You wouldn’t walk into a book store and steal a novel off the shelf, would you? What about a magazine off the rack?
For most of us, physical theft is unthinkable. We wouldn’t shoplift as much as a candy bar, never mind a book or magazine. They don’t belong to us. If we want them, we have to pay. Just like everyone else.
So why is it that people feel free to steal content on the internet? How is stealing a blog post different than stealing a magazine? In both cases you’re taking something that someone else created. Yet people steal on the internet without a second thought.
People steal on the internet for two primary reasons. Kevin Kelly describes the first.
Copying is part of the Internet’s DNA. Your site copies itself many times, on archive pages. As you can imagine, creating a tool to copy the internet isn’t difficult.
The second reason: you can access internet content from anywhere for free. Yes, you can access book and magazines for free inside a store. We’ve all seen people sitting down in a book store aisle reading a book. But you can’t take the book from the store without paying. With a blog, you can read it anywhere. Hence, people are more apt to think that because it is free, it is also free to take.
Let us be clear: it is not OK, in any way, to take someone else’s content. It belongs to them, just as a book belongs to the store. (And the content belongs to the author or publisher.)
Let us be clear on another point: it is the owner’s job to police theft. Book stores have security measures that detect theft. Publishers seek out people reproducing content without permission. Though they don’t have the same resources available, bloggers are responsible in the same way. If you want to prevent people from stealing your content, you have to protect it.
Bloggers, Who are serious about ownership of their content will heed the following tips.
How To Protect Your Blog From Being Copied
Put Thieves On Notice
When people take content, do they even understand that they are stealing? The internet’s propensity for copying has blurred the concept of ownership.
Information wants to be free, right? Sure. People want to be free too, but that doesn’t mean we don’t demand wages for our labors. It seems that people have confused the different definitions of the word free.
Still, this raises a relevant point. If people don’t think they’re stealing, it becomes incredibly difficult to stop them.
Even the simplest of measures can deter thieves who don’t understand that they are stealing. Consider adding some of the following to your site.
Copyright footer. These are common and easy to add to your site. You can place the notice right in your footer. © 2014 YourSiteName.com. It’s that simple. Note: make sure you keep the year up to date.
DMCA badge. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act lays out pretty strict copyright rules for digital content. No one wants to receive a DMCA takedown notice. Use this WordPress plugin to place a DMCA badge in your sidebar, in a prominent position so everyone can see it.
Terms and Conditions page. The problem with a copyright footer: many people will never see it. That’s why the DMCA badge is a nice addition. Another great addition is a terms and conditions page. You can state, in no uncertain terms, that you own the content on the site and that is not available for reproduction. Don’t know the legalese to create a T&C page? Check out this T&C generator.
Trademark symbol. Did you know that anyone can use the ™ symbol? It is not reserved for registered trademarks. That’s the ® symbol, which you absolutely cannot use unless you own a federal trademark registration. If you didn’t know that, chances are many people also do not know that. (Even if you did know that, it still holds true; most people do not know.) Slap the ™ symbol on your blog title. It lends you a sense of authority and could deter thieves.
Mind Your Images
Here’s an oddity about copying on the web. Many people know that copying text is wrong. Teachers dedicate entire class sessions to plagiarism. They remind students before every paper that it is wrong to steal other people’s words.
Because we didn’t include images in papers, we never learned that it is wrong to steal them, too. Perhaps that’s why people think it’s OK to take anything found in a Google Images search and use it. But just as copying and pasting text is wrong, so is using someone else’s image.
If this practice is so widespread, how can you protect your own images? If you host original photography on your site, it is in your interest to protect it. Images have become paramount on the web. Yours gives you an advantage, and you shouldn’t give away that advantage to anyone else.
Here are some resources that will help you manage your website’s images.
Preventing right clicks. If you’ve scrolled down you already know that I don’t prefer this method. Right clicking on the web is natural. You can do much more than just copy stuff with a right click. This WordPress plugin prevents right clicks only on images, so it’s not as bad as blocking right clicks in general. But it’s still not preferable. Why treat your readers like thieves?
Watermark your images. If you work with Photoshop or Illustrator, watermarking your images is easy. You can even use a WordPress plugin. The downside: watermarking doesn’t prevent theft. People will be less likely to reuse a watermarked photo, at least. The problem is the practicality. If you place a watermark in the corner, as the WordPress plugin does, users can just crop it out. If you place it in the middle, the image gets distorted.
Hotlink blocking. Sometimes people get really lazy. Instead of downloading your image and uploading it to their own servers, they will just link to your image. So not only are they stealing your work, but they’re taxing your server. How rude. There is a WordPress plugin that prevents other sites from hotlinking your files. I recommend this in general, beyond image protection.
Run image searches. If you have a handful of original images on your site, run them through Google Image Search By Image every so often. It can get to be a tedious task, especially if you have a high volume of original images, but you can identify content thieves on the spot.
Set Up RSS Footers
So far I’ve mentioned “people” who steal your content. Truth is, humans only directly steal content in a fraction of instances. It is more common for them to set up automated scrapers to steal your content. And someone else’s content. And someone else’s. It’s quite easy to steal massive amounts of content.
