When to React and When to Ignore Content Theft

Content theft and other copyright violations run rampant on the the internet. It can range from minor offenses such as quotes without attribution, to full republishing of content but with a link back, to full scraping of content with all links and attribution removed. If your content has been stolen, first ask yourself if you want to do anything at all, since pursuing the matter can become time consuming. Then, if you do wish to pursue it, identify the perpetrator, contact them,  and begin the necessary actions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) as needed. I’ll be covering how to do those things over the next few Mondays.

Should You React At All To Content Theft?

Deciding whether and how to react to content theft is a rather individualized decision. In some cases, ignoring the theft can be beneficial. For example, if a site has fully republished content, but included attribution, that material might not ever rank higher than your own site in the search engines, while the link back may have value for your own search engine optimization (SEO). Want to help assure that there will be a link back? Read my suggestions for that here: How to Get Link Backs. On the other hand, if material ends up on sites of a questionable nature, it may hurt your personal brand or, if trademark terms are being copied, action may be necessary to protect your own monetary and legal interests.  You may also simply be like myself and abhor plagiarism to the extent that you pursue most of the more serious violations as time will allow.

The following are suggested considerations for when to ignore a copyright violation and when to take action to protect your interests.

Copyright Violations That Particularly Deserve Action

  • If the offending site is also republishing trademarks, you must take action to protect your mark. For example republication of your logo or trademarked name in a manner that could cause confusion should be addressed. Otherwise, you risk dilution of your mark, which can have legal consequences in terms of future enforcement.
  • The site taking  your material is of a questionable nature so that any confusion caused by the copy of your material would harm your personal brand. For example, you may not want a link back to your site from an adult site or a site making questionable health claims.
  • The material taken is or will be the subject of paid content. If your premium material , such as an ebook, is taken, following up on the violation is in your best interest in order to protect your monetization of that product. The same might be applied to things such as free white papers used to encourage mailing list subscriptions.
  • The offending site provides no attribution. Content theft with attribution can sometimes benefit your site because of the value of the link back or traffic that it might send. But content theft without attribution has no value to you and you may wish to either ask for attribution or demand that the material be removed.

Copyright Violations That May be Worth Ignoring or Treating Gently

  • The site is a spam blog (splog) or aggregator that is mass scraping multiple sites either in part  or in full with a link back.  In most cases, content scrapers will never rank higher in the search engines for your content, and harm to your site from their activity is unlikely. In these cases, the time used to pursue the matter may be better used on other activities and, provided that they link back to your site, letting them scrape can provide you with links back that may help your own SEO.
  • The site has provided attribution and is sending you quality traffic. This normally occurs when a blogger with a following copies content. In such cases, either allowing the use or gently asking that the person paraphrase or use quotes with attribution may be preferable.
  • Copies of material to internet forums. Often material that is copied in full to  a forum will include a link back and will send traffic. Further, it rarely dilutes your own rank or puts your site in a bad light.

A Final Note About Duplicate Content

A commonly expressed concern about content theft is that the duplicate content will harm your Google rank for the same material. First, there is no known “penalty” from Google for duplicate content. It is instead an issue of where Google will show the material in the search results. Normally, the first place to publish it and/or the site getting linked back to for it is recognized as the authority and gets shown first, with splogs and such often hidden behind a link that can be clicked to see the duplicates. Unless the site taking the content is very highly ranked and publishes it very quickly after you do, or is highly ranked and gets many further copies of the content taken that link back to it instead of to your site, the odds of the material appearing ahead of your own content in Google or other search engines is pretty slim.


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