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Google Penalizes Copyright Infringers: Are You At Risk?

This guest post is by Shahzad Saeed of TechAndProject.com.

Recently Google announced on its official blog that it will start penalizing sites that are accused of copyright infringement.

The announcement may reduce the content theft around the web, since now it is clear that if a site continuously violates copyright laws, it will lose search rankings and possibly even be removed from Google’s index. On the other hand, today’s technology makes it easier than ever to copy, modify, and share any information from the web. But the problem is that the vast majority of people do not care about copyright. This may now result in legal actions and loss of Google traffic.

How can you avoid Google penalties related to copyright? Here are a few tips.

A quick disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this does not intend to constitute legal advice. It is only the results of my own research.

Reusing content? Get the author’s permission every time

I’ve found many of my articles published on other websites without my permission. Some people assume that there is no copyright infringement if they steal the content, but credit the author’s website. This is incorrect.

Some others assume that the worst thing can happen as a result of copyright infringement is that they will receive take down notice from the author, and then, if they remove the copyrighted material, they will be out of trouble.

Let me talk about my experience. I published an article titled Top 10 deadliest air crashes in the last 10 years on my own blog. At the time, Google brought a nice amount of traffic to that post. But recently, when I Googled the keywords related to that post, I’ve found that it’s no longer listed even in the first ten result. Instead, a ripped post was there. It was republished in an article gallery where users are paid for the content! I’ve found the same article reproduced without my permission on other blogs as well.

Sometimes, it is nice to see that your work has been used by many people around the web, even if they are not crediting you. I don’t care if someone gets paid a small fee for my article; what I worry about is suffering a Google penalty if someone steals my content.

If you plan to copy more than a few words or phrases from someone’s post, ask the original author for permission to republish it. If you copy copyrighted material without getting permission from the author, and crediting the author, your actions will infringe their copyright. If you cannot get the author’s permission, restate the ideas in your own words.

Determine if permission is needed

In some cases, using work without permission is allowed. For criticizing, commenting, and news reporting, short quotations are considered fair use. You can also use material that’s available in the public domain.

Finally, you are allowed to use a brand name on your site under nominative fair use laws. In this case, your usage of the name would not be considered trademark infringement because the use is unlikely to confuse consumers, as you’re merely using it to identify the brand without suggesting affiliation or sponsorship with the brand owner.

An example is Windows7sins.org—a site where free-software enthusiasts criticize the use of proprietary software especially Microsoft Windows.

It is really important to identify what works come under public domain and which don’t. Public domain materials include federal government documents and materials produced before 1923. If material was produced between 1923 and 1978 without a copyright notice it is also considered to be in the public domain.

For a blogger this does not matter much, unless they’re copying material from printed sources, because the web didn’t take off until the late ’90s.

On the flip-side of all this legislation, if you want others to have free use of your work, you can explicitly make it clear that you do not assert any copyright ownership. You can learn more about the public domain here.

Use materials licensed under Creative Commons

As you might know, Creative Commons (cc) enables you to license your own writing, photos, videos, or anything you’ve created for reuse by others, and it’s free. The CC license tells people that your content is available for mixing, copying, and modifying with their own content and creations. It automatically grants third parties permission to use your work.

Creative Commons is not a license that allows the reuse of any work, but it is less restrictive than standard copyright. In order to identify what you can do and can’t do with Creative Commons-licensed material, you should check what type of license the material is available under. Here are the different types of Creative Commons licenses.

  • Attributions: authors specify that the work can be copied if a credit is given to the author like linking to the original article.
  • Derivation: authors specify if the work can be altered or only verbatim copies of the work are allowed to be reused and shared.
  • Commercial or non- commercial licenses: authors specify if the work is allowed to be used for any purpose, or only for non-commercial purposes.
  • Share-alike: authors specify that if the work is reproduced, then the derived work has to use same license (or they may specify that it doesn’t).

Using Creative Commons-licensed content is a good choice, but attributing it properly can be difficult and a bit confusing.

The first rule of thumb of using licensed content is to attribute the creator properly.  Open Attribute is a simple tool I suggest for anyone to copy and paste the correct attribution for any CC-licensed work.

Most bloggers and webmasters use Flickr to find images for their own blogs. Not every picture on Flickr is free to use, though. Some of the Flickr images are “All rights reserved”, so you can’t just copy and use them unless you have got permission explicitly from the owner.

For finding a Creative Commons-licensed images, you can use Google Advanced Image Search. If you are a Flickr fan when it comes to using images for your blog, use the advanced search and limit your results to Flickr or any other specific domain that you are interested in.

WordPress users can use the Flickr pick a picture plugin to find suitable pictures from Flickr.com. Another useful plugin is Free Stock Photos Foter, where users can find free—and freely available—stock photos.

