Today’s guest blogger is John T. Unger of TypepadHacks.org, a great resource for customizing Typepad blogs. John’s post is a great review of what to do about content theft, all the way from thanking them for the links, to reporting them. John also writes about RSS feeds and whether it’s best to use full feeds or partial. I agree with him, I like reading full feeds, what about you?
What To Do When People Steal Your Blog Content
In a recent comment, Sylvia Forester asked
Rather than responding in the comments, it seemed like a good topic for a full blog post. Copyright and IP law are much too large a topic to cover extensively here, but I can provide a few thoughts on where to start.
I haven’t looked at Bitacle previously, but with a quick scan of a couple pages it appears to me that they do include a link back to the original content when they repost material. This may in fact be a benefit to your blog, as people who use Bitacle for search may find you for the first time and become regular readers…
There are a number of sites that I allow to republish content from the TypePad Hacks blog in order to reach a wider audience. They send a fair bit of traffic and I don’t begrudge them a few advertising dollars in exchange. On the other hand, it is possible that your reputation could be harmed by spam blogs harvesting your posts and republishing them on sites that contain offensive or dangerous material.
An important question to ask yourself before taking action is why you object to your content being reused: is it because someone else may be making money from your content or because you don’t want your personal brand to be diluted by appearing in multiple places online? This will help you frame the tone of your response. You should also ask yourself whether your reputation or brand is helped or harmed by broader distribution…
If the republishing site contains proper attribution and/or a link back to your site, they may be doing you more good than harm even if they make a buck or two in the process. Remember, Google makes advertising dollars when they list you in their search engine and you wouldn’t want them to stop listing you!
If you prefer to keep your content exclusive to your own site, here are a few options you can exercise.
Step One: Email the site that is republishing your content and politely
ask them to remove your content from their site. I find that people
respond much better to a request than to a threat, so it is important
to start out with an email, phone call or letter that is respectful but
firm in tone. This is not a step you want to exercise when you are
angry or tired.
As more and more companies and individuals are republishing blog
content from RSS feeds, you might want to keep a copy of a stock email
that you can send out whenever needed. This will save you a fair amount
Once you have taken this step, give them at least a week or two to
comply… In most cases, the response will not be instant. Whoever is
using your content is going to have to take the time to look through
their feeds, archives etc. and even when happy to comply, it probably
won’t be at the top of their priority list. Remember that your blog is
probably one of hundreds or thousands being excerpted or republished.
In your initial contact, you might want to suggest a deadline and
request that they contact you with a followup email when they have
acted upon your request.
Step Two: If the first contact does not get results, send a cease and desist letter
threatening legal action if the recipient continues to ignore your
request. Although such letters are usually draughted by a lawyer, you
can find many examples online that could be tailored to your situation.
In many cases, the letter itself will get results without having to go
to trial, but if it doesn’t you’ll have to decide whether or not a
trial is worth it to you. In most cases, it will be expensive to take
legal action even if you win.
If your content has been formally registered with the US Copyright Office, you will be entitled to sue for legal fees. Even if you have not formally registered copyright, your content is still protected under copyright law.
In fact, you don’t even have to label the work as copyrighted in order
to seek protection. The main benefit of formally registering copyright
is the ability to sue for legal fees, but it is very important
to note that even if you win a judgement against someone, that does not
guarantee that they will actually pay you. You must register your
content three months prior to bringing suit if you wish to sue for
The only exception to automatic protection under copyright law is if you have chosen to license parts of the content through a Creative Commons license, in which case that license will grant specific rights based on your choices.
Step Three: This article on the Learning Moveable Type blog provides a good overview of how to use the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) to protect your content by filing a complaint through Google. You can file a DMCA complaint through the Adsense team if the site uses Adsense, or file a general DMCA complaint if not. You might want to include a reference to filing a DMCA complaint through Google in your cease and desist letter.
Step Four: If all the above fails and you still feel strongly
that heads must roll, you’ll have to actually bring suit against the
offending party in court. At this point, you’ll want to hire a lawyer
to handle the proceedings. Personally, I feel that in most cases an
actual law suit is both overkill and a game of diminishing returns… but
of course, many feel differently.
Step Five: Most sites which republish content draw from RSS
feeds rather than hand-harvesting content from individual posts… The
best way to protect against your content migrating to other sites is to
provide a partial RSS feed or no RSS feed at all. BUT— to my
thinking, this is really cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Sure, it prevents most content theft, but it also limits your
readership and exposure.
There’s been a great deal of debate as to whether to offer full or partial
RSS feeds of sites in order to curtail article harvesting. The basic
gist of the discussion is that full feeds are good for readers but bad
for security, while partial feeds keep content more secure but can be
frustrating for readers. It’s my feeling that blogs should be more
about the reader than the author if they wish to succeed.
Some people like partial feeds because they can scan a lot of
headlines quickly. Myself, I favor full feeds. If everyone was as good
as Brian Clark at writing headlines and starting their post with engaing copy,
I might be more into partial feeds. But in most cases, I prefer to see
the whole post so I can give the author the benefit of the doubt when a
potentially interesting post starts off a bit slow.
When I have to click through to an actual website or blog in my
browser, I get annoyed and eventually stop reading the blog altogether.
The only time I want to click through is to leave a comment, and I
would be way happier if I could comment on a post from within
my RSS reader. The whole point of RSS for me is to be able to collect
the info I want to read in one place and manage it by saving the
articles I found valuable or marking them as something I wish to link
to or comment on, etc. Dropping or limiting the RSS feed makes the
entire experience of a blog less usefull and less welcoming to me.
When you punish your readers in order to discourage content pirates,
you are effectively treating your readers as though they too may be bad
people. Partial feeds discourage your reader from getting your full
message, from linking to your content appropriately and from joining
the discussion in the comments… take a look at this post by Seth Godin
about a site that has made doing business with them almost impossible
based on a few bad experiences they had with former customers.
Update: Within an hour of posting this entry, I
noticed that the "Technorati links" item in my FeedFlare showed a link
back to this post. On clicking it, I found that two sites had
automatically linked to it by importing the RSS feed. Neither
republishes the entire article and both link back to me, so I’m fine
with it (despite the fact that the main motivation of both appears to
be generating advertising revenue without actually publishing any
original content). I also sent this post to three other sites myself
(Performancing, Gather and NowPublic) in the hopes that I might gain a
new reader or two.