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Is Someone Stealing Your Content? The DMCA Is Your Friend

Everyone loves full text RSS feeds; they make reading blogs so much more convenient. The downside for the creator of the feed is that RSS makes it incredibly easy for anyone to pull content from a feed and publish it on a website, without the explicit permission of the content creator. If you publish a full feed, all of your content can be put on someone else's site. There are now automated programs that search the web for feeds, aggregate them based on subject matter, and publish them onto websites with the sole purpose of earning a few Adsense bucks from those who find the site through search engine results.

Many bloggers won't care. But if you make any Adsense revenue yourself from the content on your site, or you enjoy high Google page rank for your pages, it might bother you to find the content that you spent hours creating appearing on these essentially scam sites.

Do you know that your work is protected by copyright law, even if you don't put a copyright notice on your site? It is, unless you have released your content under a Creative Commons license, and then it is subject to the terms of that license. Photography, original literary works (like the words on this entry), original graphics, are all protected. Methods, recipes, basic 1-2-3 instructions aren't. (They are protected under Patent law, if you choose to file for a patent.)

So, what to do.

Fortunately, Google makes it easy to fight these folks. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects the copyrights of your digital assets, e.g. your blog content. If you find someone copying your content on their website, without your permission, you can make a complaint to Google. If the offending website makes use of Google Adsense, you can file a DMCA complaint through the Adsense team. If the site doesn't use Adsense, but the offending page shows up in a Google search result, you can file a general DMCA complaint. Note that the complaint must be valid; the content in question must not be considered "fair use" of copyright material. So only pursue this if the offense is particularly egregious.

To file a complaint, you will need to write Google an actual letter and send it through snail mail or by fax (not email). You will need to swear that you are the copyright owner of the content in question. It may take Google several weeks to get to your complaint (they have lots of them to deal with). After Google notifies the offending website, the website has 20 days in which to comply. If the website does not comply Google either cancels the site's Adsense account or removes the page from the Google index, depending on the type of complaint you filed.

Given that many bloggers, and even many people who are experimenting with RSS and the aggregation of content, have no idea about copyright law, sometimes the more neighborly thing to do is to contact the website owner first, and request that the content be removed. After having gone through this several times, I can tell you that a polite request is way more effective than a blunt or nasty one. If you can't find an email address on the site in question, you may be able to find one at the Whois Directory.

If you have other suggestions on how to fight blog content theft, please let us know in the comments.

U.S. Copyright Office
An article on DMCA from Plagiarism Today - recommends contacting the web host of the offending site if the issue is not resolved in private first.
What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content from Lorelle on WordPress.

Comments (1)

The information provided is extremely useful and well written. As a professional photographer, protecting the image I intend to post on my website's gallery page is a necessity.

Do you know about any plug-ins that will place the word "sample" across an image to prevent anyone from lifting a clean image of my site?

Thanks again for such an informative website.

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