons.
  23. Disable Select Text Script: With this script, you can disable text selection and deter copy-and-paste thieves.
  24. Bandwidth Protector: Prevent unauthorized linking of graphics and pages using this tool.
  25. MyFreeCopyright: Register and fingerprint each of your works with this free service.
  26. Bad Behavior: Keep spammers off your site with this tool.
  27. Block IP addresses: Keep recurring thieves and the services they use from accessing your content by blocking their IP address.
  28. Hidetext: Use this service to convert text to an image, and it can’t be copied and pasted. However, it also won’t be indexed by search engines.
  29. Encrypt your HTML: If you’re a web designer, you can encrypt HTML to protect it from thieves. However, you should keep in mind that this will protect it from search engine spiders as well.
  30. Write fair use guidelines: Let others know that you want to share your content, but make it clear that you expect attribution and a link back.

Advice Get tips from those who have taken down content thieves in the past with these nuggets of advice.

  1. Stop Rogue Web Bots From Eating Your Bandwidth & Stealing Your Content: Visit this article to learn what to do when you’ve been attacked by bots.
  2. Stop Image Hotlinking Using .htaccess: This tutorial walks you through the steps of putting a stop to hotlinkers.
  3. Stop Thief! Protect Your Creative Work: This article discusses a number of ways you can fight back and protect yourself against thieves.
  4. RSS Content Theft and How to Prevent It: This article offers some helpful advice for theft prevention.
  5. How to Stop RSS Scrapers From Stealing Your Content. Plus Revenge!: This article details the process of sending a fake RSS feed to scrapers.
  6. What to Do When Someone Steals Your Blog’s Content: Get advice from ProBlogger’s Darren Rowse on fighting back.
  7. Preventing Website Content Theft: Images: This tutorial discusses how you can protect your content by putting a transparent image over your real ones.
  8. Using .htaccess to Stop Content Theft: Read PlagiarismToday’s primer on .htaccess to learn how to use it to your advantage against content thieves.
  9. Stop Internet Plagiarism: Last but certainly not least, be sure to check out this series of posts in which Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday walks you through a number of ways to put a stop to content theft.

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