What to do when a copycat steals your content

It’s a horrible feeling when you discover that someone has taken your original content or design, and whacked it up on their own website or social media. You’ve put time and effort (and potentially money) into crafting wonderfully original content, and to then see someone else claiming it as their own is disheartening to say the least.

This happened to my gift business the other day. I was having a look at a new competitor’s website after a friend mentioned there were some similarities in our businesses. Now, I’m all for healthy competition in the marketplace. More options to choose from is a win for consumers, as it pushes businesses to try harder for that elusive dollar. Higher quality, better pricing, faster distribution, more sustainable and ethical practices – when we’re spoilt for choice, these can be the positive outcomes of businesses having to compete against each other.

But in an already saturated market, you need to put in a ton of effort to make sure you stand out. And one of the ways I try and do that is through the content on my website. Being a copywriter, I’ve paid particular attention to the words that my business uses, making sure there’s enough useful information available to answer the most common customer queries.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I clicked on the new competitor’s FAQ page to see all my content on there – word for word – with just a few minor changes such as the business name.

If you discover that your content has been copied, there are laws to protect you.

Look, I understand that many people don’t feel passionate about their FAQ pages, and it’s not Pulitzer Prize winning stuff. But for me, this is content that I’ve been refining over the three years I’ve been dabbling in ecommerce, adding questions I’ve received from customers and improving it as my business experience grows.

I couldn’t help but feel pretty annoyed at such a blatant display of laziness from a direct competitor. Not to mention that it constitutes copyright infringement. We have a wonderful thing called copyright law, which is an automatic protection for your original content. Even if your website doesn’t carry the copyright symbol (©), your content is still protected under this law. That means that no one can republish your content without your explicit permission.

Six steps to dealing with copyright infringement

What should you do if, like me, you discover that someone is claiming your work as their own? You might be tempted to go in guns blazing, but you might get a better outcome if you take a deep breath and follow the steps below:

  1. Keep an open mind. Don’t automatically assume that the website owner was doing it maliciously or knowingly (this turned out to be what happened in my situation as you’ll find out below).
  2. Take screenshots. Capture the duplicate content as screenshots, and date and save the files to your computer. It might be worthwhile doing the same to your content that’s been copied so you have records of both that’s been captured on the same day.
  3. Identify the owner. You can usually find the website owner’s contact details on their Contact page, but if not, you can conduct a WHOIS search with the company that hosts that domain. For example, if it’s a website that’s hosted by GoDaddy, they’ll give you the name of the domain owner as well as the ability to contact them. To find out who hosts the domain, websites such as Who Is Hosting This? can help.
  4. Send them an email. Make it polite and factual, keeping in mind step 1. Include the screenshots, a link to your original content and a statement saying that this content is owned by you and you didn’t give permission for it to be used.
  5. Submit a copyright claim. If you don’t get results with step 4, then it’s time to get a little more serious. You can submit a copyright claim to the domain host, providing specific detail about the infringement. They’ll want enough information to be able to locate and identify the material, your contact details and a statement pertaining to the fact that the use of your material has not been authorised by the copyright owner.
  6. Remove it from search. You can also request a Google DMCA, which, if successful, will remove the content from Google search. It doesn’t remove the stolen content from the website, but it’s another method of ensuring people can’t easily find it.

What happened in my case? Well, I sent the owner of the business a polite email, pointing out the copyright infringement and asking if he was aware of it. To his credit, he replied straight away and said he didn’t realise, as he had an agency design his website and write the content for him. He then said he would speak to them about it.

Once I got over the shock of hearing that a professional agency and copywriter were to blame for the plagiarism, I did appreciate how quickly the owner sorted the issue out. Within a couple of days, brand new copy had appeared, and no doubt there were a few red faces over at the agency.

What have I learnt in all of this? That if you discover that your content has been copied, there are laws to protect you, and you need to call it out. Thankfully, in my situation, it was all sorted out with one email. I’ve also learnt that sadly, there are people in the creative industry who have no issue with copying content. So, if you’d like to avoid finding yourself in a sticky copyright situation, then I’d be happy to help you with your next project.

Outer space

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