The number of sites on the world wide web grows day by day, and many of them are starving for new material to publish. Many of them make no effort to cite other creators’ content or ask permission to use it, believing they can just copy it word for word and paste it on their own pages as “original” work. This amounts to plagiarism, an illegal act that can unfairly jeopardize the integrity of any source website’s content.
What is Plagiarism?
The term “plagiarism” indicates a deliberate action – or inaction – beyond the act of simply “borrowing” someone else’s ideas. Plagiarism is defined as the stealing of one person’s ideas or words, and then either passing them off as original or neglecting to credit the source. Because original ideas that have been recorded are legally classified as “intellectual property,” they are eligible for copyright protection, similar to physical inventions.
Copyright protection isn’t limited to text or recorded ideas. Images, video clips, and music are also protected by copyright, and manipulating or incorporating them in a new work without consent or citing their original source is considered plagiarism. Simply giving credit to the original author of a certain piece with a citation is often enough to avoid plagiarism, unless the original creator objects to the reuse of it in any form.
How to Tell if Someone Stole Your Content
There are a number of simple, free ways content creators can determine whether their material has been illegally duplicated. Copyscape is the most popular and quickest web tool for this purpose. Any URL can be pasted into its search feed, and the text on that page is cross-checked with pages all over the web to see if it’s been copied and reprinted without permission.
What Do You Do Then?
It isn’t necessary to hire a lawyer the second you find out your material’s been stolen. Following the steps listed below in an orderly fashion will help you address the theft.
1. Contact the plagiarist directly.
Either by phone or email, let them know you’re aware of the theft, that you can prove the plagiarized text is your own (via the Wayback Machine at Archive.org), and ask how they plan to address it. Nine times out of ten, they’ll apologize and quickly remove the duplicated text.
2. Issue a “cease and desist” letter.
If the plagiarist doesn’t respond or fails to remove the text after Step 1, sending them a “cease and desist” letter is your next option.
3. Send their web host a DMCA “take down” letter.
If Step 2 elicits no response, look up their web host and fax them a take down letter.
4. Contact Google.
If you’re still not getting anywhere, download a content removal request form online, fill it in, and send it to Google.
5. File a lawsuit for damages.
If worst comes to worst, you can seek legal recourse against the plagiarist by suing them for damages.
In addition to taking the steps outlined above, you may also want notify the site owner’s chamber of commerce about their actions and/or leave them a negative Google review if they refuse to remove your content.
How to Protect Your Content
You don’t have to enter your URLs into Copyscape daily to determine whether your content’s been compromised. The tools listed below will monitor the web for you and let you know automatically when they detect any duplicates.
Copysentry’s sophisticated plagiarism protection tool continuously scours the internet for illegally copied content and emails you the minute it finds a match. There are two versions of the tool available: One that monitors the web for your content daily and a cheaper option that checks once a week. You can customize the number of duplicated words necessary for a match and create a list of websites to ignore.
2. Google Alerts
For those more cost sensitive, by using a free gmail account you can set up Google Alerts to scan the internet for duplicated phrases or keywords and email you when it finds them. For maximum protection, it’s smart to set up an alert for each original article you publish.
3. Site Warnings
You can append a clearly visible copyright warning to your web pages that links to your terms and conditions. Like a “Keep Out” sign, it won’t necessarily stop legal infractions, but it lets everybody know that your site is private and protected.
While a copyright won’t prevent someone from trying to steal your digital material, it makes it much more difficult for content thieves to pass it off as their own. Signing up for Google Search Authorship provides irrefutable proof that a particular piece of material is your own.
5. Automatic Linkbacks
You can also include a snippet of code on your pages that automatically generates a hyperlink back to them when somebody attempts to copy and paste your digital material. This lets whoever’s copying your text know that you want your page to be cited as the source, and it saves them the trouble of manually creating a citation themselves.
You’re able to set any phrase length you choose, and you can create rules for modifying copied text only if certain keywords are present, so that users can enjoy a seamless browsing experience as they read and research the material on your web pages.
The code also allows you to add customized content before any text that’s copied and pasted, allowing you to provide more details about its source and context. And to top it all off, you can even use Copy-Magic-Paste in conjunction with Google Analytics to determine exactly which content users copy from your pages the most.
As a website owner, you already instinctively know how important it is to keep your content safe, and that you can’t just press “publish” and then forget about it if you’re truly concerned with its security. The web is a virtual sea of content pirates, but the tips outlined above will keep the majority of them at bay.