Ask the Readers: What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content?

  • September 9, 2010 by Corbett Barr
  • 37 Comments

A reader wrote me last week to let me know one of my blog posts had been posted to another site. It definitely wasn’t the first time, but this case was a little different because the blog in question is fairly popular itself.

Usually the blogs that copy other bloggers work are spammy and insignificant. I was surprised that someone more popular would use my work without permission. In the end I didn’t write the person or do anything about it really. The post did include attribution, so I suppose I don’t mind that much.

It made me wonder though, how do you all feel about stolen content?

In this “ask the readers” segment, I’d like to ask you: what do you do when someone steals your content?

Do you get bent out of shape about it? Do you consider it a compliment? Do you ask the blogger or webmaster to take the content down?

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, don’t worry. Stolen content is yet another milestone you can expect on your journey to online success.

I got a few answers on Twitter yesterday, but thought this would make a great broader discussion. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Previous “Ask the Readers”

In our most recent segment, I asked you “why do you comment on other blogs?” The discussion that followed was really great. Your answers included “to be a cheerleader and support other bloggers,” “to not be lonely,” “to make connections,” “to bring traffic to my blog” and “to be a member of a community.”

One of my favorite responses came from Brian Driggs of Gearbox magazine. I don’t agree that people looking for traffic from comments are “insincere charlatans,” but I appreciate the passion. Here’s some of what Brian had to say:

Posts set the stage for conversations and I like to think the comments section is where those ideas presented in the post are discussed, clarified, and either adopted or denied. It’s also a way of showing appreciation for the value provided by the author (and participants).

To me, those who comment in pursuit of traffic to their own sites are insincere charlatans; self-serving hacks either unable or unwilling to provide value on their own sites in the first place. The only reason I include the link back to my site is so that those who actually read ALL the comments with a post (not just race to the bottom for that sweet link juice) and possibly identify with something I said might have a means to better frame my comments or get in touch with me.

I also really liked how David Crandall from Heroic Destiny broke his reasons down into the four categories of relationships, support, traffic and reaction. Check out David’s full comments to read more.

Thanks everybody who participates in these discussion posts. I hope you get as much out of them as I do. Finding out what everyone thinks of a particular topic makes for some really useful research.

Now, back to you. What do you do when someone steals your content? Let’s hear it in the comments!

photo by theloushe

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Robyn Linden September 9, 2010 at 5:56 am

Must admit, I haven’t been STOLEN. I have been found, contacted, and reposted. Very kind and flattering, and I hope it happens again.

That said, you seem confident that it will happen without permission at some point. My optimistic, perhaps cheery position is, at least for my blog, to be found relevant by someone else and exposed to their readers is a positive. We write on the Internet, an endlessly accessible medium. Having content posted at more than just one URL means greater potential to be found and followed by more readers. I’m writing about Arts Marketing, a niche that needs all the support it can get. For me, I’m happy to be reposted (hypothetically). Not, however, without a hyperlink back to my site. If that happened (though how would I know without trusty Google? No referral traffic.) I would immediately contact the webmaster and ask for that courtesy.

RL

Onibalusi Bamidele September 9, 2010 at 6:14 am

This is really great Corbett,

Deepending on the type of site, if it is a small site that only copied one of my article, I leave it. If it is a small site that copies all of my articles, I ask it to remove it and if it is a big site that copies my article without attribution, I ask it to remove it. Because #2 and #3 will incur more search engine penalties for me, but in the first instance it is the small site that will be penalized.

David Crandall September 9, 2010 at 8:01 am

Onibalusi, that is smart! I never thought about the search engine penalization aspect of it. Good to know!

natan September 10, 2010 at 3:58 am

Do you get penalty from google even the reposting contant was posted after the original was indexed already?

fredrick September 9, 2010 at 7:01 am

If my content is being copied, i believe the copier is promoting my products which could drive more traffic to website or blog because my articles are caring my links.

