When you publish your own content on your website, it’s automatically protected by copyright law. This means it’s never okay to use images or text from other websites without written permission, even if it’s been published on social media or displays in Google Images. You may embed content where the creator has allowed it, for example embedding someone else’s YouTube video or Instagram image on your website using the embed code provided by the social network (which includes credit and links).
Unfortunately, there are always people out there who will take advantage of your words, images, and other content to use on their own website or to drive traffic to it. In this post, we look at some ways you can make it harder for thieves to steal your content, and what you can do about it if it does happen.
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Note: If you’re a Lyrical Host customer, instead of reading this post, check out the extended version of this in the Resource Library. It contains five extra ideas for protecting your content, plus a bunch of tips and tools for checking if your content has been stolen!
This blog post comprises the following sections:
- Why people steal content (and the most likely impact on your search engine rankings)
- How to stop content theft
- How to check if your content has been stolen
- What to do if your content is stolen
- How to report a website for stealing content
- How to report Pinterest copyright infringement
- Other social platforms
Why people steal content (and the most likely impact on your search engine rankings)
Fundamentally, it’s exactly what you’d expect – laziness/jealousy, or, in rarer cases, that people simply don’t realise they shouldn’t do it.
As annoying as it is to find that someone’s stolen your content, it’s also a compliment. All content stealing is inherently lazily, but more often than not it’s targeted and content is chosen because it ranks well for a specific search term or drives a lot of traffic.
There are two main types of theft: automated by bots, and manual by people.
Bots are used to scrape (copy) content from people’s websites and automatically add it to new pages on the thief’s website. This is largely done at scale, often to flood the web with thousands of junk websites that are used for all kinds of things, from poor quality second tier link building to scams and analytics referral spam.
People tend to be much more selective about what they choose to steal, and tend to operate on a much smaller scale. This can make it harder to detect, especially if they’re carefully reading through or removing links from what they’ve stolen.
Is embedding content stealing?
Embedding can be a bit of a grey area. As websites such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram provide the means to embed full posts, with a link to the creator’s account, many people see it as okay. Others state that asking permission is always best (and has the added advantage of helping you create new connections and relationships). Some creators may say in their profiles whether they allow embedding or not, or explain how to get in touch to discuss usage rights. Some platforms also provide the ability to turn embedding off.
If you’re not sure, or you don’t hear back from someone, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not embed the content.
Is there any reason I shouldn’t report stolen content?
Some people never get their content stolen, but sadly some people get it repeatedly stolen. This can depend on things like your niche, your search rankings, and how known you are.
If you repeatedly have content stolen, other than trying some of the suggestions in this article, it may not be worth it to you to work on or chase content theft. This is because it can suck your time, energy, and maybe even money. If you have content stolen hundreds of times, or if it’s only something really minor, you may want to adopt an approach of letting it go. It’s completely up to you.
For Pinterest pins, you have to be careful how you report them to avoid getting your own pins removed along with the infringing one. We explain how to report Pinterest pins towards the end.
The impact of stolen content on your search rankings
Many people believe that stolen content will cause their search engine rankings to drop or Google will give them a penalty because they hate duplicate content. This isn’t actually the case – Google will typically drop the page that it sees as less authoritative from its rankings, it won’t give your whole website a penalty. This means that if it’s an automated spammy site that’s stolen your content, the likely outcome is that Google will drop their page and keep yours.
However, if it’s a website with more authority than yours, their page may outrank yours, and you may drop down the listings or see the page completely removed from Google’s search results.
Some websites will grab the first few lines of your post (rather than the whole thing) and link back to your website. It’s up to you whether you want to chase these down or not. They are typically low quality links.
It’s your call; as a rule of thumb, if you don’t like it, act on it. But don’t let it take over your life or waste your time!
How to stop content theft
Sadly there’s no foolproof way to stop content theft, but there are lots of things you can do to make it harder and more inconvenient for people and bots to take your content.
01. Set your summary to snippet rather than full text.
In WordPress, you can set your RSS feed to just display a few sentences of each of your blog posts rather than the whole thing. This makes it harder for bots to automatically scrape and steal whole posts from your website.
Simply go to Settings > Reading, and choose the ‘Summary’ option, then hit the ‘Save Changes’ button.
(For more settings to check/change, see: 13 Things To Do After Installing WordPress).
Pros: This also stops sites like BlogLovin’ republishing your blog posts in full. And if you notify readers of new posts via email, they’ll need to click through to your site to read your post rather than getting the whole thing via email. Both of these things can help you drive more traffic to your site.
Cons: No real downsides. Some people may prefer consuming your content in emails/feed readers. But, it doesn’t help you unless they’re clicking links.
