Fighting Online Content Theft: Peer Pressure Can Work!

Digital Content Theft: online pirates might be stealing your blog content!It seems that almost every day we learn of some new instance of online content theft.

Some of it is unintentional – because people just don’t understand what content is OK to re-use and when. Sometimes it’s blatant thievery – people taking content that they haven’t created for their own purposes. So when it comes to fighting content theft, there’s a pretty wide range of battle tactics.

At one end of the scale is peer pressure.  This approach is based on the idea that most people want to do the right thing and will do it if they understand what it is.  Probably the biggest issue in content theft today is that people don’t think they’re stealing. There’s a sense that if it’s online, it’s free.  Even those who know better but take content anyway, can hide behind the “I didn’t know” excuse.

One popular blogger who we follow, social media pro Neal Schaffer, has had several run-ins with blog scrapers recently. While it wasn’t unusual for us to notice his tweets about copyright infringement, his response is pretty unique, and we want to share it with you.

Using the Power of Community to Defeat Online Pirates

Neal has a large community following him - on Twitter  (@nealschaffer) and G+, as well as on the Windmill Networking blog. Whenever he encounters piracy of his content, he calls the offender out publicly in front of his community. He posts social media comments addressed directly to the infringers with links to the unlawful content. For example he’ll say:

  • You do not have permission to republish a blog post from my site - please delete ASAP.
  • I never gave you permission to republish my blog post. Please delete.
  • Why did u copy a blog post from my website without my permission? Please delete ASAP - you are in violation of copyright law.

He also calls his community to action.  For instance, he’ll say:

  • “John Smith, on his XYZ website, has illegally copied content from +Windmill Networking without our permission and published on his own website. This was apparently done with a plugin that is importing my RSS feed.

Please help in letting John Smith as well as any other people who see this post know, that it is illegal to copy content from another website without explicit permission to do so”.

In the instances that we observed, the peer pressure of supporters’ re-tweets and posts on social networks - in addition to Neal’s notices - got the infringers to swiftly remove the content in question, in some cases with an explanation or apology.

Using the power of community to support your efforts - especially for cases of inadvertent or naive infringement - can help expedite the removal of offending content.

Technology Plus Peer Pressure:  Another Powerful Combination

We had peer pressure in mind – along with a desire to help educate readers about copyright and the value of online content - when we created the iCopyright service for publishers and bloggers.

We simply used technology to automate the process of educating readers about copyright and each publisher’s or blogger’s specific terms of use.  When a reader acquires a proper license for his or her use by clicking on the desired option - for example, re-posting on a blog - the specific license is displayed on the re-posted content. The licensee is less likely to exceed the limits of the license when it’s there for all to see.

So now you have a lower- and higher-tech example of how peer pressure can work to fight online content piracy.  But sometimes, tougher anti-plagiarism measures are needed.  For instance, when an automated bot scrapes your RSS feed, and the site owner doesn’t respond to peer pressure … what then?

In the near future we’ll be sharing what to do if you require heavier measures!


  1. Neal Schaffer
    May 06 @ 06:53:32

    Thank you so much for sharing my experiences with your readers! The interesting thing is that the advent of social media can actually help us in our fight against copyright violators. Many who copy content also have a social media presence, so by “calling them out” in their own communities, we now have a new way of hopefully “educating” them - and their fans - in a public venue on what they shouldn’t be doing. In addition, if they are on Google Plus, the SEO power of a post bringing up copyright violation cannot be underestimated. The only way to defeat content scrapers is through the enforcement of law as well as education, but at least when I go through my routine which you blogged about, I felt like I have done something to push the needle forward, however small that progress might be, in this endless battle.

    • Rhonda Hurwitz
      May 06 @ 11:39:25

      Neal, we agree, education is sorely needed, and you have indeed moved the needle, by letting your community know that it is not OK to violate copyrights. It also shows the real value of a social community, whose loyalty you have earned by providing valuable content, each and every day. It’s our pleasure to give credit where credit is due!

      • Neal Schaffer
        May 06 @ 13:00:17

        Thanks Rhonda - much appreciated!

    • Judy Gombita
      May 06 @ 15:22:21

      Of course with that last incident of scraping-my Power Byte: Utilitarian Influence — Scaling and Managing PR 2.0 Expectations [Ike Pigott Interview]-it was interesting how I discovered it via the talkwalker alerts (on my name) Neal.

      It sounds like that blog had been using the RSS feed for awhile off of your site and others…….

      • Rhonda Hurwitz
        May 07 @ 06:43:21

        Ah … talkwalker. Been meaning to check that out. THanks for commenting, Judy!

  2. Jessica Miller-Merrell
    May 06 @ 07:06:30

    Amen! I do this too and it works especially because of my following on Twitter. Because my blog and our writer’s work hard to create original content, I hate blog plagiarism with a passion.


    • Rhonda Hurwitz
      May 06 @ 11:31:52

      We agree, Jessica … it’s important to take a stand when content theft occurs. We’re glad that this method works with you, and that your Twitter following rallies when you need them. P.S. We’ll be sure to follow you, too!

  3. Cathy Dunham
    May 06 @ 12:05:18

    Thanks for bringing this issue to the forefront. I still hear requests from people who want to get their new websites launched quickly who tell me to just “go grab something from another website that’s far away from their location”. Duh - “far away” makes no sense on the internet! It’s still piracy. Thus, I am digging in my heels even deeper about developing fresh, relevant, robust, value-added, timely and unique content.

    • Rhonda Hurwitz
      May 07 @ 06:42:37

      Kudos to you, Cathy, for standing your ground as a website designer and doing what you know is right! We find that alot of people are simply misinformed when it comes to copyright infringement. Keep educating those clients! THeir search results will be better, their conscience will be clearer, and they’ll thank you in the long run:)

  4. Donna Svei
    May 07 @ 21:47:01

    My favorite content theft story…

    I check bits of text from my blog posts on Google from time to time to identify content theft. Not too long ago, I found that a woman had lifted an entire post without any attribution. I posted a comment on her blog noting that she didn’t have permission to use my content and asked her to remove it.

    Then I looked at some of her other posts. I picked one, dropped some of its text into Google, and followed it to to its source. She had stolen the content from an intellectual property attorney. How fun is that? I dropped him a note with a link to her stolen post. I wonder how that turned out?

    • Rhonda Hurwitz
      May 12 @ 22:35:56

      Donna, I can’t decide if that’s irony or chutzpah … probably a little bit of both! Thanks for sharing your story.

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