Blog Theft: When Your Work is Stolen – A True Story

by Ken Mueller on August 10, 2011 · 69 comments

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What you are about to read is a true story. The names have been changed, not to protect the innocent, because there are no innocent. I just don’t want to send any traffic or link juice in the direction of the offending party…

The other day I was quietly minding my own business when I discovered that I was a victim of theft. Nothing was missing, but something was surely stolen. Here’s how it happened:

I was checking my analytics when I noticed I had a visitor who came to my site from the blog page over at Arment Dietrich, so I clicked over there to check. (Gini Dietrich and the folks at Arment Dietrich have a great list of blog posts there, all of which mention them, a testament to how many people refer to the great content they produce. More on that later…). While I was perusing the list I noticed a title that sounded familiar: “Should Your Business Jump into Google +?“. Now, admittedly, in this world of Social Media, that’s a rather generic sounding title, and it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve written a post that had the same title as something written by someone else. So I clicked on the link and was taken to the website of a “social media management” company.

When I got there, I started reading, and boy it sounded familiar. Why? Because it WAS my blog post. Word for word.

Google Plus 1 Blog Theft: When Your Work is Stolen   A True Story

Think about it: a company that hires itself out to provide social media services was using my content as if it was their own. No attribution. At all.

In other words, using my hard work to build a business for themselves. Now, this isn’t a local company. In fact their website doesn’t even tell you where they are located, but I was able to use my Internet detective skills to find out that they are actually more than 2,000 miles away. In fact, there were enough other things on their website that would make me NOT want to hire them. Clearly they have no clue what they are doing, as if stealing content wasn’t enough of a tip off. And on the owner’s LinkedIn profile, he lists himself as an SEO and Social Media Expert. His words, not mine. I don’t even wanna go there…

Anyway, I decided to call them out on it. I posted a comment, knowing that it would probably go through moderation, and not be approved. Sure enough, the comments never went through. And thankfully I got screen shots, because within about ten minutes, the post itself was removed from the site.

With encouragement from others, I didn’t hold back, and my never to be seen comment was filled with snark. I couldn’t help myself:

Hey, I’m thinking I want to hire you guys. I love your content here, as it is incredibly well written and helpful. Oh, wait…now I know why. Because I wrote this post on my blog not that long ago and you completely scraped it and stole it and put it up here without attribution. Can you steal me some good social media results as well?

I’m thinking of going through your site and seeing how many other posts you’ve stolen from other bloggers and letting them know. I bet there are very few, if any, that you’ve written yourself.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you’ve been caught. Do you really have any clients? Or did you steal them, too?

Your “About Us” page says your “unique experience and expertise comes from years of assisting business owners with their marketing efforts”. I bet you came up with a great slogan like “Just Do It” for the local grocery store. You also say “we understand that staying current on marketing trends is critical for growing any business, and that is why we are at the forefront on these trends” Does that mean that theft is one of the latest trends?

Thanks for loving my work so much you decided to steal it. But seriously, would anyone hire a company that can’t write it’s own blogs or only has 149 fans on a Facebook page?

Apparently so, but I feel sorry for them. Just tell your clients about me. I’ll be glad to help them out once they see through what you’re NOT doing for them.

Meanwhile I apparently hadn’t used up all my snark because I went over to their Facebook page and commented there. This time I received a rather rapid response, and this was the excuse they gave:

Thank you for notifying us. We occasionally hire out to freelance copy writers. We will remove this article immediately. Please accept our apologizes.

So…a Social Media management firm hires someone else to write their blogs? And they only have four posts on their site, one of which was mine? I find it hard to believe, but even if I do give them the benefit of the doubt, they are still culpable.

Then, within about five minutes, My Facebook comment and their response were…removed! Another clear sign that they don’t know what they are doing with Social Media. Would you hire this company?

Now I’d like to point out that this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened to me. Just last week I found another of my posts on some sort of content farm. I contacted the website and got a response rather quickly. They agreed to take the post down, but said that it was pulled automatically by an RSS feed from another site, therefore someone else must have stolen my content first (as if that makes it better). I responded, “No, the other site was Social Media Today and I gave them permission to run my post.” The site in question is owned by some sort of Canadian capital investment firm and was scraping blogs from all over the place? Why? Presumably for SEO purposes and to drive traffic to their site. But why scrap a blog about how to keep people from replying to tweets? Rather odd.

And this has happened on a number of occasions. Sometimes when I complain they respond indignantly, as if they are doing me a favor by “using” or “borrowing” my content. Word for word, mind you.

So what are the lessons we have learned here?

