Responding to Plagiarism

I admit I felt flattered the first time someone plagiarized my work online. It was oddly empowering to know someone liked my writing enough to steal it. Of course, I then smacked the offending party down hard and fast, because as a freelance writer, my writing is my livelihood. Duplicating my content steals my hard work and damages my search engine rankings.

Unfortunately, plagiarism is an ever-growing problem online. People seem to think if an article, image or photo is uploaded, it suddenly becomes public domain. It doesn’t. Posting someone else’s work on your website is theft, pure and simple. Making minor changes to content and then posting it is even worse, as it proves the posters knew they were stealing and tried to cover their tracks.

Preventing (or at Least Discouraging) Plagiarism

It doesn’t matter if you’re a personal blogger or part of a team of plumbers, you need to protect your content. While no tactic prevents content theft, you can at least dissuade people planning to copy your work.

Find a plagiarism warning banner and post it on your pages to remind people unauthorized content use is theft. You can reinforce this message by including copyright notices on all content pages. True, some people will ignore these warnings, but others will at least think twice before hitting the copy button.

Monitoring The Web

In theory, you could monitor the web for plagiarism by running searches of your own content. Anyone who posts regularly to blogs or websites understands how quickly this task would become unmanageable.

If you’re concerned about plagiarism, online services exist which detect unauthorized copies of your work as they appear online and alert you to the problem. Such services charge a modest monthly fee and are well worth the cost if you’re a prolific writer.

Responding to Plagiarism

Stay polite in your first contact with the plagiarizer. Contact the website, point out you own the content, and politely but firmly ask the site owner to remove the content. If you can’t find an email address on the website, you can usually track their name and contact information down by searching WhoIs by the site’s domain name.

If attempts to contact the website fail, or if you get a “so what” response, it’s time to play hardball. Send a formal cease and desist letter to the guilty party. If you still don’t get a response, contact the site’s web hosting company and inform them the site uses stolen content. Again, if you can’t find the site’s host on the website, a search through WhoIs should provide the information.

Still got problems? Contact Google and the other search engines and file Digital Millennium Copyright Act infringement reports. The offending party may find his or her site removed from search results.

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