Stolen Blog Content? How to Deal with Plagiarizers

August 6, 2020

You know that saying “If you have haters, you’re doing something right”? The idea is that successful people, or people with a larger audience, will always have critics. Replace “haters” with “plagiarizers.” If your blog content is being copied (bad news), the good news is that your posts are being seen (and hopefully appreciated).

They also say the “imitation is the best form of flattery,” but getting your work stolen is far from flattering. It’s downright frustrating. Sure, maybe it means someone really liked your post that they wanted to take it for themselves. But a creating post often involves ample time, energy, and personal experience. Plagiarism isn’t something to be taken lightly.

One of my posts was plagiarized a couple months ago, and I was livid. Luckily, I was able to get the stolen content removed in a couple weeks. In this post, I’ll be sharing my experience, and going over the steps you should take if your blog posts have been copied.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, but I did my best to research the relevant laws and their implications. Just take the legal stuff with a grain of salt 🙂 The goal of this post is not to discuss legalities anyways, but to outline how to respond to stolen blog content.

Is Blog Content Protected Under Copyright?

If your content is hosted in the U.S., it’s automatically protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You don’t need to register your site or content, or pay for a trademark. Material hosted outside the US is subject to its country’s copyright laws, and isn’t protected under DMCA. That being said, hosting providers and Google often will respond to DMCA takedown notices, even if the copyrighted content isn’t from the US. Anecdotally, other (non-US) website owners in my blogging Facebook groups have successfully used DMCA takedown notices.

There are some cases, however, where your copyrighted blog content can be used freely. This is known as Fair Use. Situations that fall under Fair Use include reviews, commentary, news, and education. There are some guidelines you have to follow for Fair Use to apply though:

  • You must credit the copyright holder.
  • The majority of the content must be your own original work.
  • You can’t profit off of the copyrighted work.

This means that you can’t copy an entire blog post and publish it on your site without permission, even if you credit the original author. You could, however, cite a line or two (and give credit/backlinks) in a larger post that’s otherwise your original content.

DMCA notice in Google search results
Here’s an example of DMCA in action in Google search results.

Should You Contact The Plagiarizer?

If your blog post has been copied, and you believe that it’s not Fair Use, you might be wondering whether you should first try to contact the plagiarizer before filing a DMCA takedown.

Before you even escalate the situation, take a deep breath, and figure out whether this situation is even worth dealing with in the first place. The sad truth is that blog post plagiarism happens all the time, especially to larger blogs. In some cases, it’s not even worth your time and energy to get the stolen post removed.

Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Is the copied post ranking higher than yours?
  • Is it on a spammy site that probably doesn’t get traffic, or a site with decent authority?
  • How valuable is the stolen content? Is it earning you affiliate income? Does the stolen post have affiliate links?

If the plagiarized content is not ranking and not getting much traffic, then you might just ignore it. It’s probably not hurting you much anyways. While Google doesn’t like duplicate content, it often recognizes the original publisher as the legitimate one.

On the flip side, if the stolen post is getting traffic, ranking, or making money, a DMCA takedown could be worth pursuing. I generally don’t think it’s worth it to contact a person who’s okay with stealing content, so I personally would go straight to a formal takedown notice.

There is one situation where you might want to reach out to the site owner first though. If it doesn’t seem like the content copier had malicious intentions (they credited you and linked to your blog), it may have just been a case of ignorance. If they tried to pass the content off as their own, then they definitely knew what they were doing. And they don’t seem like a reasonable person, to say the least.

How to Get Stolen Blog Content Taken Down

So, you don’t think your copied post is Fair Use, and you already tried reaching out to the plagiarizer (or didn’t think it was worth trying). This is where you’ll want to take formal action.

1. File a Google takedown

If the offending post is ranking on Google, the first thing to do is to file a Google takedown. While it doesn’t get rid of the post, it does remove it from search results. At least you’ll be cutting off a main source of traffic for the plagiarizer, and making it absolutely clear to Google that your content was the original version.

When I filed a Google takedown, it took a couple weeks for the plagiarized article to be removed. I didn’t get any notification—it just disappeared from results one day, and there was a copyright notice at the bottom of the results page.

Google abuse form

2. File a DMCA takedown

The next thing to do is to file your DMCA takedown. To do this, you’ll need to find the plagiarizer’s website host and file a complaint with them. If they’re using Cloudflare, you can use Cloudflare’s abuse form.

You’ll need to list the links of the original content and the infringing content. You’ll also be asked to describe your original work and why there is a copyright infringement.

