If you are constantly publishing content on your blog or if you are creating digital products, there’s a good chance that you have experienced or will experience content theft. Unfortunately, this is a common indicator of success and it can even happen to blogs or shops that have low traffic.
It happened to me more than once. This summer I received an alert that one of my products was on one of those sites that steal from online marketplaces and share the products for free. A couple of months later, after one of my products was free for a week on Creative Market, I found it offered for free on blogs and even in an Etsy shop.
Finding your work on someone else’s site not only leaves you frustrated, but you will probably think twice before writing another blog post or sharing free products.
How do you know when someone steals your work?
You don’t have to spend your days searching for stolen content. While some people go to great lengths to make sure you don’t find out that they use your work, most of them either don’t know how to hide it or just don’t care. Here are some easy ways to find out if someone stole your work:
- Google Alerts or Mention: You can set up these apps to send you an email every time someone mentions your name, website or a specific phrase that’s related to your business.
- Copyscape: Just add your page’s URL and Copyscape will tell you if your content appears somewhere else.
- Google search: If your product or blog post has a unique name that’s related to your brand, a simple Google search will show interesting results.
- Google image search or reverse image search: Dragging and dropping your photos into the Google image search bar will bring up all the sites that use those images. A simple image search using your unique keyword will also help you find stolen content.
- Search online marketplaces: if you are looking for stolen products, you might find them on Etsy or Creative Market, but they are usually under another name or have different featured images.
- Referral traffic: Keep an eye on your Analytics. People that steal blog posts might not delete the links that lead back to your site or those that don’t know that they shouldn’t use your content might add you as the author.
A few words on copyright
When you write a new blog post, take a photo, or create an artwork you are the copyright holder. This may even be true for Facebook posts or tweets, but it depends on the site’s terms of service.
You don’t need to add a copyright notice or symbol in your site’s footer or file for copyright.
When you sell digital products on Creative Market or Etsy, you have to pay attention to licenses, but most online marketplaces will not allow buyers to resell or redistribute your original files.
Did someone really steal your work?
I often come across people that complain about copyright infringement in Facebook groups or discussion forums. Most of the times they claim that someone stole their idea. The stolen work is usually a post about Pinterest or a watercolor painting that has a similar style or subject.
It’s very hard to come up with original content nowadays and it’s even harder to prove that you were the one that invented a new design.
If someone has the same idea for a blog post or a website design, it doesn’t mean that they stole it from you.
On the other hand, if someone takes your artwork and posts it on their website without your consent or if they copy your posts, it’s theft.
You can’t take something that doesn’t belong to you, like text or images found on Google or Pinterest, and use it on your site. It doesn’t matter that the copyright symbol is missing or that you don’t make money from your site.
There’s also something that’s called fair use and there’s a fine line between copyright infringement and fair use. According to the fair use clause, copyright holders don’t have 100% exclusive rights to their content and others may borrow it if they are employing ‘fair use’ of the material.
What is considered fair use depends on your country’s laws. So it’s always better to only use your own content or ask for permission before using someone else’s text or photos.
What to do when someone steals your work
If you are sure that someone stole your work, there are many things that you can do to protect it:
Ask them to take it down
Some of the people that use your work might not know that what they did is wrong. Bloggers often think that they can use images that they find on Google or Pinterest and they will remove them if you ask nicely.
Things get more complicated when people know that they are not allowed to use your work, but they still do it. These are the ones that remove your watermark from photos or take your product and remove your logo from the instructions. When people are caught, they will usually take down the content.
Unfortunately, there are also large websites that have no problem stealing and sending a message will not solve your problems.
Send a DMCA takedown to their host
Whois search will help you find the offender’s hosting provider. If they have a host that’s based in the U.S., you can send them a DMCA takedown. The hosts can be held liable for storing stolen content on their servers, so they will help you, but they will have to follow a
If your products are sold on Etsy or Creative Market, you just have to send an infringement report to Etsy or contact Creative Market support.
Etsy has a very quick response time and they removed the stolen material in only a couple of hours.
Report them to search engines
Reporting the offenders to search engines will not remove the stolen content, but at least it won’t appear in searches.
I wanted to remove a few links from Google search so I went to the legal page and took the following steps:
- What Google product does your request relate to? > Web Search
- What can we help you with? > I have a legal issue that is not mentioned above
- I have found content that may violate my copyright
- I am the copyright holder
- Then I filled out all the information on the form
The search results were removed in less than a day.
Contact a lawyer
If you feel that the stolen content is harming your business, the best thing to do is hire a lawyer. They can help you fill out the DMCA forms and draft a Cease & Desist letter. And if nothing works, you can think about filing a lawsuit.
How to protect your work
Trying to protect your work is often an exhausting and frustrating process. Internet thieves will find a way to steal your work no matter what you do.
While researching this post, I came across a lot of ways of protecting your blog posts and photos. You’ve probably heard about them:
- adding huge watermarks on photos
- adding text to let people know that you are the owner
- disabling right-click on your blog
- changing RSS to summary
These are good tips. They might even work for some. Unfortunately, watermarks can easily be removed, right-click can be enabled, and changing the RSS to show only excerpts will not protect your content. But I can guarantee that these things will make some of your readers leave your blog.
It’s more important to know what to do when someone steals your work than to spend your days trying to prevent them. Internet trolls that steal your content will never go away, but they shouldn’t keep you from creating amazing content.
Have you ever had your content stolen? What did you do?
Note: It should go without saying that I’m not a lawyer and I’m not giving legal advice. If you don’t know what is best for you and your business, you should always consult with a lawyer.