Developing Your Content Theft Strategy

Filed as Features on January 21, 2008 2:18 pm

When it comes to content theft, there are three critical areas to work in: Prevention, detection and cessation.

All of the areas are crucial as a content theft strategy without some element of all three is doomed to failure. Without prevention, the problem becomes overwhelming. Without detection, there can be no cessation. Without cessation, there is no protection at all.

Webmasters who are interested in protecting their content need to pause and think about what they can do in all three of these areas. Not only can improving efforts in one area greatly impact the overall level of protection, but forging an interlocking plan of all three elements provides the best security and keeps the inconvenience to a minimum.

In short, your content is protected and you can get back to blogging.

So what should each area include? Let’s take a look at each pillar and analyze exactly what elements make up a solid content theft strategy.

Prevention

Prevention is a misnomer. One can never prevent all content theft from taking place. The Web has bad people and they will do bad things, no amount of prevention can stop them and pushing too hard in this area can greatly hinder your regular readers.

That being said, the best way to deal with content theft is to stop it before it happens. Even if you can’t stop all abuse, you can prevent a good percentage of it and that is content theft you don’t have to deal with the hard way.

To aid with that, consider the following points:

  1. Licensing: The best thing you can do on the prevention end is clearly license your work. If you don’t want to give up any rights, mark your work “All Rights Reserved”. If you’re fine with some copying, consider a Creative Commons License. Though works that don’t carry copyright notices are just as protected as those that do, marking your work prevents confusion and keeps those who are misguided about copyright law from infringing your work on accident.
  2. Scraping Prevention: Plugins such as Antileech can help you stop RSS scraping before it starts by looking at IP addresses and other information about those accessing your feeds. They are far from perfect, but generally considered to be better than nothing.
  3. Watermarking/Resolution Modification: If your primary content includes images, you can watermark your images using an application such as FastStone Image Resizer. You can also be careful to post only low-resolution images to the Web to avoid them being available for print or making them appealing targets for other Web sites.

The basic rule to remember is that prevention includes anything you do to your content before posting it to make it a less appealing target or prevent it from being abused. The more you can do in this area, the better. However, it is important to always keep in mind your site’s visitors and be sure not to inconvenience them.

After all, even if your site has the worst content theft problem imaginable, at least 99% of your readers will be legitimate. It makes no sense to hinder their enjoyment just to protect against the extreme minority.

Detection

If prevention has failed then it is important we are able to, with reasonable reliability, detect the misuse of the content.

This is an area of content protection that everyone, even those who have no interest in pursuing content thieves, take an interest in. After all, most are at least curious to see how their work is being used on the Web.

On that note, anyone who is interested in detecting how their work spreads across the Web should consider the following options:

  1. Digital Fingerprints/Google Alerts: RSS scraping is one of the most common forms of content theft and also one of the most difficult to detect due to the volume of content. A great way to simplify this issue is to use Digital Fingerprints to mark your posts and Google Alerts to track them. Once set up, this process is fully automated and requires no interaction from you other than checking your email. You can also use Google Alerts to protect static content.
  2. FeedBurner’s Uncommon Uses: Another great tool for dealing with RSS scraping is FeedBurner’s uncommon uses feature, which tracks hits to your feed that don’t fit normal patterns. Great for sites that don’t have access to WordPress plugins.
  3. Self Linking: Scrapers and human plagiarists alike often grab the full HTML of your work when posting it elsewhere. Being sure to include a few self-pointing links can help you detect plagiarism through the simple act of monitoring where you links and traffic are coming from.

These are just some of the easy ways to detect potential content theft cases. Of course, there are always tools such as Copyscape and Bitscan to help you track your text-based works, but these services are often limited in their free versions and typically don’t provide results better than Google itself.

Like the suggestions above, they are great for convenience, but are not intended to be your sole tool of choice.

Cessation

Once we are aware of where and how our content is being abused, we need to put a stop to it.

However, “stopping” content theft can mean many different things. It can mean the removal of the work, it can mean obtaining attribution or it can even mean the removal of ads. It is all relative to the license provided in the prevention phase and what one is comfortable with their content being used for.

Of course, when working to stop content theft, you’re going to want to prioritize your cases as odds are you won’t have the time to handle every single one. Favoring cases that involve a large amount of content, deliberate misattribution, commercial work and search engine risks will keep your plate from becoming too full and prevent any potential conflicts with unintentional infringers.

As far as how exactly to stop it, here are a few common means:

  1. DMCA Notices: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 enables copyright holders to demand takedown and removal of infringing works. All one has to do is provide a proper notice to the host’s DMCA contact. The DMCA allows for all copyright holders, including those not in the U.S., to file notices so long as the site is hosted within the country. Many other nations also have similar laws. DMCA notices can also be used with some advertising networks.
  2. Cease and Desist Letters: Unlike DMCA notices, cease and desist letters are sent directly to the person doing the infringing. There is no set style to these notices, they can be as formal or as informal as desired, and generally work best in cases involving a likely innocent infringement. Success rate is usually lower than a DMCA notice, but these are considered more polite in most cases.
  3. Technological Means: Some plugins, such as Copyfeed, can actually stop RSS scrapers by refusing them access to the feed. Though it might not remove the already-scraped material from the site, it stops the ongoing nature of the theft. Also, in cases of image hotlinking, one can simply change the location of the desired image and, if seeking retribution, can replace the one being hotlinked with something less desirable.

