What to do if someone copies your online content

Have you discovered your original content on another website? Find out how to protect your online content from theft, and what to do if someone copies it.

It can be shock to discover that a blog, video or other online content you have worked so hard to produce has been copied by someone – especially if they are using it to win business, or if their content ranks higher than yours in search engine results pages.

This last point is particularly important we as know that Google doesn’t like duplicate content, and will only rank one version. So all your SEO efforts could be for nothing if someone steals your content AND your Google ranking with it.

It’s also risky for your reputation or business if someone steals your content. People may assume theirs is the original and that you are the one who copied it.

Or the thief may not stop at simply stealing a blog or video, and actually use your sales pitch or even identity to win business away from you. If they then provide a poor service, this can damage your reputation too.

So what can you do if you discover that someone has copied or stolen your online content? Before we get into the steps you can take to ensure the offending content is taken down, let’s explore how you can protect your content in the first place.

How to protect your original content with a copyright disclaimer

If you have online content you want to protect from plagiarism, it is important to add a copyright disclaimer. This is a statement that claims ownership of your original content, or discloses your use of copyrighted materials for “fair use” purposes.

You can use an original work copyright disclaimer on blogs, websites, images, videos, music and social media to establish your ownership of your original content, and help to protect your work against theft.

A copyright disclaimer will usually have three elements:

  1. The copyright symbol
  2. The year of publication
  3. The name of the owner

Like this:

It can also include a statement reserving the rights of the owner, such as ‘All rights reserved’.

What to do if someone copies your online content

Unfortunately, including a copyright disclaimer when publishing your original content won’t always stop people from copying or stealing it. However, it does give you some protection by giving you the legal right to request removal, or pursue through the courts.

If you discover someone has stolen your copyrighted content, here are the steps you can take.

1) Collect evidence

The first thing you need to do is make sure you gather evidence of the stolen content. This includes:

  • The time and date you noticed it
  • The URL of the stolen content
  • Screenshots of the content

You can also visit the Wayback Machine to check how long the content has been live. Screenshot this too. 

And finally, make sure you keep copies of all correspondence between you and other parties as you pursue your case. It’s a good idea to create a folder on your laptop or desktop to keep everything in one place. 

2) Contact the website 

Your next step should be to alert the website of the stolen content. It might be that it was submitted by a contributor and they published in good faith. In which case, they should be keen to remove it straight away. 

You can usually find the website owner’s contact details on their contact page, or even contact them directly via a form there. If not, you can try a WHOIS search to get an email address. 

When you contact them, politely explain that your content is copyrighted and ask them to remove it by a given date. If not, explain that you will report their site. 

Alternatively, if your content is on a high ranking domain and you would love a backlink from them to boost your own SEO, you could suggest they keep the content but link to your website as a thank you. 

3) Contact the website’s hosting service

If you don’t get a response from the website, the next step is to contact their domain host. To find out who that is, you can check on sites like this one. When you have the host’s contact details you need to send them an email explaining that your content has been stolen by this website and request the page (or even the entire site) is taken down. 

Remember to include your evidence proving that the content is yours, and that they have copied it. You can do this by sending screenshots of your content and the date it was published, and screenshots of the offending content and publish date, as well as URLs. 

4) Report the stolen content to search engines 

If the stolen content is ranking on search engines like Google, you can report it by filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against the offending website.  

You can send removal requests to Google and Bing and request the site is removed from their indexes. While this won’t remove the page from the internet, it will stop it benefiting from organic search traffic (and potentially harming your own ranking). 

If the website has already removed the content but it is still ranking, you can send requests to search engines asking them to remove outdated content that has already been modified or removed from the internet. 

5) Take legal action against the website

If you don’t get a response from the website owner or hosting company and haven’t managed to get the stolen content removed from search engines, you might decide to pursue legal action. 

As a first step you may want to hire a lawyer and instruct them to send a cease and desist letter to the website owner or website host. If you don’t have the budget for a lawyer you can search online for a free cease and desist letter template.

If this doesn’t work, you can escalate the issue to a lawsuit. However this can be expensive, and is only worth considering if you can afford it and the content is extremely valuable to you.

What happens if someone copies your social media content?

If the theft has occurred on social media, you can report the content to the platform. If you are able, give them as many details as possible, and include evidence of the theft. You might also want to contact the offending account directly and request they cease copying you and take down the stolen content.

Protect your online content from theft

Sadly, content theft is common and there’s no foolproof way to prevent people from copying your work if they want to. However, adding a copyright disclaimer gives you legal rights, and there are steps you can take to rectify the situation.