Proven methods for protecting content from being copied

Written by
Kelly Breland
Nov 14, 2022
12 min read

Images, texts, and videos have always been and will be copied. No website owner can prevent content theft. 

Sure, you can try to beat thieves to the punch by protecting your content or by relying on luck and confronting plagiarists after your content gets stolen. But there is another option. Just relax because original content is sort of protected by default and because there’s no point in fighting an uphill battle. However, if you go for the latter option, you will have to deal with the aftermath of your content getting stolen anyway.

In this blog post, you will find useful advice that will help you protect your texts, images, and videos from getting plagiarized. But first, let’s find out what problems websites can experience if someone steals their content.

What are the consequences of website content being copied?

  1. Traffic loss. A part of your site’s visitors may go to the copied website. If that website ends up being well received by search engines, its rankings may turn out to be higher than that of your site. The thing is, search engines can’t immediately identify the original source. For this reason, they may provide searchers with several results that have similar content. As a result, the original website’s CTR and traffic volume may decrease.
  2. Drop in rankings. Unique and original content doesn’t guarantee that your site will get top search rankings. It’s likely that the website that copied your text will appear higher in the SERPs, and your website will experience a ranking drop. Google, for instance, can sometimes rank plagiarized content above the original one in the SERP. One of the possible reasons explained by John Mueller in Google SEO Office-hours hangout is that copy-cat websites can be of better quality than the site which originally created and posted the content.
John Mueller
Search Advocate at Google
…Maybe it’s worthwhile to also invest in improving the quality of your website overall… Not just that one article that apparently people like.
  • Decreased reader loyalty. Some readers may assume that you’re the one who stole content, not the other way around. Your site may ultimately lose credibility, especially if it’s less popular, younger, or looks worse than the site whose owners copied your content.
  • Updated website information. If you fail to prove that your content got stolen, you will probably need to update your texts, images, and videos. This can lead to additional expenses on professional services and a huge waste of time.
  • Search engine sanctions. Yep, this is rather unpleasant. Sometimes websites that produce original content undergo search filtering while copycat sites are left unpunished. This can happen if search engines incorrectly identify or recognize the original source of the content.

From a business perspective, content theft also encourages unfair competition. This is especially true and harmful for e-commerce sites. Firstly, competitors can copy your product descriptions. Secondly, they can steal your offer. With minimal effort, they’ll have ready-made texts at their disposal and will be able to make their offer more profitable than yours.

This is what stolen content looks like in the search results:

Plagiarized content on Google

How to find out if your content got stolen? 

If you suspect that your content has been copied, there are several ways you can check if this is in fact true:

  • Using a search engine. Enter the title of your article in the search bar and look through the results to see if they contain similar texts. 
  • Using Google Alerts. Choose any unique line or phrase from your content and put it in double quotes into the search field. Then, click the Create Alert button. Now, when the system detects copied pieces, you’ll get a Google alert message with details on a website that’s stealing your content.
Plagiarism checker tool example
  • Using SE Ranking’s On-Page SEO Checker that helps website owners optimize their site’s pages for target search queries, as well as find out how unique the content is.
Enter a URL and get your free report

What do you do if your content gets stolen? 

The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) regulate the international protection of original content owners. The rights of content creators are also protected by the civil code of the country where they are registered. This protection comes into force as soon as the content is published. In practice, these laws protect content owners only hypothetically, because many plagiarists can, unfortunately, get around them.

So the first step in detecting plagiarism should be contacting the plagiarist directly. It’s likely that contact information will be provided somewhere on the site. Once you get it, send a personal message describing the problem. 

Sometimes a website owner may not even be aware that the content on their site or images and videos they use have been stolen. That’s the case, for instance, when you hire an irresponsible person to do the job. It’s possible that by informing the website owner of the problem, the issue will be resolved without more complicated steps.

But if you don’t get any response, you can send a second, more serious email saying that you are going to bring the case to court and that you have evidence that the stolen content belongs to you. Sometimes this works and scares off evil-doers, getting them to remove the copied text from their site. 

If doing so does not help, try reaching out to the support team of your search engine. This does not always help if you don’t have solid evidence. In such cases, pages with duplicate content will not be removed from the search results. However, the correspondence with tech support will help you in court if your case does go to trial.

Filing a complaint according to the DMCA law

You can report a copyright infringement under the US DMCA, or you can file an offsetting order if another person has filed such a complaint against you. Before you file a copyright infringement, you should prepare all the necessary documentation that will help the court identify you as the original author of the published material. 

Here’s how to file a DMCA notice of infringement:

  1. The author files a notice of infringement to an authorized agent of the service provider (or “removal notice”) asking the provider to remove the stolen content from the website of the plagiarist.
  2. The copypasted page is removed from the search results if the service agent is registered with the US Copyright Office.
  3. The owner of the copycat website is notified about the limitation of his content showing in search results in response to complaints that the provider received under the DMCA law.
DMCA notice example

The last resort is to take it to the courts. In this case, you should be prepared to hire a lawyer and collect tangible evidence of your original authorship of the content. 