Keep in mind that this is an official legal form. You need to attest under perjury that the copied content is not authorized and that you are the copyright owner (or authorized to act on their behalf). Don’t go submitting takedowns unless you can attest to these things.

Also note that it is totally free to file a DMCA takedown. You might notice the DMCA website, which requires a fee, but that’s only if you want to use their services.

3. File a complaint with the offending site’s ad or affiliate provider (if applicable)

If the copied content is on a blog with ads or affiliate links, you can also try contacting those providers. They can’t remove the stolen post, but they can pull their ads/links so the plagiarizer isn’t making money, or they may remove that person from their program entirely.

If you’re not sure what ad or affiliate provider the site uses, it should be listed in the site’s privacy policy. Some ads will also list the provider underneath, or there will be a disclosure in the site footer.

Google Adsense has an abuse report, and Amazon Associates has general support form. I couldn’t find one for Mediavine or Ezoic, but you can always try their general contact info.

Storytime: Someone Plagiarized My Blog Post

I promised I’d share my experience with blog post plagiarism, so here’s a little storytime.

How I Discovered My Stolen Content

As I was checking out search results for one of my higher-traffic keywords (a GPS watch comparison), I noticed a new post ranking just beneath mine. Curious, I clicked on it (but I made sure to copy the link and open it in a new tab, as I’m petty and don’t want to “help” my competitors with their rankings, even marginally LOL).

While reading the post, the content felt eerily familiar. I compared it with mine and realized that this new post had basically taken my review and reworded everything just slightly.

Here are a few examples, slightly redacted for identifying info:

Original: This watch feels more “modern,” probably due to the touchscreen and sleeker design.
Copy: [Watch A] feels more modern than [Watch B], mainly because of the touchscreen features and sleeker design.

Original: [Watch B] sensor doesn’t protrude, so it’s much easier to wear.
Copy: The heart rate monitor for this watch is also easier to wear as it doesn’t protrude like that of [Watch B].

Original: [Watch B] latches onto GPS signal immediately, while I’ve had to wait several minutes with [Watch A].
Copy: [Watch B] latches immediately to GPS signal unlike [Watch A].

There were more instances of this, where my words had been altered slightly, but still incorporated key vocab.

How I Knew it Was a Copyright Violation and Not Fair Use

While people can definitely have similar experiences and reviews, I knew this was plagiarism because:

  • So much of my vocab was present in this copied post (“protrudes,” “latches,” “sleeker design,” “modern,” and many others).
  • The actual review/comparison only listed the same features I had mentioned. There was no original content or analysis.

It’s impossible for a totally different person to have the same exact experience and write about it in such a similar way.

While reviews can be Fair Use, this new post was largely my copied content (they also had some tables, but those also aren’t original and can be easily taken from product spec charts). They also were profiting off of my review with their own affiliate links. It also just felt like a plain slimy thing to do, because I had garnered all that info from my personal experience testing the watches, which took time and effort.

For these reasons, I felt that this was definitely not a case of Fair Use. I didn’t bother reaching out to the site owner, as it was pretty clear they knew copying was wrong, yet they still plagiarized my content (why else would you go to the trouble of modifying everything, line-by-line).

How I Got the Stolen Content Removed

Since the post was ranking just below mine, I filed a DMCA takedown through Cloudfare and Google takedown. The DMCA takedown never went through, and I’m not sure why—unfortunately, the stolen content is still available.

The Google takedown did go through in a couple weeks though. I thought it was a fine enough solution, as the post can’t really get traffic without Google.

How to Protect Your Blog from Plagiarism

You might be wondering whether there are ways to prevent plagiarism in the first place, as dealing with it is a headache, and time you could’ve spent elsewhere.

There’s no perfect solution, but here are a few options:

1. Customize your RSS Feed Footer

Most blog posts that are outright copied are stolen through your RSS feed. If you’re getting tons of posts stolen, you could disable your RSS feed through a plugin, or do it manually with code. Unfortunately, this will also interfere with any RSS feed subscription tools, like Bloglovin’, or automatic email updates with your new posts.

If you don’t want to totally disable your RSS feed, you can customize the RSS feed footer to include a link back to your original post. That way, if someone publishes the link, you’ll be notified through Pingbacks. It will also allow you to rank higher than the copied content. WPBeginner has a tutorial on how to control your RSS feed footer if you want more info. It’s relatively simple to do through a plugin.

