It’s a wonderful time to be an online content creator. Bloggers, podcasters, photographers and video producers are doing amazing things with their content, and achieving excellent results. As someone who has been blogging for well over a decade, seeing us all come to this point is truly rewarding.
However, for as many people who are creating content online, there are others who are taking a lazy or unethical approach to online (and offline) success, and they don’t care who they steal from in the process. In fact, I don’t know a single content creator who hasn’t been ripped off in some form or another.
Even if you’re not looking to earn money from your content, you’re still losing something when your content is stolen. This is your talent and your expertise. Don’t let someone else take that from you.
If you’re creating content online, here are some things to look for.
1. Someone can “transform” your photos
When you post to a social media platform such as Facebook or Instagram, you don’t own your content, the platform does. But wait, it gets worse – someone can take a photo you posted on the social platform, make a minor change, and pass it off as his/her own. In fact, that person can even sell it at a profit like this “re-photographer” who used screenshots from Instagram without permission and sold them at an art gallery for $90,000 each. Yes, he’s ripping off the original photographer, and yes, it’s legal.
What can you do about it: Post your best work on your own platform where you own all rights. It wouldn’t hurt to watermark your images, either. If you see someone posting your content and profiting from it, don’t let them get away with it. Be loud and proud when it comes to your content.
2. Someone can rewrite your content
Most content creators will tell you that creating the blog post or the video or recording the podcast is the best part of the process. However, there are lazy people who care more about shortcuts and less about ethics. So if they can move a few words around on your blog post, just enough so it won’t pass a Copyscape test, well, that’s good enough for them. Unfortunately, may of these copycat, ripoff artists are passing themselves off as “influential” content creators now because they were able to market the content so that it did well for them. Will they give you credit? Of course not.
What you can do about it: Unfortunately, it’s hard to prove someone plagiarized your content when it’s not written word for word. If it happens often, you can make a case by publicly comparing your content to the other person’s content and showing how it’s no coincidence this person is posting the same thing as you. Also, if the content is close enough to yours that there’s a case for plagiarism, you can send a cease and desist, file a DMCA notice, and even contact the website host who can demand removal.
3. Someone can pass off your content as his/her own
Some content thieves are more blatant and lazy than others. In fact, there are those who will simply copy your content outright.Many times you might not even know it happens unless you link internally in your blog posts, in which case you will receive a pingback from the offending blog or receiving a Google alert.
What you can do about it: If you can prove the content originated at your site – which isn’t difficult to do with dated blog posts or other content updates – you can file a Cease and Desist and DMCA Takedown Notice. If the offending content thief doesn’t remove the content after you ask nicely and slap him or her with some paperwork, you can send a DMCA notice to that person’s web host who will request removal or the site will be shut down.
4. Someone can steal your profile photos
Even if you’re not a blogger, podcaster, or video producer, you’re still putting content online. For example, your image on Facebook? That’s your content. There are so many thieves stealing profile images from Facebook and passing themselves off as another person. Someone can even use your profile photo to pass themselves off as someone completely different so they can mislead others.
What you can do about it: If someone is using your profile photo without permission, request an immediate cease and desist -but don’t leave it at that. All of the social networks have ways to report identity theft. Use the “report” button to contact the social network so they can remove the copycat profile immediately. They may even investigate further to see if there are other stolen photos being used.
5. Someone can share your clever social media posts without giving attribution
Celebrities and radio stations love to share viral content on Facebook and Twitter, but does the content belong to them? This is an iffy one because in most cases the person or brand doing the sharing isn’t stealing the content, they’re just sharing it. However, if they’re not including your name in the share, and it goes viral with no credit to you, they’re the ones who are credited with the awesome share and now people associate them with the content.
Actor Tyrese Gibson took it even further when he took videos from Facebook uploading them to his own page without offering any kind of attribution.