02. Use the ‘More’ tag/use an excerpt
In WordPress, the
<--more--> tag shortens your blog post preview so that when it appears on your homepage or category pages, people only see an opening snippet instead of the whole thing. The reader then clicks through to read the whole post.
Alternatively, some themes let you set an excerpt, so you can display your chosen text to introduce the post. To add an excerpt, head to the post in your WordPress Dashboard and scroll down to the “Excerpt” box underneath the post editor.
Pros: Improves your page speed and bounce rate as well as making it a bit harder to steal your blog posts
Cons: Visitors need to click more, but as truncated posts are a very standard feature on blogs, people tend to understand it easily enough.
03. Watermark your images (and videos)
Have different color watermarks (suitable for both light and dark backgrounds), and consider outlining them so they stand out. You’ll also want to have them in good places on your images; anything with a solid color behind it is easier to block out, as is a watermark located close to the edge of your image that can be easily cropped out. The best place to position your watermark is on a key, detailed bit of your image, nearer to the center.
For watermarks, a very simple logo or plain text works best – you want it to be legible and easy to read even at very small sizes.
If you’re not sure how to add watermarks to your images, you can find some tutorials towards the bottom of this blog post on watermarks.
Pros: People have to work harder to remove watermarks from your images, and are less likely to steal a large number of your images.
Cons: Can detract from the image itself, and not foolproof – even really good watermarks can be edited out by pros.
04. Use disclaimers
In addition to having this information on your own website, it’s worth adding on websites where your content may be displayed to other users, e.g. copyright info/usage information in photo descriptions on Flickr, or video descriptions on YouTube. This is worth reiterating even if you’ve chosen a particular licensing policy in your account (which is also a great move!)
Pros: Helps to dissuade some people, can be used as evidence for people saying they “didn’t realize” they weren’t allowed to do it, provides stronger ownership/usage proof for hosts you contact to remove stolen content.
Cons: Many people are blinkered to them and ignore them, and bots don’t care about them.
05. Have pingbacks and trackbacks turned on
Pingbacks and trackbacks are an easy way to be notified if your blog post is stolen and the thief hasn’t edited your links out. This is because pingbacks and trackbacks notify you when another website links to yours, and publishing your blog post without editing it (as many bots and lazy content thieves do) means that any internal links you put in your original post will be seen as external links from the thief’s site to yours.
For this reason, as well as for search engine optimization and user experience, it’s a great idea to link to at least one other related blog post of your own in your blog posts.
Remember to include the full URL in your link if you do your own HTML. You want an absolute link that includes your domain name, such as https://www.lyricalhost.com/blog/how-to-stop-content-theft-what-to-do-if-it-happens, rather than a relative link such as /blog/how-to-stop-content-theft-what-to-do-if-it-happens.
If you’re a WordPress user, you can check that pingbacks and trackbacks are turned on by going to your Settings page from your Dashboard.
Pingbacks and trackback notifications will be shown in your Dashboard under “Comments.” You can identify them because they include square brackets and ellipsis:
Pros: An easy way to automatically be notified if someone steals your content.
Cons: Many thieves will remove all your links, so getting a notification isn’t guaranteed.
06. Utilize more design features/functionality
Where it makes sense for your website and audience, utilize more content features/functionality. For example, accordion text that requires expanding is more of a pain to manually copy.
Pros: Stops people simply highlighting your page and copy/pasting.
Cons: Excessive use can frustrate visitors and/or slow your page down. It may also not be appropriate for blog posts or the type of content you create, and will take you more time to put together.
07. Use an image protection platform
A service such as Pixsy (pixsy.com) uses AI to find where your images are being used on the web, and notifies you so you can see whether the use is legitimate or not. If it’s not, you can ask their legal experts to recover fees and damages.
Pros: Saves you doing the work yourself.
Cons: Could be overkill for your needs, and only works after your image has been stolen.
08. Set EXIF data in your images
When you take a photo or create an image, it automatically contains text-based information within it, for example the size of the image, how many colors it contains and so on. You can also add copyright info to this information, either by using software such as Photoshop or Lightroom, or an online tool.
EXIF data, which isn’t visible to anyone viewing the image, can be read in a graphics program or by using an online tool such as exifdata.com.
Pros: Thieves may not think to look for it/be bothered to remove it, which makes proving ownership easier.
Cons: Adds extra time and tasks to your image workflow.
09. Use compressed web-quality, small-size images where possible
Compressed, resized images are often less attractive to thieves. This is because large, high quality images can be used for a wide range of different things, including print and marketing campaigns, whereas small images resized up will just look pixellated.
Pros: This will also help your page speed and ensure less web space and bandwidth use!