1. It’s a rough world out there – Yes, even in the world of Social Media where we throw words around like “trust”, “authenticity”, “transparency”…there are scoundrels. A lot of us put content out on the Internet, and then there are those who steal that content. It’s the price we pay for offering things for free. The Internet makes this type of theft easy, but I’m willing to live with it. Thankfully people like this are the exception and not the rule.

2. The importance of brand monitoring – In addition to Google alerts and other free tools that I use, I regularly monitor what people are saying about me, and I monitor my analytics. That’s how I discovered this particular situation. How much of your material is being “used” by others, without attribution, and are you aware of it? I can never stress how incredibly important it is to have a strong brand monitoring program in place. Keep your eyes and ears open.

3. Use anti-scraping tools – Most blog theft or “scraping” is automated. As a result, I use a plug-in called Anti Feed-Scraper Message. That way, when someone uses automated tools to copy my blog, they also copy a link that gives attribution to me, and more importantly, alerts me via a pingback. Within minutes of them publishing “their” blog post, I get an email notifying me of a pingback. I check all of these out, and love when someone else decides to link to one of my posts. Scraping…not so much. Even if I can’t find a way to go after them, there is at least some sort of attribution and a link back to my site.

4. Use internal links to your own site – More often than not, most of my posts will reference and link back to at least one other post here on my site. It’s a great way to show new readers some of my older work of which they might not be aware.Internal links are smart from an SEO standpoint, but there’s an added bonus: if someone happens to steal one of my posts, a link to my own site will also alert me via pingback. In the situation at hand, I didn’t have any internal links in my post, so I was actually lucky to find out what happened at all. Internal links are always desirable from an SEO perspective, anyway. I’ve even got a few internal links in this post!

5. Be careful who you hire – What exactly are you getting? Are they legit? This goes across the board: SEO, SM, PR, etc. Do you really want social media management? Quite often companies that offer that aren’t doing anything but throwing out random tweets and posts. Shoot, you can do that on your own and get better results. There is very often no strategy. No plan. Just…”set it and forget it!” When hiring a Social Media firm, take a look at how they handle their own SM. Have they had a Facebook page for a full year with only 150 fans and 2o updates? Do they tweet, on average, only 3 times a month? Does their blog consist of only 4 posts, one of which is stolen? Those are all true for the company in question. Would you hire them? No matter who you decide to work with, make sure you know what you’re getting. And the argument that they hired a freelancer who gave them my work? Even if that were true, they still bear responsibility.

When a company offers you a package that includes a growth in “friends” and “followers”, or something known as “friend seeding”, or if they tell you they will get you a specific number of fans for a certain price, find out how. Are these just warm bodies, or real potential customers? Or are they engaged in a practice known as “astroturfing”, whereby they create fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter to follow your accounts and start conversations? If your SM or PR or SEO company is doing things in an underhanded way, YOU are the one that is responsible for what happens. Ask questions up front. Many seemingly legit companies with strong reputations are actually engaging in these practices.

6. You can’t hide on the Internet – When you do something online, you will be found out. Especially in the Social Media realm where the goal is to get found. Social Media should make us better people and better businesses because we are now being held accountable to the entire rest of the Internet.

7. Include a link to Gini and Spin Sucks in every post so they put it on their blog page – Inbound links and SEO FTW! (and yes, I linked to Gini several times in this post…)

Have you ever been the victim of digital theft of blog scraping? What sorts of things have you done to protect your work, and have you ever had to take any serious action?

 

 Blog Theft: When Your Work is Stolen   A True Story
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64 comments
robintaney
robintaney

I figured out who it was and am SO tempted to call them out. It's probably naive of me to find it shocking that there are wolves in sheep's clothing who would think nothing of passing off someone else's work as their own AND then ripping off unsuspecting customers who think they're a legitimate business. Hold me back. I'm MAD!

Livewiremce
Livewiremce

I remember in College it was a huge deal if one was caught plagiarizing someone else's work. And even if the internet is a lot more liberal, such a conduct is so lame it deserves nothing less than public scorn. In fact, I think you were even too kind.

