Eight years ago, our wedding business website was stolen.
We stumbled on it by accident. It had the same retro images and fonts and much of the same text, but it was someone else’s domain.
It happened again two years ago. Jeff was clicking around online and landed on a duplicate Book More Brides website in another country! They’d stolen the domain name, our copy and our business model.
And just last week a friend sent us a link to a site that had stolen the contents of our YouTube video and description, and published it as their own.
If you create something worthwhile, chances are good that someone is going to copy it.
Don’t Be a Thief
Before I reveal what to do when someone steals your stuff (and don’t worry, I will!) let’s make good and sure that you aren’t stealing anything by accident.
- Don’t steal images. You are not allowed to grab a picture from Google Images and use it on your site. You may only use images you own or those that have a commercial creative commons license. Otherwise, it’s stealing.
- Don’t steal copy. You can’t just copy someone else’s words online or from an email or marketing piece without their permission, even if you give them credit. That’s also stealing.
- Don’t steal a design. It’s okay to get inspired by the website design or logo of another wedding business, but make it your own. It’s NOT okay to hire a programmer to reproduce the exact design by essentially stealing the html code and design work someone else paid for. Otherwise…you guessed it!…you’re stealing.
How to Find Out If Your Content Has Been Stolen
Before you can take action against someone who’s stolen your stuff, you need to know something’s been stolen in the first. This can be tricky since there are millions of website to search online.
Fortunately, there are some tools that help you discover when you’ve been robbed.
- Monitor your WordPress pingback notifications.You know those comment approval notifications you get for your WordPress website or blog? Some of those are pingback notifications of another website that has linked to yours.Scraper sites that automatically grab other people’s content and republish it without permission, as well as ignorant thieves who think it’s okay to steal as long as you give credit, often link back to the original source, and this generates a pingback. This is an easy way to find them.
- Use Copyscape to find stolen copy online.Copyscape scans the internet for duplicate content. You can enter in every page of your website for 5 cents a page, and it will return a search of any website that is using your copy online.
- Search for stolen images with Google’s Reverse Image Search.Simply upload your image or image url into the tool and it will return any image that matches it.
What to Do If Your Property Is Stolen
Now let’s say you’ve discovered that someone has stolen your content. Don’t overreact. Follow these steps in order to resolve the issue with minimum conflict.
Step 1 – Send a civil but firm email to the website owner first.
It’s possible that the thief didn’t realize they’ve stolen your content. Many wedding professionals act under the mistaken belief that if they give credit, that makes it okay. If a real person (not a scraper site, see below) has stolen from you, this is an opportunity to educate them.
Send them an email explaining that they have used your content without permission. Include a link to your original content and a link to the offending page on their site. Ask them to remove it immediately. Usually, this does the trick, even without the “or I’ll sue!” threat.
Step 2 – Send a DMCA Take Down notice.
If after waiting a week you don’t get a response from the website owner, it’s time to get more serious. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the US makes website hosts or ISPs responsible for any stolen content on a client’s website. This means they can be sued for copyright infringements, so you can go right to the host.
How to send a DMCA Take Down notice:
- Find the host of the website that has your stolen content. You can do this by using a Whois Lookup.
- Go to the web host’s site and find their DMCA contact information. This is usually an email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and most hosts have a DMCA procedure available on your site listing the proof you’ll need to provide.
- Modify this DMCA Take Down Notice with your information and send it to the host. Be sure to include the urls of the pages containing both the original and stolen content.
Website hosting companies are required to respond by law and they will act quickly to remove any content that violates copyright law. They’ll contact the owner of the website for you and shut down the website if the stolen content isn’t removed promptly.
If your website is hosted outside the United States, search for “copyright infringement laws in [your country]” and follow those guidelines for resolution. Learn more about international online copyright violations here.
Step 3 – Report a scraper site with the Google Scraper Report Form.
Scraper sites use bots to automatically steal content about a topic and republish it. They’re often hosted in other countries that may not be responsive to the DMCA Take Down Notice, and sometimes these sites may even outrank the original content on your own website.
Report them with the Google Scraper Report Form. Google isn’t going to do anything about the stolen content, but it may adjust the search results so that your original content ranks higher.
Step 4 – Add a footer to your RSS feed.
It’s only a matter of time before a scraper site rips off your content by grabbing your RSS feed. Use a plugin (like Yoast’s WordPress SEO) to insert a credit and link to your website at the bottom of every post in your feed, and those stupid scrapers will publish it along with the content they steal.
It’s no fun having someone steal from you, but don’t let it poison your attitude. Take action, get it resolved quickly and avoid getting obsessed with tracking down the thieves. They’ll get what’s coming to them in the end.
Has anyone stolen from you? Leave a comment and share your experience.