Another important thing to keep in mind is not to hotlink the images that you use. Many people are lazy, and when they upload the picture they just bulk upload it—they might not have given name, title, and tag to each and every picture on their site. If you then hotlink those pictures and do some basic image optimization techniques on your blog, chances are high that you will outrank the source picture—not good if you want to stay on good terms with the image’s owner. So the best practice is to host the image yourself instead of hotlinking it.

Add licensing information on your site

You can see, most of the mainstream websites have some kind of copyright messages on the site. Displaying a copyright message is not necessarily needed to claim your rights over your blog and its content—as soon as you publish an article on your blog, it is automatically copyrighted.

However, a copyright notice can be useful if you need to defend your rights to your blog in court. The following is the common format for displaying copyright.

© [Full Name] and [Blog Name], [Current Year or Year Range]

[Source]

No matter what size a blog is, no blog is secure from content theft. Some bloggers license their blog under creative commons license by arguing the issues of content theft and difficulty in discouraging copying under the (DMCA) Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Some bloggers, like Leo Babauta of Zenhabits.net, encourage readers to copy their content to their own blogs any way they need—even without attribution.

If you own a blog licensed under Creative Commons, it’s a good idea to use WordPress plugin called Creative Commons Configurator. This adds your CC license near the footer of your posts, and in the head of your blog. This will be visible only to robots, but ensures your approach to copyright is clear to all—including Google, which means you should avoid their penalties when others reuse your content.

My advice? License images and videos under CC, but not the text of your blog if you don’t want your blog get penalized by Google. But what about you? Do you protect your copyright, or license your content for others to use? Tell us how you do it in the comments.

Shahzad Saeed blogs on TechAndProject.com where he talks about Technology for students. If you want to learn web designing either to become a freelancer or to be an employee feel free to read his article series on web coding.

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Comments

  1. Craig says:

    Good post Shahzad,

    Here’s a follow-up question for you.

    How can a blogger prove a post was originally theirs – particularly if another site posts it under an earlier date stamp?

    Using a ‘backdated’ post to leverage other people’s content to pull viewers is an old tactic I’ve seen used & can make it hard for the original author to claim ownership without the type of documentation bloggers don’t often keep. The burden of proof is often on them, not the offending site.

    In the worst cases the offending site can sue the original author for a copyright breach.

    How do bloggers defend themselves?

    (note that top designers are accused of similar behaviour stalking markets where hobby designers sell their wares)

  2. Melody says:

    I couldn’t be happier to hear this! No matter how many places I put the copyright symbol and notices, someone always claims they just didn’t know *insert wide-eyed Bambi look here*. I don’t buy it. Even without the many copyright notices, we learn about plagiarism in the 5th grade. And in what dimension would anyone want to put all of that work into creating their website, only to just give it to someone else? Anyone who couldn’t figure that out wouldn’t have the intelligence to turn on a computer in the first place.

    Thanks for educating the masses. :-)

  3. Naveen says:

    Its bad when someone copy others works and destroy their search traffic for the post, so penalize those people who copy other contents will help us to find the original source instead of linking with spam sites.

    Good initiation by Google and I appreciate it.

  4. kamran says:

    hmmm…i appreciate that line….to Reuseing the contents.

  5. John says:

    For the time being google policy is theoritical:
    I’ve written an article (in French) that has made a small buzz and which has been copied on a dozen of blogs, some with a backlink to my article and some without:
    http://www.devenir-rentier.info/2012/08/comment-prendre-le-controle-dune-nation-methode-gratuite/
    But if you search on google for my article title (Comment prendre le controle d’une nation), my blog and the original article appear nowhere, and other blogs appear on first page.
    So I’m glad Google wants to make this move, can’t wait…

  6. Moe says:

    Will be interesting to see how this infringement update plays out. I can see it being used to cause problems to legit sites in the same way that fake reviews can be used to attack a competitor. I guess we will just have to wait and see

  7. Brad Dalton says:

    Here’s an example of what i have to put up with.

    http://www.modamusic.com/aceite-tonic-back-to-wall-toilet/

    This comes from one of my keyword competitors which i will be naming shortly

    I have notified the owner, the domain manager and the host and they refuse to take it down.

    I think they should also be penalized for failing to stop copyright infringement.

  8. Ferb says:

    I can see this is very important. Copying happening all around the web. However, by understanding a post first and come with a fresh post without look at the old one while writing will definitely prevent from copyright. And thanks for reminding us to renew copyright information.

  9. Deb says:

    I’d be interested to know the best way to draw my readers’ attention to an article that would interest them. I generally include a few lines or a paragraph and a link, but a photo would often be more effective in sending someone over to the other site to read the article. I feel comfortable with a short quote, but don’t know what to do about the photos. I’m happy to send the traffic where it belongs!

