I recently had to deal with online copyright infringement, when one of my articles was scraped by a loser who posted it on his site without asking for permission or giving me credit.
I don’t like the word “scraper.” These people are criminals. Thieves. But I’ll use the term “scraper” anyway since it has somehow become the acceptable term for idiots who can’t create their own content on the web, so they steal it off other people’s sites, publish it as their own and even promote it in social media, hoping to get page views and ad revenue.
The main problem: search engines can index the scraper’s content before ours, and sometimes even punish our sites – not the scrapers’ – for duplicate content. This can result in the copy having a higher PageRank, and more page views, than the original.
Dealing with scrapers isn’t simple. The scraper who stole my content is from Serbia, according to his Stumbleupon profile. Physically tracking him down and serving him with court papers would be insanely costly and would not make sense at all.
There are, however, several things you can do if someone steals your content on the web. This depends, of course, on how much time you’re willing to spend. I spent about two hours tracking down this guy and doing whatever I could to make sure he does not profit from stealing my article. It was worth it to me because it felt good, but it may not be worth it to you.
This is how I dealt with this online copyright infringement:
1. I found out he stole my article because the article contained an internal link to my own site. The backlink I received from his spam site alerted me to the fact that he stole my article. This means that including internal links to your site in your posts is a good way to at least get backlinks from these spammers (at least you gain something from their crime), although some of them do remove links.
Another way to get backlinks from spammers and protect your PageRank is to install the WordPress plugin RSS Footer. This plugin automates the process of adding a link in your RSS feed that points to the original post. This should help make sure the original always has the higher PageRank.
2. I went to his site and posted a comment informing him that he is a thief, that he should take the article down promptly and that I’m a lawyer and will not rest until I make his life miserable. Needless to say, my comment went into moderation and was promptly deleted – but I knew he read it. I didn’t expect him to take the article down, but it was worth a try.
3. I noticed he had social media buttons on the article and made it my mission to make sure he does not get social media traffic from MY article. I went to all the social media sites, contacted the people who submitted the article and voted for it, explained what happened and asked them to retract their vote. They did. I also voted the article down and wrote comments to explain what happened. This killed his social media efforts.
Through one of the stumblers who initially voted for him, I found out who he was, thumbed his Stumbleupon account down and filed a complaint against him with Stumbleupon.
4. I Reported him to Google using Google’s Report A Spam Result page. If the website you’re dealing with has Adsense, and most of them do, you should also report them to Adsense by clicking on the “Ads By Google” link on the ads.
5. I reported him to Amazon Associates. I noticed he had Amazon Affiliate Ads on the page, so I emailed them a complaint. They sent me a generic email saying they don’t allow sites who breach copyright law to use their program (duh). I thought it would end with that, but the next day I was pleasantly surprised to receive another email from them, saying they checked his website, but the stolen article had already been taken off the site (indeed it was… details below). The communication with Amazon Affiliates was encouraging, because they took my complaint seriously and actually bothered to visit his site and send me a personal response.
6. Following advice I found on the internet, I tried to find out who the site’s host is and report the site to them, but both tools I used – whoishostingthis.com and who-hosts.com – couldn’t find the host.
*Update: I received an email from Richard Kershaw of whoishostingthis.com, explaining that “We quite often find that scrapers use shady hosts (eg, in rural China), with a view to hiding their location. In light of your feedback, I’ll review the text on our tool so that it explains this sort of thing much better. At the moment, when we can’t ID a host it doesn’t explain the likely reasons etc.”
As I was going through this flurry of activity, trying to make the thief’s life as miserable as possible, the stolen article was still up. But the next morning, when I checked it, this is what I saw:
“Not Found, Error 404.”
I really wanted the scraper’s site to get banned by Adsense and by Google. I don’t know if this is going to happen, but even if it doesn’t, at least I won my own little battle against this loser.
Have you ever had to deal with online copyright infringement?
Comment of the day: “File a DMCA notification with the ISP to get the page taken down. Getting upset about it is a waste of psychic energy. Most spambloggers do it as a business, have many blogs, and really don’t care that you think they’re scum.” Mark from CalorieLab.