2. Use a plugin that disables copy & paste

You could also disable copy & paste with a plugin, as that will prevent manual copying. Unfortunately, this also often disables right click, which allows readers to choose whether they want to open a link in a new tab. You’d have to manually force all links to open in a new tab through HTML, if you wanted that to happen. It’s another tradeoff to weigh. Some say that this option isn’t worth it, as most posts are copied through RSS feed scrapers, and not manually.

3. Look at competitors for your high-traffic keywords every now and then

This final option doesn’t bite plagiarism at the source, but I think it’s probably the most valuable way to detect stolen content. You could monitor your content with a plagiarism checker, but these tend to only detect carbon copies, and not slightly-modified posts. Beyond that, it could find plagiarism on spammy sites, which aren’t worth worrying about, in my opinion.

If you occasionally monitor competitors for your high-traffic keywords, you’ll be able to notice any plagiarism that’s actually worth dealing with (as they’re ranking on Google). This is also not a perfect solution, especially for huge blogs with tons of keywords, but it’s not a bad strategy for growing blogs.

4. For photos, monitor copyright abuse via Pixsy

If your blog is pretty visual, another concern is your photos being stolen. Luckily, there’s a site called Pixsy (referral link) that will find copies of your images for you. The free plan offers up to 500 images monitored. If there’s a match, you can pursue legal action through the site for free—they’ll only take a cut if the case is successful.


 

I hope this post can help you get your stolen content removed—please let me know how your story pans out! And if your content hasn’t been stolen, I hope you now know what to do if it ever is.

Unfortunately, plagiarism is a common growing pain for many blogs. It’s incredibly upsetting when your work is stolen, but there are luckily processes to get that copied content taken down. In some cases, it may not even be worth your time, as the stolen content might not be hurting you much. Some bloggers don’t even worry about plagiarism at all, and don’t monitor for it.

Also, keep in mind that content thieves can “fake it until they make it,” but faking it only gets you so far. In the end, I like to believe that the honest bloggers with original content will ultimately be more successful than those who steal.

Other posts you may like:

10 Things I Love and Hate About Blogging
Beginner’s Guide to Blogging (to Make Money, or Just for Fun)
10 Common Blogging Mistakes to Avoid

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8 Comments

  • Nina | Lemons and Luggage August 7, 2020 at 4:55 am

    So glad it worked out at least partially for you in the end. Without any traffic from Google, I hope the person will learn their lesson. I suppose they also got notified of what happened? But maybe they don’t care.

    I love that you copied and pasted the link btw instead of directly clicking on it from the SERP. I never thought about that, but it makes so much sense!

    • Lily August 7, 2020 at 1:24 pm

      Thanks Nina! I’m sure they were notified, and it was funny because I visited their site later on and saw they installed a DMCA protected badge (so they must’ve paid for DMCA services or something). I thought it was ironic since they were the ones who’d plagiarized, and not the ones who’d had their work stolen.

      And hahaha, yes, the copying and pasting of competitor links. My marketing manager at my day job does this, so I picked it up from her!

  • diane August 7, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    Ugh, Lily, I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I hate when people are lazy and just steal content. I’ve luckily never had a blog post plagiarized, that I know of at least (except one post that lifted a lot of my verbiage but was a sub-par final post so I let it go) but I have had some photos stolen. There’s a site called Pixsy that will monitor up to a certain # of photos for free and I find them to be soooo helpful.

    Great info you’ve shared here!

    • Lily August 8, 2020 at 10:10 pm

      Oh, that sounds like a great resource! I’ll have to check Pixsy out, thanks for sharing Diane 🙂

  • Michelle / michalogy August 8, 2020 at 5:34 am

    Wow that’s such a sucky experience, I’m sorry you had to deal with all that. Thanks for outlining your steps, I’ll be sure to keep this post in mind if I’m ever in this situation (hopefully not!!).

    • Lily August 8, 2020 at 10:11 pm

      Thanks for reading, Michelle! I hope you won’t ever have to deal with this either!

  • Guillemette alias Mademoiselle Guiga August 30, 2020 at 10:56 am

    Hi Lily,
    Thank you for sharing this unfortunate experience and especially how to deal with it!
    I have heard of another Plagiarism checker: https://www.copyscape.com/
    You can use the URL instead of copying the text itself. It can be useful, just in case!

    • Lily August 31, 2020 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for reading and sharing that resource, Guillemette!

    Leave a Reply to Michelle / michalogy Cancel Reply

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    About Me

    I'm Lily, and I run races and go places (& blog about it). I also try to advocate for the planet & its people.
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