Hector Cuevas September 9, 2010 at 7:01 am

I guess I’ll feel a bit honored.. :0) – it hasn’t happened to me yet on a popular blog (at least I don’t think it has) but I don’t think I’ll worry much. Especially if it has a link back stating the original source.

I’ve noticed my posts showing up for spam blogs – but those bother me even less.. I choose to focus on more important things.

Great question Corbett
talk soon
Hector

Ryan Biddulph September 9, 2010 at 7:24 am

Hi Corbett,

I take it as a compliment and let go of it immediately.

When a newbie blogger I got pissed, thinking that “they stole my stuff.” Then I realized that my only competition is me, or more accurately, my creativity. Bloggers who use other’s content without crediting them either don’t know any better or have no moral compass and if that’s the case, I’m not hopping on their sinking karmic ship.

Thanks for sharing the interesting question.

Ryan Biddulph

David Crandall September 9, 2010 at 7:58 am

I’m so glad you liked my comment about comments. :D

While I have not yet hit the milestone of someone stealing my blog content (at least not that I know of), I have had times where people stole graphic images and designs that I’ve created and peddled them on their own sites. I usually reach out to the person and say something to the effect:
“I’m so glad that you liked my artwork and am honored that you like it enough to display on your site. Please feel free to leave it up at your site, I only ask that you display my name somewhere to give me credit. Again, thank you for the compliment.”

I think by letting people know that I’m not going to get upset or threaten with drama, they feel safe to respond well. I’ve yet to have anyone be ugly in return. In all truth, I like to think that maybe they posted it without giving credit due to ignorance and not with the intention of stealing.

We’ll see how I respond when I hit that milestone with my blog content though. LOL

Michael September 9, 2010 at 5:30 pm

I really like your approach to stealing parts of your work.

Do people usually give you a credit?

Jill Heijligers-Peloquin September 9, 2010 at 8:35 am

I have been asked, “May I use your” or “may I burn a dvd of your video and give to my clients”, etc. Each time I’ve responded ‘No, but please do share a link to it!”. Maybe I should just say yes, but request a hyperlink. I guess its all good in the end, if your efforts and intentions are panning out well and paving the way well for you. I mean, how damaging can it be?
jp
http://tipsntricks.lashfx.com

Marilia September 9, 2010 at 8:57 am

I never looked at it so positively before. As I´m a newbie blogger, I´ll be anxiously waiting to be stollen (meaning someone really likes my content…).

I´ll be all over using David Crandall´s sweet example of how to deal with it with grace, and probably resulting in the deserved credit.

Drew C. September 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

I’ve found some of my posts out there via Google searches and it never even occurred to me to be irritated by it. As long as there’s a link back to my original post (and there always has been so far) I’m happy as it’s free publicity, but even if there isn’t I don’t think I’d mind that much.

Ana | Traffic Generation Cafe September 9, 2010 at 9:11 am

Well, I take it as a compliment that my content is THAT good and don’t waste my time with it.

It’s bound to happen and wasting my time dealing with it is not going to add a penny to my bank account. :)

Interesting discussion, Corbett.

I will definitely check out your post about commenting.

Ana Hoffman

Marios September 9, 2010 at 9:20 am

I don’t believe in copyrights at all, if its on the internet it belongs to everyone. I write so others can learn and/or take my stuff if they feel its good enough for their blog, enjoy:)

Marios

Audrey September 9, 2010 at 9:40 am

I think it depends on who has stolen the content and what the intent is. For example, a reader let us know recently that almost all of our photos and written information about food in the Xinjiang Province in China was copied by a Chinese government media outlet. No credit was given and the material was being used for propaganda purposes. This frustrated us – we made it our mission to get it taken down and eventually succeeded.

Usually, if a site steals our content and it’s for a “good cause” I’ll send a quick note and ask for credit. I’m getting more relaxed about this the longer we blog, but I still find it annoying to see our images and work used on other sites without permission.

Lye Kuek Hin September 9, 2010 at 9:47 am

Hi Corbett,

I am still new in blogging and that hasn’t happen to me yet. But i will take it as a compliment to my content if that happens. It means my content has some value in it that the other blogger wish to share with his readers. i believe i will just let it be as it is and keep on working with my own content.

