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What should I do if someone steals my content?

For SEO and other reasons, it's important to protect your content from theft online.

What should you do when you see your company's or client's content on another website, with no mention or link back to your site? You worked hard on that blog post, and someone is ripping you off. What's worse, there's a chance this duplication of your content can hurt your Google rankings as well.

The natural reaction is anger. Anger, however, is often quickly replaced with a much worse feeling: helplessness.

Is Your Content Really Stolen?

Copyright laws can confuse many people, and these days not everyone is on the same page about “sharing” content. The truth is, any original content published on the Internet is protected under copyright law, meaning the author must give permission before it can be republished.

An exception to the law is the fair use clause. This term is a little vague, but courts have determined several instances where copying a portion of someone’s content is acceptable:

• Used in scholarly/technical work
• Used for educational purposes
• Used to review, criticize, summarize or parody

If you feel like the person who copied your content did so without one of the above protections, you might wish to consider taking action.

Should You Contact the Offending Party?

It can be tempting to demand the webmaster to remove the stolen content immediately, but it’s important that you really think about the outcome you want before contacting the site manager. Are you willing to wage a web war or take the battle to court?

The best bet to get the reaction you want is to send a friendly email explaining the situation. Don’t be aggressive or place blame, but make it clear that using your content without your permission is not ok. You can ask them to remove the content or give you credit, but you need to make it clear that you expect them to take action.

Often, webmasters don’t realize what they’re doing is illegal, especially if they manage a small site. Approaching the situation calmly is your best bet to resolve the situation peacefully.

If Things Get Messsy

If the offending party refuses to cite you or remove your content, you need to take steps to legally block him or her from using your post. Make sure to document the violation using a screenshot and the post’s URL.

Next, you need to report the offender to search engines or site’s hosting provider. Submit a formal content removal request to each outlet. This can sometimes take a few weeks, so don’t get annoyed if the content isn’t down the next day.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) includes a process for submitting takedown notices so search engines and hosts will respond to your request. Here's the step-by-step process:

If that dosn't work and the situation gets really nasty, you can contact a lawyer that specializes in Internet copyright law.

How to Avoid Content Stealing

Dealing with stolen content is never fun, so finding ways to avoid the situation is important. You can also feature copyright notices on your blog explaining how you allow people to share your content. If you create videos, memes or infographics, make sure to include your logo.