The potential for plagiarism is an unfortunate part of the reality of writing online. A couple of days ago, I discovered that someone had plagiarized a post of mine. They’d chopped off the last couple of paragraphs, but what they didn’t think to remove was an internal link I had within the post. It was a link to another post on my site, so when this asshat published the post, I got a pingback. Smooth move, jackass.
As icing on the cake, I mentioned it on my weekend wrap-up post yesterday, and some other asshat at gofirstnews.com plagiarized the weekend wrap-up (and I found out because I got a pingback from an internal link). That’s a dumb thing to plagiarize; then again, it looks like all of the content on that site is ripped off from various places.
I have great disdain for people who plagiarize, and I’m sure most bloggers share that sentiment. I’m not talking plagiarism lite where someone has quoted something from your post but didn’t properly credit it to you. Nor am I referring to people who reblog your post and give you credit. I’m talking about the slimeballs who steal your whole post and publish it as if it was their own.
You automatically have copyright over original content that you’ve created on your blog. You can have a copyright notice on your blog for extra clarity, but it’s not required. The phrase “all rights reserved” means that you don’t give up any rights you have over your work. If you’re willing to allow sharing of your content under certain terms, you may want to check out Creative Commons. One of their licenses might be a good fit for your site.
Unfortunately, plagiarism isn’t uncommon, but it’s hard to detect. Unless you’re getting weird pingbacks or you just happen to come across it, you’re probably going to have no idea. There are plagiarism checking sites you can use. Alternatively, you can plug a couple of sentences enclosed in quotations marks into Google, but that’s rather laborious.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a piece of American legislation. It gives website hosts the power to remove material that violates someone’s copyright without giving prior notice.
DMCA takedown notices have to go through the host for the plagiarist’s site. If it’s a WordPress blog that’s actually hosted by WordPress, then that’s who you deal with. However, if it’s a self-hosted blog, you have to go through their host. If you’re not sure, you can plug their site address into DomainTools’ Whois lookup tool and it will tell you.
For non-WP-hosted sites, figuring out who to report the copyright violation to can be a bit of a production. The Gofirstnews site that plagiarized my weekend wrap-up post is self-hosted, so I had to hunt down their host and send a notice to them. I have less confidence that they’ll actually take it down than if it were a WordPress site.
There are a couple of nice things about doing a DMCA notice rather than trying to approach the copyright violator directly. One is that it’s much more likely to be effective, but hosts also have to keep a record of each time a given site has violated copyright, and if it happens often enough, they nay be shut down completely.
DMCA Notices and WordPress
WordPress/Automattic’s DMCA Notice form requires you to enter the URLs of both your original post and the plagiarist’s post, as well as details on what copyrighted material has been used. If you don’t have the link, you can find it easily by Googling WordPress DMCA notice.
You can also find it by opening up the plagiarist’s post. Down at the bottom of the screen beside the follow box, click the three horizontal dots, and then when the menu pops up, click “report this content.”
In your Reader feed or the app, click the three horizontal dots beside the like button, and click “report this post.”
Once WordPress gets the notice, they’ll check that it’s a valid complaint then remove the copyrighted content from the plagiarist’s site. They’ll then send an email to the plagiarist and the complainant saying that the content was removed because of a DMCA notice. If the plagiarist doesn’t file a counter-notice disputing your claim, WordPress put a “strike” on their account. This allows for repeat offenders can be identified.
Scrapers crawl through the internet and extract data from websites, which later gets displayed on another website. This happened in 2019 when a site called Tygpress was scraping very large numbers of WordPress blogs. Luckily Tygpress backed down when many WordPressers raised a ruckus, but if a site is hosted in a country that doesn’t care about the DMCA, the chances of the scraped content getting taken down are probably going to be lower.
Dealing with copyright violations
One thing that I used to struggle with was wanting to let other members of the community know that someone’s engaging in shady behaviour. I decided to add a line in my terms and conditions (or it could be in a site footer with your copyright notice) that I may publish the name and address of sites that violate my copyright. Realistically, no one’s going to read that, but that’s not my problem. For me, that’s enough to overcome any reluctance to name names, and I think there’s value in making people aware of plagiarizers in our midst. It also feels satisfying, which is a nice counterpoint to the grr of discovering someone’s ripped off your content.
I spent a good chunk of time this morning doing DMCA notices for my books. There are loads of illegal book download sites scattered across the internet. I hunt these down by putting the book title in quotes and the words “pdf download” into Google. Once you’ve found sites that list your book, it’s a matter of figuring out who owns/hosts the site so you can submit a DMCA notice. When filing the DMCA notice, I include the URL for a page/post on my site that talks about the book, as well as the URL of the book sales page on Amazon or wherever.
Have you had your blog content plagiarized before? How did you handle it?