What You Can Do When Your Online Writing Gets Ripped Off

A freelance writer's blog post gets scrapedIf you write anything online, it happens sooner or later: Somebody reproduces, recycles, or excerpts your work without permission.

I can tell you that the bigger and more popular your blog or your online reputation or the blog you’re guest posting on, the more often it happens. So at this point, I’ve had a quite a few experiences with it.

Earlier this week, for instance, I was alerted that a super-useful guest post I published by writer James Hart on How I Found 16 Freelance Writing Client Leads at Lunchtime had been spun a bit and re-posted a few weeks later on another website for writers.

The new post had the exact same three basic points and resources cited as well. The statistics had been tweaked to be a bit different, but it was clearly a light rewrite of the same post.

The good news is you can often get the offending piece taken down, and without having to issue threats or hire a pricey lawyer. Here’s my guide to how to proceed:

1. Don’t jump to conclusions

The worst thing you can do is come at the offender first thing all indignant and firing blazing emails full of rudeness and screaming capital letters. Take a couple of deep breaths.

Don’t assume they know they’ve done something wrong. My experience is that often, bloggers are simply ignorant of copyright law. If you fill them in, they will correct the problem.

2. Educate

I usually start by finding a contact and sending a polite email along these lines:

Hi [site owner’s name] — I just noticed your post (HEADLINE/LINK/DATE HERE), which is lifted entirely from my post (HEADLINE/LINK/DATE HERE).

I don’t know if you’re aware, but it is a copyright violation to reproduce others’ online work without permission or payment.

There are a couple of options for fixing this — you can simply remove it, or you could post the first paragraph or so, and then link to it on my site. That’s known as “fair use” and you’re in the clear if you keep the reprint very short and then link to the original source. I prefer not to sell reprints because of how Google penalizes duplicate copy, so that’s not an option here.

Reprinting works illegally on your site can cause your host to decide to take your site down, which I’m sure you don’t want! So appreciate your help on this.

Please let me know how you plan to proceed —

 

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I can tell you that the vast majority of times I send this out, I get back a very apologetic email. It’s often a brand-new blogger who simply loved my post and was all excited to share it with their friends…and who was completely unaware that reproducing it in its entirety wasn’t kosher.

3. Find hidden emails

Sometimes it’s just not that easy. You go to the offending site and there’s no sign of an email or a human being’s name.

That was the case here — the Home page was just a form to subscribe to a newsletter. There was an About paragraph on the bottom, but with no human names or photos and no email address or other contact listed.

I did find a writer named as the author of James’ article on the site, and her name linked back to a writer profile. From there I got a writer website link and was able to find an email. Dashed off a message to her, but I didn’t stop there.

4. Try social media shaming

After emailing the “writer,” I turned to social media to try to find the site owner. No sign of the offending site on Twitter, but there turned out to be a very busy Facebook page, with a link to the offending post having gone up just hours before. This gave me a chance to point out the plagiarism publicly — a strategy I find often gets quick results:

 

Facebook-Freedom With Writing

Not sure if it was the email or the Facebook comment this time, but results were swift! Within a couple of hours, I noticed a backlink in my blog comments.

The site had deleted the plagiarizing writer’s byline and shifted the post to a shorter, more “fair use”-sized excerpt, using only the first couple of paragraphs of their version and then linking to the original post:

Freedom With Writing - Fair Use post

I also got an apology message on my own blog’s Facebook page. Give it a read, and you’ll see it raises yet another reason not to be all mad at the site right off — sometimes the site owner isn’t aware until you point it out that they’ve been ripped off, too.

They may have paid a writer for a post that turned out to not be original:

Freedom With Writing - Apology

5. If all else fails: Two final options

If you try a gentle request for removal and get no response or a refusal, there are two options left to you. The first I can highly recommend: Forget it and move on.

I know…it’s so galling! But run an Alexa check on the offending site and see if they have any traffic at all. Often, they don’t. They’re literally a speck in the blogosphere.

When I started guest posting for Copyblogger, this is what they taught me, to just breathe and move on. It happens. (You can imagine how much it happens to them.)

If they’re nobody, you shouldn’t worry too much about it. The energy you spend hunting these tiny-site content scrapers is better spent developing new, great articles or blog posts.

If you can’t let it rest and feel you need to pursue it, you can find the site host through a WhoIs search, find their host, and report the copyright infringement to the host company (the likes of HostGator, BlueHost, etc.). Sites are routinely pulled off the Internet by hosts when it’s proved that they are violating copyright laws — their policies prohibit lawbreaking by the sites they host.

To me it’s never yet been worth the hassle of this, but it is an option. I prefer to play nice and persuade site owners of the error of their ways. It’s an approach that usually gets results, and lets you keep it friendly and professional.

Has your writing ever been ripped off? Leave a comment and tell us how you handled it.

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