a peek inside the fishbowl

05 Aug, 2011

When someone steals your words

Posted by andrea tomkins in: The business of blogging

So. Yesterday was a rather interesting. My mother-in-law took the girls to see the Lion King at the NAC, which was later described to me as “amazing” and “spectacular” and apparently “there are no words to describe how awesome it was.” Me, I was looking forward to an afternoon of actually catching up. This was not to be.

Mark emailed me. Subject line: Is this stolen content yours?

Cue sinking heart.

I don’t want to link the offending website here because I don’t want to give it more traffic. I will say this, it wasn’t a fellow blogger. Thank goodness for that. It would be even more depressing if it was. The copycat was a content scraper site, a website builds itself upon content that’s hoisted from other websites in order to gain keyword traffic, search engine ranking, and generate revenue.

This person had taken an entire post (this one) and plunked it into their website, word for word. It was hurtful on many levels. This person stole my time, my words, my work. This is how I support myself and my family. I labour over this stuff and pour my heart into the things I tap out here. When someone takes that, it’s as if they take a little bit of who I am.

I searched the offending website for contact info, but there was none. Gah. What now? Well, thank goodness for Twitter. Twitter friends – far and wide – helped me figure it out how to locate the offending party. People did a DNS (Domain Name Service) lookup to find the IP number first. This is a number is assigned to networked computers. That IP address was plunked into a WhoIs service (like ARIN – the American Registry for Internet Numbers) in order to determine the name of the website’s host.

Once I had THAT information I was able to contact the web host and let them know that a website they are hosting was breaking the law.

Here’s something I didn’t know, there’s a special way to phrase that email. As the content creator you need to hit several points in your communication for legal purposes. Here is a very helpful template that was sent to me by Kev (on Twitter here). (Thanks Kev!)

Lessons learned:

  1. 1) Anyone who is concerned about protecting their content (and their name, their brand etc.!) should google themselves every once in awhile. Better yet, set up a Google search alert. If you’re a blogger, website publisher or small business, set one up for your URL, another for your name, and another for your business name. That way if someone mentions any of those things in a post you will be notified. The offending website in my case used the title of my blog in the title of the blog post. I think Google would have picked this up and let me know a little sooner.
  2. 2) Content creators have rights.

I was going to go into more detail, there is a fabulous post about copyright over here that covers everything I want to say and more. It’s a fantastic post and goes into a lot of detail about how to protect your work and what to do if you ever find yourself in the same boat.

The good news is that I looked at that copycat site today and saw that the stolen content had been removed. The bad news is that this experience was a giant waste of time. But at least I know what to do if it ever happens again. And hopefully now you do too. :)

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8 Responses to "When someone steals your words"

1 | kev

August 5th, 2011 at 10:02 am

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Two thoughts: When you learn something and can share that experience, it’s never a waste of time. Any task that involves computers/networks always takes four times as long as you think it will.

:)

Glad there was a happy ending, and that we all agree a paper and pen is where it’s at.

2 | Tudor

August 5th, 2011 at 11:55 am

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This happens to me quite frequently. So often, in fact, that I recently wrote a post about “The importance of self-googling” largely inspired by a complete, word-for-word (including byline) story which I had written being posted on a site I’d never heard of. You can read my post here if you’re interested – http://twowriterstalking.ca/the-importance-of-self-googling.

The good news is most of these sites seem to be quite quick to remove lifted material. I think they really don’t want the hassle of fighting about it. And unfortunately they’ll probably just go steal someone else’s stuff to fill the gap…

3 | Lorelle

August 5th, 2011 at 12:50 pm

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Honestly, it isn’t a waste of time. Think of it as a chance to educate. You’ve now taught your readers, the ones who come here to learn from you and share your time, and you’ve possibly taught the copyright violator a thing or two since action was taken. That’s really rare.

Copyright infringement and plagiarism is a fact of Internet life. China educators and publishers did a check a few years ago and found 31-almost 50% of their submitted papers were plagiarism, and now they are cracking down on the habit and changing their education system, hopefully, to discourage such actions. Maybe that will filter to the rest of their society, encouraging free thinking and courage with original thought, though I doubt I will see it in my lifetime. It’s a start.

So think of the world as your China. By teaching a few that plagiarism is wrong and uncool, you might be spreading the idea that original creative thinking is the only way we will improve the world.

Thank you for being one of my heroines for helping to spread the word.

4 | Lorrie Douthwright

August 5th, 2011 at 6:43 pm

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I really don’t get upset about much. This…would have me pi**ed!

Good for you, handling it like a grownup!

5 | Nadine

August 5th, 2011 at 7:53 pm

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That someone would stoop so low as to copy a part or parts of someone’s blog is downright low-class but somehow in this high tech world , I am not at all surprised…it also means that chances are, you were probably not the only one he did that to.
In any case at least you did learn (although the hard way) to better protect yourself in the future and it also means that the world can never rid itself of imposters and moral-less individuals! As long as you were able to “zap” that one out for a while …

6 | Sasha

August 5th, 2011 at 8:22 pm

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That site was really bizarre. I’m curious as to which post they lifted (haven’t followed your link yet). Glad to hear they took it down.

7 | Lorelle

August 7th, 2011 at 5:57 pm

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I’d just like to add this to address those commenting. Copyright infringement through direct copying or auto-copying tools (called scrapers), is common and not low-class or anything else that denotes someone actually cared when they copied your content. Some scraper sites grab THOUSANDS of sites at a time. They don’t take this personally, nor should you.

The key is to stop it when you find it and educate others to stop the random isolated copyright infringements by people who are just clueless.

When confronted with copyright infringement, please don’t take it seriously. Take legal and appropriate action, which includes not publicizing the site or person.

I’m thrilled that you all are learning from this unfortunate incident. Help spread the word that plagiarism is unwanted on the web. Thanks.

8 | hcg drops

June 4th, 2016 at 11:08 pm

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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