The bottom line is that cessation is far from a perfect art and no one is able to resolve 100% of all their cases. However, the vast majority, well over 90% can be resolved very easily and within a matter of minutes.

All one has to do is have their strategy in place and be prepared to take action when the need arises.

This is truly an area where a little bit of preparation can save many hours of work down the road.

Conclusions

All in all, the most important element of a content theft strategy is making the three parts work together.

Those who ignore one or more of the areas above do little to actually protect their content but, often times, spend many hours trying to.

For that reason, fighting content theft is an area that many people feel is pointless, as if they are just spinning their wheels when they try doing anything. However, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Real change is possible, but there are no magic bullets or one-off solutions. Fighting content theft doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing battle that keeps you from your site, but it is not something you do once and forget.

Technology can help us, but it can’t make the problem “click and forget”.

That’s why taking a moment to devise a complete strategy is important. Not only does it help keep your hard work out of the hands of plagiarists, but it saves you time and lets you get back to doing what you love to do.

After all, blogging isn’t supposed to be about fighting plagiarists and stopping scrapers, it’s about the work you create, the connections you make and the minds you change. I think we’d all rather get back doing more of that.

Suggested Reading

The 20 Best Free Anti-Plagiarism Tools: This article touches on the critical areas mentioned above and offers some other tools to consider.

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  1. By robojiannis posted on January 21, 2008 at 2:46 pm
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    Someone (I don’t remember who) once said:
    “Copying a single resource is called plagiarism, copying many is called research.”
    I’d rather concentrate on my content, instead of my authorship claims.

    Reply

  2. PlagiarismToday » Podcast » Episode 42 - Ford ToughJanuary 21, 2008 at 2:49 pm
  3. By Jonathan Bailey posted on January 21, 2008 at 2:56 pm
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    Robo:

    The problem with the quote is that the difference between research and plagiarism is not the number of sources, but attribution and ethics. You can plagiarize many sources as easily as you can plagiarize one. Ask Cassie Edwards or Kaavya Viswanathan.

    That being said, many do choose to not enforce their copyrights and many are successful with that strategy. However, tracking how your content is used is still vital, like any other metric, it can tell you which of your works are the most popular, what you can do to grow your audience and how to best serve those that read your work.

    Not enforcing your authorship rights is a personal choice, but turning down the information that can be gleaned from tracking your content is turning away useful information.

    That is just my humble opinion, but I find that knowing in this area is always better than not.

    Reply

  4. By olivia posted on January 21, 2008 at 4:43 pm
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    For whatever reason antileech is no longer a working download, and my digital fingerprint also stopped working and the plug-in has not been updated in some time. If there are any other plugins out there I’d love to hear about them.

    Reply

  5. By robojiannis posted on January 21, 2008 at 5:12 pm
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    Jonathan
    I agree with your points. I find it completely unethical to copy content without permission. You’re also right, that this is a personal decision.

    But I must raise my objections in the information issue.
    True. Following yor content can be used as a metric. I just see it as one more metric. Bloggers have already so many metrics to use, that sometimes they (me too, I admit) lose the aspect of the forest by concentrating on a tree.

    Reply

  6. DigMyPageJanuary 22, 2008 at 1:00 pm
  7. By Jonathan Bailey posted on January 23, 2008 at 2:22 am
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    Olivia: You can use Copyfeed for both purposes. The link is in the post above. I’ll make a note of that for future reference. Thank you very much for the heads up!

    RoboJiannis: I agree that many bloggers are drowning in statistics, I’ve never been one to obsess over numbers myself (other than thinking it’s fun to watch them go up) but if your content is an important creation and your goal is to have it passed around and spread, tracking it not only lets you monitor it, but join in on the conversation as it is posted elsewhere.

    It seems to me to be a metric that could also lead to a more rewarding experience as a creator.

    Reply

  8. Writing - Cooking - Life » Blog Archive » Life Is a Learning ExperienceJanuary 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm
  9. Developing Your Content Theft Strategy : BlogazineJanuary 27, 2008 at 11:33 pm
  10. By vaspers, etc. posted on February 13, 2008 at 11:10 am
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    Thank you for leaving a comment at my usability blog, on my post about plagiaristic Vampire Blogs (RSS parasites). I Googled your name, because I get a lot of trolls, sweet innocent mild mannered Vaspers, imagine that, and am honored that you visited me.

    You are a Blog Herald writer and a leading authority on online plagiarism. Pleased to meet you. I am the leading authority on blogocombat. Our paths shall cross frequently I’m sure.

    One trick I occasionally use to track who’s plagiarizing me or negative linking me is to embed my own blog URL into a period or comma, in hopes that they pick up the HTML of my content, and it thus acts as a tracer beam, my plagiarized content is linking back to me, so it hits my radar.

    Reply

  11. How to Help Immunize Your Site Against Scraping : The Blog HeraldMarch 31, 2008 at 10:34 am

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