Andrew Walton September 9, 2010 at 10:28 am

I’m with Marios, I don’t believe in copyright, but Onibalusi makes a good point. If you are making the effort to provide something of value to your readers, having somebody else dilute its value in the eyes of search engines isn’t a good thing. Of course, if you create many great articles this shouldn’t be a problem, people will still come to you.

I took the cue from Leo at ZenHabits and uncopyrighted my own blog, so in my case it’s all up for grabs.

Angela of Neglected Princess September 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm

@ all of the commenters that are saying, “I don’t worry about it,” I guarantee they will change their minds when they find their hard work copied and pasted on another site- without one iota of credit. When it’s only a quick, little article that has been stolen, it is easy to be so nonchalant and magnanimous. However, when it’s a 1000+ word post that you researched and edited and personalized- well, that’s another story. Stealing content (and by stealing I mean not giving credit or providing links and attempting to pass off the work as your own) is wrong. Period. More people need to be called out on this type of behavior.

Andrew Walton September 9, 2010 at 3:12 pm

The music industry has gone through it and adapted. It’s wrong but hardly the end of the world. You can steal from Leo Babatua’s blogs at any time and he’s made it easy for you to do so. The scarcity mentality isn’t the way to go.

I’d recommend everyone reading “Free” by Chris Anderson.

Jill Heijligers-Peloquin September 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Well, hopefully, all of our content is the result of hard work, research (be it literary or life-learned, depending on the topic) and carefully edited etc. I just don’t see the point in getting too riled over it. I do believe in giving credit where credit is due, but not everyone else does. I can’t control them, nor would I want to spend the energy or time trying.

As any kind of artist (writer, painter, sculptor, singer… you name it) can attest – nothing is truly original. I do believe that everything is derivative. Hopefully, each new voice (or brush stroke, etc) brings a new ring of truth to the subject.

jp

Stanley Lee September 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I haven’t run into this problem yet, but if I do run into it, I don’t think contacting the “thief” to refrain him/her from doing it is all that effective. I would then mix up my content with video or audio posts once in a while so that it’s harder for anyone else (i.e. these knock-off artists) to copy, on top of becoming more personal with the readers.

Andrew Walton September 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Very good point. Someone can copy your content, but they can’t copy the relationships you have with readers.

Michael September 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

First I would be flattered that someone copied my stuff. But later I would start thinking if they make any money or have some other benefits I would ask them to make clear who is original author with proper link.

Problem is when you write a great post and bigger website will copy it Google see the bigger website as more important. So if I write something great and xyz.com copy it they will probably get links and I won’t. Which is why I think they should remove it.

I think you are very nice not to mention which blog has done it. (Well,actually you might even helped them by doing so it is probably smarter … not sure)

Yolanda Facio September 9, 2010 at 6:42 pm

If you didn’t write it, don’t claim it. It’s not cool. No matter how you see copyright it’s just not cool to take without giving credit. It’s about respecting others, in my view. So if I ask and you say no, then I find another source. It just seems respectful to me.

Recently, someone I know, took my content spun the ideas to make them hers and posted them. Pissed me off because it was so obvious. Then I thought maybe I should be flattered. And finally I figure if they can’t come up with original ideas on their own how can they possibly be successful? This person was a writer which surprised me because I just assumed writers would have tons of original ideas!

The point is to be respectful, give credit for original work and ideas. It seems a bit fraudulent otherwise… I mean I’d like to take credit for creating the internet but would you believe me…. :-)

Greg September 9, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I think Ramit Sethi had a contest on his blog last month about the best backhanded compliment. Copying someone’s post without attribution, credit, or hyperlink and presenting it as one’s own seems to fit in that category. Actions reflect a person’s character. It may be easy to copy and paste, but it’s also just as easy to attribute a block quote to the original author or link to the original post. If someone like Leo Babauta has released all rights to his work, then copying or modifying anything from his site is not stealing. A lot of people talk about establishing good relationships with our readers, but we should be demonstrating and building good relationships with our fellow authors.