The bad news: there isn’t much you can do to stop scrapers. There’s no magic code that will send them away from your site. You can put in place deterrents, but many of them hurt your human readers. For example:
Truncated RSS feeds. Sure, they might increase click-through rate. But if you go from a full feed to a truncated feed, you’ll upset your readers. Subscriber numbers will fall. Is deterring scrapers worth hurting the people who enjoy your site?
If you’re starting a new site, perhaps setting the tone with a truncated feed will work. Even then, good scrapers can get by that. Back in the days of Google Reader, there were plenty of plugins that could turn a truncated feed into a full feed. You think scraper bots don’t have the same ability?
Unfortunately, another popular deterrent isn’t much of a deterrent at all.
Add an RSS footer. Since the late 00s bloggers have added some kind of RSS footer to their feeds. It hasn’t deterred many scrapers. The good news is that while scrapers can, and often do, remove links from posts, they have a tougher time from feed footers. Try a WordPress plugin like this one. It’s worth a try, at least.
You can try other methods, such as watermarking your photos. This blogger saw a reduction in the number of sites that would scrape his content once he watermarked his images. As described above, watermarking isn’t a cure-all. It has its own problems. But if it deters a few scrapers, perhaps it is a worthwhile practice.
Hire A Monitoring Service
Let’s get real. If you want to protect your content, you will have to pay. No, this isn’t some mafia-type job where people steal your content and demand payment to stop. There are plenty of services that can help you keep track of your content and put thieves on notice.
Before you move on, this isn’t for hobbyist bloggers. If you don’t make money from your blog, then you probably can’t afford to pay for a monitoring service. But if you’re reading hackersdenabi.net, chances are you make money. If you don’t, that’s your goal. If so, you have a huge interest in your content. Investing in monitoring and protection will prove worthwhile.
You can try a few different options. I have my own preference, which I’ll share in a minute.
Copyscape. If you want to know when people copy your content, you can sign up for Copyscape’s copy protection services. It will cost you a bit: 5 cents per search, or you can sign up for their weekly service. But again, if you value your content, you’ll have to pay some fee to examine duplicate usage.
Mention. An alternative to Copyscape is alert service Mention.com. It costs $30 per month for the business grade, which is what you’ll need. You can set up 10 alerts, which notify you when another website has mentioned you. Set up certain phrases within your post, which you know are unique, to see when someone has copied your work verbatim.
Virtual assistant. Here is the most expensive option, but also the most useful. As you know by now, you can outsource administrative tasks to a virtual assistant. It will cost you a fraction of what you’d pay a full-time assistant. (And good luck finding a part-time one who can do the job well.) An assistant can do a more thorough job of monitoring stolen content. Unlike Mention and Copyscape, a VA can find images, send out takedown notices, and file the proper DMCA paperwork.
I prefer the virtual assistant path by a mile. I’ve enjoyed working with Worldwide101 virtual assistants, because they do more than admin tasks. Not only will they look for stolen content, but they can take action. After all, what good is knowing that people stole your content if you do nothing about it? A good VA can draft takedown notices, file DMCA paperwork, and handle outreach on your behalf. It might be more costly than Mention or Copyscape, but the investment is worthwhile.
DO NOT Prevent Right Clicks
Before wrapping up, I want to impart one important lesson. Getting your content stolen can be a frustrating experience. No one enjoys it. Sometimes we can overreact and do things we’ll later regret.
Please, for the love of your readers, do not prevent right clicking in general. It’s bad enough if you do it for images. If you prevent right click on your entire website, I’m leaving. Many others are leaving. Not only are we never coming back, but we’re going to a competitor.
Even if you are unique in your industry, I’ll find an alternative. Barring right clicks is downright offensive. You’re saying the only reason to right click is to steal. That’s ridiculous. Maybe I want to open a link in a new tab — so I can stay on your site. Maybe I want to use the many plugins I have with right-click capabilities. Maybe I want to do any of the dozen things you can do with right click that don’t involve copy and paste.
And you know what? Maybe I want to copy/paste a sentence to share. If you prevent me from sharing your content except on your exact terms, then I’m not interested. There are too many sites on the web. I can spend my time in a million different ways. Why would I spend it on your site, if you’re treating me like a criminal the moment I visit?
No matter how much work you put into protecting your work, people and computers will steal it. The internet is a copy machine. That’s the nature of the beast. You can only accept it, and then take measures to make it less harmful for your blog and your business.
(Though this should tell you a lot about the nature of business on the internet. If you base your business on things that others can easily copy, you might be in trouble.)
When you’re starting out and small, undertake these tasks yourself. Let people know that your content is not free to take. Use free tools to see who has used your content. Install the necessary plugins.
As you grow, you’ll need more power. Sign up for alert services. Or better yet, hire a virtual assistant to take care of that task. You’ll need some help anyway — no one can do it alone.
Your content is your advantage in business. Don’t let others take away your advantage. Stay on top of content theft.