Five steps to protect your digital content.
Arrggh, matey! There be pirates among us!
Your blog content is valuable digital property, and digital pirates may be out to grab it. It's not uncommon for bloggers to discover their hard work reproduced—without permission, attribution, or a link—on someone else's site.
So how do you know if your blog content has been pirated? And if it has—what can you do about it?
Here are five steps to help you protect your digital content.
1. Understand the value of your content.
Great content creates value by increasing traffic to your website. That traffic potentially builds your business and increases your search rank with Google. Google's Rater Guidelines emphasize the importance of fresh, relevant content. The Guidelines also state that content with the highest ratings "is created with a high degree of time and effort, and in particular, expertise, talent, and skill" and is characterized by "accuracy, comprehensiveness, and clear communication" (5.1).
Blogs are one of the best tools to create the timely, high quality content Google rewards. Creating a great blog is hard work! When visitors find your content and spend time on your site, your Google rank increases. When someone pirates your blog content, they do more than just steal your hard work. They divert traffic—and search rank—away from your site to their own. That's a serious problem—serious enough that you need to make sure your content isn't being pirated.
2. Set up alerts for your content.
Several apps are available to search for pirated content, but the simplest way is to set up a Google alert.
Choose a couple of key sentences or long phrases from your blog. Create a separate Google alert for each one, and Google will email you if they show up on the web.
Alerts will be most effective if you select sentences or phrases with specific, descriptive language, usually from the middle or last half of your blog. Pirates copy your work because they're too lazy to do their own. They may start out paraphrasing your ideas, but the further they go, the more likely they are to copy/paste. Carefully-crafted descriptive sentences are more difficult to rewrite or paraphrase, so they are the most likely to be copied and pasted. These key sentences are your best candidates for Google alerts.
3. Understand copyright and fair use.
Any content in a fixed format (including digital format) is copyright protected, but the lines between copyright and "fair use" can be a bit blurry. So you may need to do a bit of study, starting with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA recognizes that even copyrighted content can be legally reproduced for specific kinds of reasons and with limitations. Those reasons and limitations tend to fall into four categories:
- The purpose of reproduction is educational or "transformative" (e.g., critical analysis or parody).
- The nature of the reproduced work is factual rather than creative. (Facts tend to be more public than individual creative expression.)
- The significance of the amount and section of the reproduced work compared to the work as a whole: it is less significant to reproduce a small section than a large section, and it is less significant to reproduce a general example rather than the key passage in the work.
- The impact of reproduction on the market value of the work
These provisions create some reasonable leniency in a digital world, including allowing bloggers to be "content curators." Ideally, content curation means gathering and verifying information from multiple sources, then adding your own insights and applications to create original content that is more useful, more readable, and more memorable than any previous content. If you've done all that hard work—and someone steals it—here's your next step:
4. Document and demand removal—kindly
Take screenshots of your published blog and of the site that reproduced your content. Make sure the screenshots include the entire screen, including the URL and the date/time stamp.
Then email the site that reproduced your content. Send copies of the screenshots and offer them options:
- Option 1: Remove your content.
- Option 2: Pay you a reprint fee and add attribution and a link to your site. Include an invoice with your email (or send a PayPal invoice) to accompany this option.
Tone matters here. You're not asking them to remove or pay for your content. You are demanding, not requesting, but demand kindly. Remember the old adage: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Give the offender a time frame in which to respond, and let them know that if they accept one of these options, you will not be required to take further action against them.
5. Further actions
Sometimes your first attempt at resolution doesn't work. In that case, you have several options.
Start by sending a second email to the offending website company.
The subject line of this email should be "DMCA Takedown Notice." Reference your previous email and the fact that no action has been taken. Your email should include the following information:
- Your complete legal name and contact information
- The name and URL of the site on which the content was originally posted along with the posting date, title, and description of the content
- The name of the site that reproduced the content and the URL of the posting.
- A statement that you believe in good faith that your rights have been infringed upon by the reproduction of your content without your permission and that you do not allow reproduction of your content without permission.
- A statement that you believe the information in this notice to be accurate and correct and that you are filing this DCMA Takedown Notice with Google and other parties as necessary.
- Your physical or digital signature.
Send a DCMA Takedown Notice to Google
Start here and make sure you read through the information Google provides on copyright and Google's policies. Then file the copyright infringement notice with Google. Make sure your notice includes all the necessary information.
As you can see from this report, Google has delisted many pages from its search results based on copyright infringement claims.
Contact the website's host.
Webhosts are not legally accountable for the content on hosted websites, but most hosts tend to respect copyright claims. Use the ICANN database to identify the host for the offending website. Send the webhost a copy of the DMCA Takedown Notice you sent to the website company and request that the webhost remove the content that is infringing on your rights.
Finally, if the website includes ads, you can send a copy of the takedown notice to advertisers on the site, especially to any whose ads appear on the page where your pirated content appears.
Companies work hard and spend a lot of money to build and maintain an online reputation, so the impact of these further actions tends to aggregate. If each party is informed that the others have also been contacted, the pressure increases. That means your odds of success also increase.
Your content deserves to be valued and protected!
You put a lot of work into developing great content. Google recognizes that by acknowledging that "high quality content" is the result of "time, effort . . . expertise, talent, and skill."
Sadly, it's likely that at some point, someone will try to pirate that. So take a few minutes to set up alerts and give your content the value it deserves.