    This is easily done on FB, but what is the most appropriate and effective way to share on one’s own blog?

  10. Noisy Ninja says:

    Good. I hope Google takes real steps that actually count to clean up their search engine with this. The fact that I can google a piece of software or music and have a site like The Pirate Bay show up in the first results is just absolutely ridiculous. Hey Google, I did not ask you how I could go about STEALING that piece of software, now did I? So why direct me to a page like that?

    A decade plus as the top search engine… It’s only about time they came up with something like this update, as far as I’m concerned.

  11. As a part of copyrighting my sites materials I always keep backups of my sites in addition to the Word Documents I use to write my posts. This way if someone else wants to attempt to steal my content via back dating they are going to be hard pressed to prove that they really own the content, especially if my site backup files show that my content has clearly been around longer than theirs. Computers also generate time stamps that are attached to files when they are created and change. So, my best none legal professional opinion is to make certain that you at the very least back up your Word Press database regularly and keep all backup copies. Crooks are good but they aren’t all that smart otherwise they’d be writing their own stuff rather than stealing yours. Cheers!

  12. Ellen says:

    What about Google images? I find it hard to tell-but if I see one that is a logo or uses the name of a business on it I don’t use it.

  13. Gorm Matis says:

    Great! I hope Google slaps a heavy manual penalty on Pinterest, one of the largest crowdsourced scraper to ever see the light of day.

  14. Nimsrules says:

    I’m quite happy to hear this news. Even one my articles had been completely ripped off on a blog which I surprisingly found was much popular and visitor gaining than mine. A quick scan told me that that was because of them copying and publishing articles from other blogs. A DMCA threat and they were down on their knees begging for mercy. LoL

  15. Veeru Bolem says:

    All content writers present facing this problem, If this continue quality authors will go back. Web is freedom for everyone, they can write or copy or can do anything. This freedom will hurt sometimes.

  16. It is a shame that some people want to harvest where they did not sow, l am even more impressed that Google is doing something to terrace these people a lesson of their lives.

  17. We should all learn to reap from where we sow,try and fit yourself in other peoples’ shoes and see what it feels like.We need to have a heart and stop hacking other peoples’ works.

  18. this article is very informative. Thanks for putting it up.

  19. Seems to me it would make more sense to correct search by counting actual takedowns, i.e. sites that respond to DMCA notices they receive, rather than assuming any and all notices are valid copyright claims. Innocent until proven guilty.

  20. Shelby Roth says:

    This is definitely so correct. I absolutely agree with you! At least every writer is at risk here if none understands a post first and come with a fresh post without looking at the old one while writing; we have to be careful since some ideas will just be a stolen one and if we focus on our own ideas the way they flow, we will unquestionably prevent our contents from copyright.

  21. Aditi says:

    Hi,
    This is absolutely correct that copying content is not all appreciated by Google at any time. I like the second point that you have highlighted of taking the permission from the author before copying the content. This post is really very informative for all bloggers. Well, I think unique and fresh content is always encouraged by all. So, one should be unique enough in their posts in order to attract visitors to it. Thanks for the share!!

  22. Great post. I do share content from other sites, but I don’t copy an entire post and I do ask permission first. What I like to do is add a few sentences to a blog post (with permission) along with a Read More link. Some topics are too complicated to be so brief and for those, I’ll create a link list of posts that I found interesting and why.

    I appreciate the warning. I think many of us think others should be flattered that we’re sharing their work, even when we’re doing it in the manner I described. But it’s good to hear that we should still get permission.

    Kimberly

  23. Srini says:

    Good post. Copyright infringement is a serious offence and also if one can’t create genuine posts, then they should consider quitting blogging. Everyone wishes to learn new things and not re-read what they have read from somewhere else. Also I have to be watchful to know if someone is taking away posts from me. Keep up the good work :)

  24. Terry Kyle says:

    Presumably, they won’t be delisting YouTube results, even though YT is one of the biggest copyright infringers on the Web.

  25. E Okul says:

    I actually disabled copy-paste on my blog with a plug-in called WP-CopyProtect. The plug-in is really handy. I can suggest it if you just don’t want a person easily copy-paste your content.

  26. The Max says:

    This is a very important article. I also hate this article thieves. But after I read this I had this question. Imagine you want to use Some proverbs or greatest sayings in your article. So they are not copied but also in other sites. Same thing about Song lyrics. we can’t use own words in lyrics and sayings so they defiantly in other sites. In this case how can we survive from Google penalty?

  27. What about free content monitoring and infringement detection services*? Why not just download the plugin and get notified when it happens, and use them to automate the take down notice if necessary?

    *for instance, iCopyright.com