Monday, February 15, 2016

Taking action when someone has copied your blog without permission

This article is about the steps you can take when someone has made an unauthorized copy of something that is published on your blog.

Finding out that your blog has been copied

Previously, I've described how copyright applies to blogs in very general terms, and the steps you can take to apply copyright protection to your blog.

Even if you follow these these steps, if you put material onto the internet it is quite likely that someone will copy it.

This maybe done out of naivety, or as a deliberate attempt to rip you off, or as part of an organised spam-blogging ("splogging") operation.

There are several way you might find out that someone has copied your work:
  • You, or your friends, notice it
    Maybe you or one of you readers searched for a certain phrase and you found your content elsewhere.  Or maybe you found a link to an identical post on a help-forum or discussion board.  If you use a lot of in-post linking (ie you link to another article in your content), and notice you are getting a lot of visits from somewhere unusual, then you might visit that site and find your post copied word-for-word, including the unchanged links.
  • Google's spam bots notice it:  
    If you get an email or a notice saying that your blog has been identified as potential spam, then one of the possibilities is that a real spammer has chosen your content.

If you found out that someone has copied you work because Google's spam-bots detected the problem, then you simply need to follow the instructions in the email that Google sent you, or consult the Blogger Help Forums.  In short, you will be advised about a four step process that you need to follow.   This is tedious, but the nice part is that Google is dealing with the copy-cat for you, and (if you're not a spammer) you'll get your blog back.

If you find out some other way, then you need to decide what do to about the problem (if indeed you believe is is a problem).   This is closely linked to what you want to achieve - this could be any of:
  • Do nothing - if you don't mind being copied, and you're willing to risk being incorrectly identified as a spammer
  • Getting the copied work taken down
  • Leaving the copy in place, with your name or URL  added beside it
  • Being paid compensation
  • Receiving a public apology
and I'm sure there are other possible remedies, too.

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can plan what steps you need to take, based on the notes in the next section.

Reality check:  There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and wanting to receive $10M compensation.  But  unless you can afford really good lawyers, it might be a good idea to have a backup plan which involves a realistic goal too, eg having your name added to the copyright materials, or having them taken down.

Steps for resolving copyright problems

Start the easy way

Unless you're certain that the copying was deliberate and malicious, the first step is most cases is to send a nice email to the person who made the copy, telling them that it's yours and what you want done about it.  (You might need to just leave a comment on their blog, if no email address is provided.)

    Report them to their internet service provider

    The obvious first step if politeness doesn't work is to complain to their web-host:
    • If they use Blogger (ie their URL is, or they have a custom domain but the source-code on their site looks like Blogger code),
      then you should contact Google through this page: 
      Google have a very thorough process for dealing with claims of content stealing - and if the other site that you say has stolen your work is also published in Blogger, they can look at the dates in their database to see who actually published it first.
      Make sure that you read all the details of Blogger's policies before you submit a complaint:  they don't like malicious complaints, and you could be fined quite heavily if you claim that you own something which you don't really own.
    • If the person who has copied your work isn't using Blogger, you may need to do some detective work with whois (use Google-search it to find a whois service for the domain you're looking for) to see   who the host is, and what process this host uses to resolve copy-right complaints. 
      This could be particularly difficult to do if they're not located in the same country that you are (so their laws will be different), or if they use a different language.
    • If the person who has copied your work has put it into YouTube, you can use information and tools on  YouTube's opyright page.

    Complain to other services

    If the other party's web-service-provider can't or won't help, then you could try reporting them to other services that the use.

    For instance many websites are also on Facebook:  if the contents includes your material, or links to a website that's distributing your copyright material, you may be able to use Facebook's intellectual property violation reporting process.  (I haven't tried it myself, but have been told that this can be particularly effective.)

    If they show advertising on their site, then complaining to either the advertisers, or to the company that organises the advertising programme, may be effective.  AdSense is quite sensitive to not having it's ads shown along with copyright violations, and provides a policy violation reporting form that you can let them know about the problem.

    Charge them

    Logodollar2Some people have had success from sending the offender a bill for use of your work.  This takes a bit of thought:  if they pay the invoice, then legally you may have licensed them to use your work for far less than it is worth.   On the other hand, if the amount that you ask them for is ridiculously high, they will probably just laugh and ignore you.

    Threaten legal action

    This can be fun:  write a very formal-sounding letter demanding that they cease-and-desist from using your work (name it very specifically) by a certain date, and advising that failure to do so may incur penalties including but not limited to commencement of legal proceedings for in which you will be looking for legal expenses as well as damaged incurred.  

    If you would actually be willing to sue the person (see the section below), then consult a lawyer, and get them to send the letter.   But if there's no chance that you actually will sue  (and most bloggers simply don't have the time, resources or levels of proof to do so), just make the letter sound good.   If necessary, get a friend who can write pompous-sounding letters to draft it for you.    Send it by regular mail - emails are too easily ignored - and make it look official.

    Finding the address to send a letter to can be a challenge - one option is to scour your copy-cat's work, and see if you can find their company or personal details on LinkedIn (most are smart enough to hide themselves on Facebook).    And if you can, then complaining to their boss may be an option, too, depending on your niche and whether their action might be harming their company's reputation.

    Legal action

    If all else fails, another option is to sue the person or organisation that copied your work.  If you or the copy-cat are in the USA, then the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides an approach for this.   But if you and they are in different countries, then different laws and processes may apply.  But no matter where you are, two things are likely:
    • You will need to hire a lawyer - so it may be expensive and take a lot of time, and
    • You may need to prove that you really did create the work, and when it was made.   
    The second point is where copyright registration services come in to play:  they provide evidence that you really had created the work as at a certain date.  Unfortunately this is one of the ironies of copyright:  listing your material with a copyright service does nothing to stop anyone using it.  But if you don't list it shortly after it's created, you probably won't have any evidence if you ever get to the point of wanting to sue (or even formally complain about) someone who has copied your work.

    There are some other issues with copyright services too:
    • It can be difficult to list a blog, which by its nature has different material being loaded very frequently.
    • You won't necessarily know which services(s) to register with - because you don't know where someone who copies your work is located, so you won't know what services a court in your country will accept evidence from.
    So, while I'm not advising you to avoid the registration services altogether, it's important carefully to choose when and how to use them.

    Peer pressure / Name-and-shame

    If the legal approach doesn't work, or would be too expensive, then another option is to use social pressure to convince your copy-cat that they need to stop copying your work etc.  This can take a range of formats - eg, if a local small business has copied your photograph and isn't willing to compensate you, you might get all your friends to contact the business and threaten not to buy there again.   Or you might start a Facebook campaign, or put a video on YouTube telling your side of a story.   Whatever you do, make sure you that you:
    • Really know what you want to achieve:  fame, a pay-off to stop the campaign etc
    • Consider the risks (ie what could go wrong) and whether they're worth it
    • Don't break the law yourself (it's not worth it, especially if you're the small guy), and
    • Think strategically about what you might do, and how this could affect the relationships in your area or niche:  some people are just too much trouble to have an enemies.


    This article contains general advice about the copyright issues faced by people who use Blogger.   It cannot cover every possible case or specific legal systems. 

    If you need legal advice about a particular situation, consult a lawyer, ideally one who is familiar with copyright law in your country.

    I do not, under any circumstances, suggest using illegal approaches - threats of violence, sabotage, etc.

    Related Articles

    Copyright, Blogs and Bloggers, an Introduction

    Tools for applying copyright protection to your blog

    Putting 3rd party HTML (eg a Creative Commons licence) into your Blog

    Removing the Attribution Gadget from your Blog

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