Cons: May not be suitable for all websites and image uses, for example photography portfolios.
Things we don’t recommend
There’s a fine balance between stopping/reducing content theft and inconveniencing your readers. It’s not the end of the world if you do these things, but you may want to consider alternatives instead.
Disabling right click
Additionally, there are many legitimate reasons why someone may want to right-click on your page; for example, to reload an image that didn’t load correctly, to copy/paste your social media handle or email address, or to copy their comment before submitting in case it doesn’t send successfully. The end result is that you’re far more likely to inconvenience real visitors than deter thieves.
If you’re relying on pingbacks/trackbacks or Google Alerts to notify you of stolen content, you can make your links harder to spot by reducing the contrast (e.g. styling a link to be white on a white background) or linking a full stop/period in the middle of your post. However, we strongly advise against doing this, as Google hates it and will give you a penalty.
What to do if your content is stolen
If it’s on someone else’s website, you have a good chance of getting copyrighted content removed from the internet as web hosts are legally liable for any stolen copyrighted content they are hosting. However, there are specific processes you need to follow to make this happen.
Firstly, you need to identify where the stolen content is being hosted.
Secondly, you need to submit a request to the host to remove the content.
You don’t need to pay to do either of these things. If you tend to get a large amount of content stolen, you may want to outsource the tasks to a paid service or Virtual Assistant, but it’s up to you whether you want to spend money; you don’t have to in order to get your content removed.
For a better case, having more evidence that you are the original owner helps. For example, if someone copies your blog post word for word but you have an earlier date on it than they do, or yours ranks in Google and theirs doesn’t appear, or it’s very obvious they’ve cropped or covered a watermark in your image, or you know/are the person in the image.
How to report a website for stealing content
1. Find out who the web host is. You can do this by doing a WHOIS lookup; simply enter the domain name and look at the name servers.
The name servers will usually tell you where the website is hosted.
Some websites are behind a CDN, for example their name servers say “cloudflare.com” instead of their actual host. Cloudflare has an abuse form you can fill out if this is the case, and they’ll help you handle the complaint. From the dropdown menu, choose “Copyright infringement and & DMCA violations” and complete the form.
If the nameservers show a generic name like “domaincontrol,” you may need to do some Google searching to find out who the original host is. If you’re a Lyrical Host customer and you need help with this, please raise a ticket!
2. If their host isn’t Cloudflare, you can contact the host’s abuse team via email. This is often abuse@ their domain name, or they may have a report link on their site or in their terms. If you can’t find it, tweet or Facebook message the company and ask.
You’ll want to follow a specific takedown template and replace with your own details. This article has a good one.
Bonus points: Have a search of some of the other content on the site to see if it’s been stolen too. If it has, let the original owner/s know so they can also file a request! It helps them out and adds weight to your own complaint.
Note: You’ll likely need to follow up with the abuse team or the host to get a response as few get around to replying first time. Don’t give up!
3. If the host is Blogger, or you can’t find out who the host is, or you don’t get anywhere with the host, you can file a DMCA takedown request through Google. This will help get the content removed from Google Search, Blogger, and/or the applicable Google services, but not necessarily the original host. If the creator doesn’t care that page isn’t listed in Google, then they won’t be very bothered by it.
How to report Pinterest copyright infringement
Over on Pinterest, a common practice is someone saving your pin image and linking it to their website instead of yours. This is especially common for high traffic posts or well-known websites, and in many cases people may re-pin it without realizing it’s not going to the right page. (Try to check pins before you re-pin them as otherwise you could have pins deleted or your account banned).
1. Head to Pinterest’s DMCA form and fill it out. You need to be careful how you do this, as you can inadvertently cause Pinterest to ban your account/remove your real content instead of the perpetrator’s.
2. Under the section with the heading, “Identify the material you want removed,” choose “Strike.” You definitely don’t want to choose “Remove All” as this usually removes your own pins as well and counts.
If you’re reporting a fake re-pin (e.g. someone has re-pinned the stolen pin without realizing it’s not genuine), leave both boxes unchecked.
Reporting pins in bulk
2. Choose the bottom option, “Report policy violation.” Then “Report spam” > “Report a spammy Pinterest account” and complete the form.
Other social platforms
Platforms such as YouTube and Facebook usually have a link near the post where you can report an issue. It may take some time for them to get to it, and it may not always be the outcome you want, but it’s there!
Unfortunately, content theft is pretty common, but the good news is that there are are lots of people and companies out there who can help you for free. If you’re a Lyrical Host customer and need any help, please raise a support ticket and we’ll do what we can to help and advise for your specific situation. We aren’t lawyers, but we’ve had a lot of success helping customers get stolen content removed from other websites.
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