Michael September 10, 2010 at 1:28 am

Hi Corbett

While my whole content hasn’t been ripped off I have noticed sections of it have. This is plagiarism and a crime and really pisses me off. Conversely I am flattered someone views my work as worthy to steal. Sad but true.

Thanks for sharing.

Michael

Pempho September 10, 2010 at 2:20 am

Personally i think its nothing short of theft. In a world where we are competing for traffic, its sad that people try to build their traffic using other peoples work. Only maybe if its the intro section where the rest of the article is provided as a link to the source site, then it becomes complimentary

Nick Stewart September 14, 2010 at 6:43 am

I might try to contact them, but it’s best to focus your time & energy elsewhere.

In the amount of time that it takes to track down a few individuals and you could write more amazing content.

It’s hard but sometimes it’s best to just let it go. And take it as a compliment that people think your stuff is worth stealing. ;)


Nick, The Traffic Guy

Corbett Barr September 15, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Great discussion here everybody. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It’s clear that people feel all sorts of different things about stolen content. I have a feeling this might lead to some policy changes for me.

Lisa Sonora Beam September 21, 2010 at 9:39 am

Having had artistic work copied and sold, I’m in the Copying = Stealing camp.

As Michael pointed out, it’s called plagiarism and is illegal. When students try to pass off copied work as their own, there are severe consequences.

Corbett, it’s nice that your article was attributed (and hopefully linked back to your site), but getting a heads up about it would have been nice, right?

Having a clearly outlined usage policy on your site sounds like a great idea, that way, if this happens again, you can point the violator to your terms of use without any emotional drama (not that you’d get into drama in the first place, I mean their drama). An upside to a usage policy is you may get a lot more folks who want to share or “reprint” your excellent content – in a way that works for both parties.

Love the image stealing response from David, that such a kind way to address attribution issues.

Geoff September 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I believe that if the content you put up is truly worth stealing, there should be no reason to get angry if somebody reposts it elsewhere. Unless they steal it and explicitly claim your work as their own, I see no real reason to be upset with them. In fact if your blog posts are helpful or say something important enough, then it’s a great thing if the message is being spread, regardless of who is doing the work.

I understand where the anger comes from, but I find it somewhat frustrating that people are trying to control their content on the internet. IMO, once you put a great idea or good content out there, it’s up for grabs. Why else would you post it?

John Muldoon October 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm

One thing that makes a difference to me is whether the stolen content was something I’d posted and made freely available, or if it was something that was for sale (either in a book, or a course, etc.).

If it was freely available content, like a blog post, I don’t think it’s something to get too upset about. If the theft damages your brand or confuses readers, it’s worth contacting the person about. If not, eh, not a big deal.

You could also look at it as a link-building opportunity. Assuming there’s already attribution, why not ask for a link with some anchor text that will help you out?

David Crandall September 10, 2010 at 10:15 am

I’ve had really good responses. I think most people never even thought about giving credit, so it helps them to not anger someone else who might take offense to it.

There ARE people who I think should know better that I contact, though still with the same approach. It gives them a graceful way to respond positively, which I know I always appreciate when extended to me. Even those people respond really well and usually go on to say nice things too.

I figure it is just one of those things that happens. If nothing else, I can take it as a sign that I did *something* right since someone considered it valuable enough to steal in the first place.

John Muldoon October 5, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Search engine algorithms are pretty good about recognizing and ranking the original content.

If there is a ‘duplicate content penalty’ applied, it’s typically applied to the unoriginal version. It may be indexed, but it will rank poorly.

Azad Shaikh November 12, 2010 at 7:16 am

can’t stop myself commenting on this. I know and had seen copied content post ranking higher than the original post. Hard to believe but it’s true.

minikids prams August 15, 2012 at 7:17 am

I am not a writer myself, so i do embed other peoples articles into blog posts but i always leave their links in and reference to their work.

I just aim to create a blog with useful information related to baby advice and care.

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