6 Tips for Protecting and Defending Your Online Content

by Robert Moskowitz on August 27, 2013
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Posting valuable information on your company’s website or blog is a lot like leaving store merchandise out on the sidewalk. It might be good for attracting interest, but the free public access makes your inventory — or, in this case, your intellectual property — highly vulnerable to theft.

So, it’s important to regularly search the web for unauthorized use of your content and, if and when you find instances of plagiarism, take steps to either have the material removed or receive credit where it’s due.

Here are six tips for protecting and defending your online content.

1. Set up Google Alerts. Anyone with a free Gmail account can monitor the web for new content that contains specific phrases or keywords. Google Alerts automatically notifies you via email whenever your select terms appear.

To protect your website’s content, get in the habit of establishing an alert for every important item you post. Ask Google Alerts to search for a complete, unique sentence from your text (to avoid being bombarded with false alarms) and then adjust your alert settings so you’re notified of “everything” “as it happens.” You can set up as many different searches as you’d like.

2. Use plagiarism and image checkers. Another free tool for finding misappropriated content is Copyscape. You simply provide the URL of your written material, and Copyscape searches for any other web pages where the same content appears.

To protect your original images, try TinEye. This free “reverse image search engine” finds out where a photo came from and whether any modified or higher-resolution versions exist and then reports any instances of copies.

3. Request credit. When you find someone using your original text or photos without giving you credit, you’ll need to decide how to respond. If you’re OK with your material being reposted as is and just want to be acknowledged for your work, contact the website’s administrator and ask for proper credit with a link back to your site. (Note: This can help spread the word about your business.) If you’re unhappy with the reposting of your content, ask the offending site’s administrator to remove your content immediately.

In either case, provide a link to your website that points to the content in question, the date you first posted it, and a clear statement that you own the material and do not want it to be copied. Many people notified in this way will comply with your request, particularly if you indicate that you will file a complaint (see #4) if your content remains up without permission.

If the offending site does not provide any contact information, enter the primary URL into a search tool like Who Is Hosting This or BetterWhoIs to find out who owns or hosts a particular domain. Note that website-hosting services tend to be more willing to remove unlawfully duplicated content than the amateur webmasters who do the copying.

4. File a formal complaint. If the offending website refuses to honor your request, you can file a DMCA complaint. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is landmark legislation that protects intellectual property online. Once you file a complaint, the offender is supposed to honor your ownership of the material. If that doesn’t happen, responsible parties at various websites will follow their own specific protocols to deal with the offender, up to and including shutting down the offending website.

5. Sign up for Google Search Authorship. Of course, even after you’ve found and notified those who have stolen your online content, there’s no way to keep your original content from being stolen again … and again. But you can take steps to protect your digital content and make it tougher for others to use your intellectual property illegally.

One tactic is to set up your Google Search Authorship. This asserts your ownership of particular content and automates a process by which your stolen content is associated with you rather than the thief.

6. Provide warnings and auto-links. Post a clear copyright notice and terms of use on your website, with links to your policies on every page. This is somewhat like hanging “No Trespassing” signs on the fence around a plot of land: It doesn’t actually prevent violations of the law, but it puts everyone on notice that your property is private, protected, and patrolled.

It’s also possible to add a coded “script” to your webpages that automatically produces a link to your original article whenever someone tries to cut and paste your content. This serves as a reminder to the user to link back to your site as the original source.

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