DivaKatrina
DivaKatrina

Great tips in this post! BTW - love your comment back to them. Hilarious!

nitsy73
nitsy73

Thanks for sharing. I was completely unaware of this "scraping" phenomenon and will be checking out your recommendation of Anti Feed Scraper. I am going to link to your post in several places...get ready for the pings!

adrianchira
adrianchira

Unfortunately for me it was even worse. Two of my sites where attacked by hackers and used them to send spam to lots of people. Not the kind of celebrity I desire. My hosting accounts got suspended on this. I've redone the sites from back-ups several times but still cannot make them work without sending spam. Now I gave up and started to recreate them from scratch. Think about your site not being up for 3 days. My content was not stolen and used somewhere else but they have stolen the right to use my work, they've stolen the results of my efforts for some years now. And unfortunately I don't know if I ever will catch those hackers or if it is worth the effort

PaulWhoTweets
PaulWhoTweets

Ken...thanks for sharing. Wow. Crazy story. Hopefully one day I'll have some content worth stealing :)

Inkling Media
Inkling Media

Thanks, Kathryn. Hope your move went well and you're settling in. I'll be in touch when I get back from NC at the end of the month

MrBallentine
MrBallentine

I can't say that I'm shocked that these types of unethical practices take place. It's like the saying, "the highest form of flattery..." Well now it's gone beyond imitation, and leapt straight to plagiarism. You're so right, Ken, about the scoundrels out there passing themselves off as experts in the field and offering services built on the hard (and stolen) work of others like yourself. It's truly criminal.

However, I'm in awe of the different techniques you use to keep you aware of where your work goes, and how it's shared beyond your initial posting. It's unfortunate that we must protect ourselves, the brands we're trying to build, and our hard work like you've suggested, but I'm sure we're all the more wiser because of it. Thank you for your fantastic posts, and the extremely valuable information and insight you share with us all.

aliciamjay
aliciamjay

It sucks that anyone has to deal with this, but thieves will be thieves--online or offline. I appreciate you mentioning that plug-in! I'll have to install it now. Thanks for sharing your story, Ken.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I find links to my work all over the net on a regular basis. They don't always copy everything but often enough is taken to warrant a response from me.

My experience has included people who apologized for their transgressions and said that they didn't know it was wrong to those who claimed that their theft helped me. Their rationale was that I would somehow receive traffic from them but that always struck me as being a sad attempt to try to avoid accepting responsibility for what they had done.

Sometimes people suck.

Latest blog post: Writers Write Right

maryhruth
maryhruth

When this happened to me, I contacted the offender and she removed the post. But the killer is that the post had collected a bunch of great comments on her site, and it still shows prominently in Google searches. I blogged about the experience - writingva.com/blog/lizard-licks. I wonder if you would disagree with my conclusions there.

cathyannsauer
cathyannsauer

You did a great job with this post. It not only discusses the problem, it gives constructive advice to tackle it. Well done. I did not know about the anti-scrape plug-in. Will check it out. I would be thrilled to have my work published on other blogs.... just want my name attributed to it. The old fashioned courtesy of please and thank you come to mind.

Shonali
Shonali

This happened to me a couple of years ago, and I was just as pissed as you were. They did take the post down once I emailed them, but never responded otherwise. Gotta go check my pingbacks now...

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

I have had my content scraped fairly regularly, but I guess maybe not officially scraped? I have a plug in that automatically gives attribution as well as the pingback. I usually trash the ping comment/link so that it's not allowed, but don't know for sure that it does any good.

Overall, I've chosen to ignore it because my goodness, these sites are so horrific, who really would hire them? However, I've also done nothing because I wasn't sure WHAT to do! Thanks for sharing your experience.

mcmullen_greg
mcmullen_greg

I know that my blog isn't popular (or well written) but you have truly given me things to think about moving ahead. I'm glad that I saw Gini's tweet about this!

Thanks for the tips on how to "prevent" or at least manage the situation.

odonnellsteve
odonnellsteve

Linking to yourself in your posts is a good way of getting something out of scrapers.

I’ve dealt with a few different situations like this: either a plain-old scrape that seems to make no sense (i.e., the scraping site just seems to collect posts for some reason); a more targeted infringement like this, where a person found your post, liked it, and took it; and cases where someone took something without realizing that they shouldn’t do such things (that usually involves people grabbing an image from a site to reuse on theirs).

Generally, there isn’t enough money at issue to do more than send a few emails and usually people will comply with a request to take down. The money part of it might be different if people registered the copyright in their posts, but almost no one does that. There is the option of a DMCA takedown notice if someone refuses to take down your content, but again, it might not be worth the stamp.