How to protect textual content from theft

Consider it a compliment if your content gets stolen. If someone steals your original works, this is a telltale sign that they are useful and popular. Plus, you will also be aware that you have to protect your future publications because plagiarists will be eager to steal them from you. 

This is especially relevant to new websites whose pages are not immediately ranked by search engines after posting. If your text is copied and placed on a more popular and bigger website, it is you who can be accused of copypasting, which is pretty irritating to say the least.

Here are several methods that will definitely work at protecting your content from lazy or non-competent plagiarists, as well as will help you prove your authorship in court.

  1. Hidden block with information about copy-pasted text. A fragment with a reference to the original source is inserted into the text. A plagiarist can copy it without even noticing that he copied the text with the name of the site or name of its company-owner.
  2. Disabling text selection highlighting using CSS styles (for example, ‘noselect’). This will work even if script execution is disabled. However, this method will not work if the thief opens the code of the page and copies the text from there.
  3. Internal linking. Insert links to other pages of your website within your text. If someone copies your content, the links leading to your site will be copied too.
  4. Restricting copying to clipboard. The text will be copied, but the malefactor will not be able to copy it onto the clipboard.
  5. Using social signals. Provide users with the possibility to share your article, “like” it, and leave a comment. You can create the first activity even on your own. Doing so will help you prove your authorship by the date when you’ve shared it. 
  6. Using special pinging services. You can connect tools such as FeedBlitz that will send automated messages about a new post on your website to various services. You can also use a special WordPress plugin or ask your developers to help you out.
  7. Emailing notifications with publication links to yourself that will serve as evidence of ownership of your content. 
  8. Cross-posting on other websites. Post news about publications on your website on various social platforms.
  9. Notarization of website pages. It’s expensive and takes some time but it’s 100% effective.
  10. Sometimes, the theft occurs even before publishing the content (and so you won’t have any chance to prove the authorship afterward). Make sure that your team doesn’t share any materials with third parties before the actual publication. The easiest way to do it is to use DAM. The tool enables you to restrict the sharing of some materials at all!

How to protect images from being stolen

  1. Using watermarks. You can create watermarks using Adobe Photoshop, Digimark, Watermark, and other similar programs.
  2. Downloading an empty file or a file of a nonexistent format. As a result, the downloaded image will not open, and the plagiarist will seek another place to copy images.
  3. Restricting copying via the context menu. You can do this by editing JavaScript, CSS, jQuery, or by using CMS plugins.
  4. Digital marks on images. The information about the camera that was used to take photos, the date, the time, and the location are solid evidence of ownership of your images.
  5. Using the IPTC Core “Creator” metadata field to indicate the creator/author of an image. You can do it in Adobe Photoshop, IPTC is supported in JPEG and TIFF photo files.
  6. Creating an anchor list consisting of unique text fragments. It should contain fewer than 100 characters. This method accelerates content indexing.
  7. Picking up pieces of images. You can cut an image into several parts and then post them together using a code. Plagiarists will get only a part of an image if they try downloading it.
  8. Posting licensed images. Google processes licenses. As a result, a ‘Licensable’ mark will appear on the images on your site.

How to protect video content from theft

  1. Using a watermark or owner identifier is the most popular option because it marks videos as copyrighted even when plagiarists try to capture them from the screen. 
  2. Device blocking. In this case, the video player on your site links to a particular device type. This limits the opportunities of users of your site because they have to watch videos on a particular device. 
  3. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) doesn’t allow thieves to watch the downloaded video and protects video content from getting stolen with the help of advanced plugins.
  4. Using a player that hides the video download link from both users and plugins.

Methods that don’t protect your content from being copied

  1. Using a Google+ account that was linked to the website. This method doesn’t work anymore because the social network no longer exists.
  2. Using built-in scripts to prohibit content copying. Only extremely lazy plagiarists don’t know that when dealing with websites with built-in scripts, they can just access the page source code or to turn off scripts in the browser. Anyone can find out how to do it by Googling it anyway.
  3. Putting a link to the source at the end of the text. When you insert a fragment of a text to a text field, the cursor goes to the end of that fragment, where the mentioned link is actually placed. It cannot remain unnoticed, so this method can be considered ineffective. 

Summing up

You cannot completely protect your content from being copied but that doesn’t mean that there’s no point in trying. Use one of the aforementioned protection methods or even several of them. 

If plagiarists still succeeded in stealing your content, despite all the measures taken to secure it, contact them immediately upon finding out about this. Tell the evil-doers that you have the evidence of theft because you’d be surprised how often this works. If the plagiarists don’t respond to it, contact your search engine’s support team and provide your evidence. The last option to use is collecting evidence of your authorship and taking legal actions.

You know of any other way to make sure no one steals your content and presents it as their own, leave a comment below.

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