If you’re reading this blog post anywhere other than ProBlogger.net, you’re reading an illegal rip of the original.
Content scraping—by automated programs that pull entire posts from your blog for republishing elsewhere—and autoblogging—where sites regurgitate whole articles from your RSS feed on their pages—are the most common content ripping practices. They are illegal.
Any reproduction of your content without permission is illegal (attributed quotes and brief excerpts aside).
There’s no two ways about this. If you made the content, you own it, and you have the right to say where it’s published.As an old-skool content creator, I’ve been astonished at the things I’ve heard and read in recent months on this topic, particularly among the blogging community. As content creators, it’s up to us to learn, understand, and, if needed, fight for our rights—and those of others. It’s your job to protect your copyright.
There seems to be a growing sense of despondency among bloggers either overwhelmed by the amount of content ripping, or so used to seeing it that they begin to question their understanding of the concept. This post intends to set those misunderstandings straight—and, I hope, to inspire you to protect your rights, and the things you create, as you see fit. And from an informed position, rather than one in which you feel you have no option but to suck it up.
First, I want to talk about some of the objections I’ve heard to copyright enforcement lately, and give a few rebuttals. Then I’ll outline what bloggers should do if they find their rights have been infringed.
The arguments against
I have to tell you, it surprises me that there are arguments against copyright enforcement, but here are some of the ones I’m hearing.
“It means more eyeballs for my content.”
Ripping my article onto another site may mean more people see it. But so would a well-penned piece that responded to, added to, or argued against my article, and linked through to it.
Come to think of it, that kind of article would likely attract more eyeballs than a straight rip, because the second type of blogger would likely be active in marketing his or her blog, unlike most blogs that simply rip content for the sake of having something to display alongside their ads. And we all know the search engines work actively to penalize such sites anyway.
“But it’s a really big, well-known site.”
So a Fortune-500 publishing company ripped your post, and sent you a truckload of traffic yesterday? See point one above: it’s still illegal, and had they had something intelligent to say about your content, you may have received even more eyeballs, and more lasting interest from a more qualified audience.
Frankly, big sites are the last ones who should either undertake or get away with illegal content reproduction. Today, a big site. Tomorrow? Well, what if you found your hard work was ripped onto shonky looking, ad-emblazoned, overtly cheesy, poor quality website?
To say it’s okay for a big, good-looking mega-blog to rip your content, but not for below-average Joe to do so on his design-by-the-cat, ad-swamped site isn’t just hypocritical: if you let one site rip your content, you send the signal that it’s okay for everyone to do it.
“I don’t mind if my site isn’t the exclusive location for my content.”
A guest post you’ve penned specially for publication on another, carefully-chosen site is one thing. Having others reproduce your content as they see fit, without your knowledge, is another.
Often, the sites that rip content rip it relentlessly: once they find an author they think is good, they’ll simply republish everything that person writes. Maybe so far they’ve “only” ripped three of your articles. This time next year, they may have republished them all. Is that still okay with you? I know it wouldn’t be with me.
Note: If you actively want others to reproduce your content freely, that’s great—but for the sake of those who don’t want ripping to become the norm, display a Creative Commons license notification on all your posts. That way, people who read that content on other sites will have some indication that what looks like a rip is actually legal and welcome.
So someone’s ripped your post? I say: take action. Given the fact that many people online actually think this practice is legal, I encourage you to take an active role in protecting your rights, rather than (as one blogger recently said to me) “shutting up and taking it.”
Each of these steps takes no more than five minutes. You probably won’t need to complete them all—I find a concise, direct, but respectful email to the offending site’s owner usually does the trick.
- Contact the website, point out the rip, explain that it’s illegal, and ask them to remove the offending content within 24 hours. Explain that you’ll contact their host if the content remains online.
- Perform a WHOIS search and find the site’s host. Prepare to contact them and submit a DMCA takedown notice if the ripped content is not removed from the site within 24 hours.
- Perform a Google search for your name, or the topic of your post. If you find the offending site in the results, report it as a “duplicate site” to Google.
Don’t badmouth the offending site on your blog. Don’t make snide comments on the ripped version of your post on their blog. Write to them, and wait to see what happens. Then take the steps above. This is the most dignified path.
Is it worth the effort?
Yes. You’re a blogger. Your content is your product. Seth Godin wouldn’t let anyone reproduce his latest book online. Why? Because it’s his product. He made it, and he deserves to make a living from it. You made your content, and you deserve to reap the rewards of those efforts.
Allowing others to rip your content without your permission:
- sends the message that bloggers have no rights around how their content is used
- perpetuates the growing ignorance of copyright among site owners
- devalues your blog, and your content
- devalues blogging and online content in general
- is a violation of your legal rights as a creator.
An alternative approach
As I mentioned earlier, if you actively want others to reuse your content, you could publish everything with a Creative Commons note, signalling that your posts are free to be reused by others.
You might consider this option if, for example, you want to have your content seen by the largest number of people possible—a mass market, rather than a niche audience. Perhaps you’re selling products exclusively through your site, and you believe that spreading your content through Creative Commons is a good way to get access to a wide audience who will come to your site, see your product, and want to buy it.
In that case, you’ll want to consider:
- your in-article linking and promotional strategy (to get those readers over to your blog and sales page)
- a marketing plan for promoting your quality, freely available content to appropriate potential publishers
- the implications of the possibility of having your articles appear on some less-than-reputable sites
- the challenges you may face in targeting the right audiences through this strategy
- the implications for your own site’s SEO, if it’s mistaken for one that published “duplicate content.”
What do you think? Is blogger copyright dead? Does your copyright matter to you? Do you enforce it? I’d love to hear your feelings on this topic in the comments.