I have one post on my blog that is a short story. For that one, I registered the copyright and have some language in the post about how I was going to do that and was going to watch for it to be scraped so I’d have a chance to test the limits of online infringement in court. So far it hasn’t been scraped.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@PaulWhoTweets ha. you have plenty of great content. and it's not a matter of it being "worth" stealing. I'm not sure some of these people are all that discerning. Though some seem to think you should be flattered that they used your work!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@alexbrubakerguitar haha. the comment you got was probably a pingback. And sometimes fan pages "collect' reviews, but they certainly should give credit!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@MrBallentine Thanks, Chris, and I'm glad you find value in my work. And I hope we bump into each other more often. Once a month or every month is far too far apart!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@aliciamjay Thanks, Alicia. I actually ended up laughing more than getting angry. The whole scenario was just so pathetic.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@TheJackB yes, those are the excuses. we should feel flattered apparently, when they steal our work

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@maryhruth Just read your post and I think you handled it well. The thing is, everything I write is "free" information. But it's MY information. Even if it's similar to what others have written. It is how I have built my business. In the blogging world one of the goals is to become a "trust agent" and an "authority" in your particular field. Locally, I have become the go-to guy on Social Media for a lot of people. That didn't happen overnight, but as the result of blogging every day for two years and practicing what I preach. While it may not take any money away from me, I don't want someone else trying to build their business or resume or "authority" on my work.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@cathyannsauer exactly. For me, I never ask to use someone's post if they have already published it. If I like it that much, and have something to add, the most I'll do is write my own post, reference it, quote from it, and link to it.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali I check my pingbacks regularly. I have it set so they don't just show up on my web dashboard, but I get an email every time. That way I get them fast, and I can deal with it fast, whether it is a case of scraping, or just a case of someone, like you, linking back to me in a post. Either way I want to know so I can comment or thank someone as well!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@mcmullen_greg Hey, we all start somewhere. My traffic has increased dramatically over the past 7 months, and I've been blogging every day for 2 years. It takes time to build a following. And it really doesn't matter how popular your blog is. Scraping can happen to anyone.

WordsMatterESW
WordsMatterESW

@odonnellsteve If I post a short story--which is rare, unless it's already been published, for just this reason--I will usually post a PDF and not even dare post a straight blog post. (There have been a couple of exceptions, for partially-complete pieces I'm not invested in, artistically...)

Obviously, people have been stealing stories long before there were digital file formats, but I refuse to make it easy on them! :-)

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@odonnellsteve Those are some great examples. For my readers who don't know Steve, he is an intellectual property lawyer, so this is the kind of thing he often deals with. In my experience, most of the scraping that I have seen has been of that first type, where they are just looking for the SEO benefit of bringing people there for traffic, and it makes no real sense.

Steve, I have my blog registered with a Creative Commons license 3.0. I don't mind people sharing my work as long as there is proper attribution, though in my mind, sharing doesn't mean using the whole blasted thing. Is that something I should change?

And you're right, in most cases the effort just isn't worth it. I just want proper credit and want people coming to my site for my content, not go elsewhere.

Livewiremce
Livewiremce

@KenMueller :) and after all that is greater and more superior than some lowlier creatures creeping along the bottom of the bilges of social media vessels...

maryhruth
maryhruth

@KenMueller I know, it feels truly slimy. But in the end, we know that brand can't be faked, right? So you have to sorta feel sorry for the scrapers. They're going nowhere fast.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali Seriously, though, I think what ticked me off the most was that this was a company offering Social Media management services. Just flat out pissed me off.

mcmullen_greg
mcmullen_greg

@KenMueller Gini told me the same thing! I plan on putting some things in place very soon to help prevent the scraping from happening. Again, thank you for the post!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@WordsMatterESW@odonnellsteve I think that's the key. It's like a house. You can put up all kinds of security devices and locks, and if someone really wants to get in, they will. But that doesn't mean you make it easy on them and leave the door wide open, inviting them in.

odonnellsteve
odonnellsteve

@KenMueller I had one client that had some photos used by one of the bigger tech blogs. I emailed them, thanking them for using the photos and requested a linkback, which they did. That was far better for her than having them take it down. Depending on the site, that might be a good way of handling it.

I don’t think there is a creative commons license that restricts the amount of a work that can be reused. You could always add your own specific language, but I’m not sure you’ll really gain anything.

WordsMatterESW
WordsMatterESW

@odonnellsteve@KenMueller Steve, is there a form letter sort of document you'd recommend for emailing sites that have our material posted without permission or attribution? Is there specific legal language that holds more water than just saying, "That's my stuff, take it down?" (How many more questions can I ask before I have to put you on retainer?) :-)

odonnellsteve
odonnellsteve

@KenMueller@WordsMatterESW True, automated scrapers won’t bother at all, and there is so much else out there to steal that I don’t think many would bother getting past even very minor roadblocks.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@odonnellsteve Yeah, sometimes the linkback is more valuable. And I'm ok with that. This is just the worst such case that I have had happen to me, by nature of WHO the person was. I kind of laughed it off, however if it had been a local competitor, it would have been a different story and you might have gotten a call from me!

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