What you an do about it: Unless it’s a blatant steal like the Tyrese Gibson situation you can’t really do much about someone sharing your content. You can try asking the person doing the sharing to please make sure you’re attributed as the content creator, though. In most cases the brand or person sharing is happy to comply. If someone is passing your content off as his own, contact the social network and request a takedown.
6. Someone can download your TV show or movie rather than paying for service
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Streaming aren’t the only ways people are watching TV and movies online. They’re also downloading them via torrent sites or streaming them illegally. This means that everyone from the content creators, producers, and actors are losing money.
What you can do about it: The networks are on it, but as soon as one site is shut down another pops up. A good recourse is to educate people about copyright laws, content theft, and theft of service. Most people who use an illegal service to download content see it more as saving money and don’t realize they’re ripping off many people in the process.
7. Someone can repackage, rewrite, or resell your ebook
Someone who is too lazy to create his/her own ebook but still wants to profit from ebook sales, probably has no craps to give about all the hard work you put into writing, editing, formatting and designing your ebook. People with no conscience or sense of right or wrong won’t think twice about taking your ebook, sticking a different title and cover on it, and selling it on their own. It’s not easy to find out if someone is plagiarizing your ebooks, either. Unlike online blog posts and articles, you can’t necessarily compare an ebook word for word unless you buy it, and the verbiage doesn’t always show up in a web search.
What you can do about it: This is a tough one. How do you know someone is repackaging your ebook and passing it off as your own if no one tells you or it doesn’t come up in a Google alert? You can monitor ebook sales in your niche, and also you can do periodic web searches for specific phrasing, blocks of text and unique terms that you will only find in your ebook. If your ebook is copyrighted, you can pursue legal action but, of course, you have to make sure it will be worth the expense to have that fight.
8. Someone can steal your title and headlines
The problem with coming up with a clever headline is that there’s a mad rush to click on something popular, everyone wants to do the same thing. I can’t tell you how many times someone took a title that was popular on another blog or ebook and used it to write his/her own original content. It’s frustrating, darn it, because you came up with it first. Can’t people find their own ideas?
What you can do about it: Nothing, really. You can’t prove plagiarism or content theft if someone used a title you created and used it for themselves but posted their own unique content underneath. If you can prove there was a blatant ripoff (which is hard to do with just a title) you might have a case, but that type of theft is difficult to prove.
You can also try working on headlines that are so unique no one could justify stealing them. For example, John Smith couldn’t get away with sharing “Deb Ng’s Top 10 Tips for Not Allowing Smarmy Content Thieves to Rip You Off.”
9. Someone can share your design and logo ideas
There are numerous cases online of people who ripped off someone else’s logo and passed off the design to their clients as their own.It’s so disheartening because designers put their heart and soul into creating something unique and powerful for their clients only to have someone else steal it, do a minimum of tweaking and sell it to one of their clients.
What you can do about it: Fortunately this one is easy. If you find you’ve been ripped off contact the offending party and cease and desist his/her butt. Tell that person to use of the design has to stop immediately or you will contact their client who they sold the design to. Give him or her a week to rectify the situation. If the design isn’t pulled and/or you’re not given proper credit and payment, contact that designer’s client. Let them know their logo was ripped off from your design and share the proof. If it is an ethical business they’ll take the design down immediately and stop payment or request refund from the rip off artist.
10. Someone can steal your ideas
It happens all the time. You have a great idea for a website, startup, blog or other content. You share it with some friends in order to flesh it out. Then you learn someone else has been running with your idea and launched it first. Sometimes, many times, we can’t even trust people we think are our friends.
What you can do about it: Hopefully you documented every step of your process, including any emails and other communication to the rip off artist about this great idea you had. If you can prove this was your idea you can first ask the other person to offer you proper attribution and payment, including future profits or a lump sum. If the other party isn’t keen on sharing, you can take him or her to court.
Paper trails are important with content creation and sharing of ideas. You should always, always document your good ideas and only share them with people you truly trust. Confidentiality and non competes are especially good in these situations.
As soon as you post something it’s your intellectual property. The problem is, content thieves and blog scrapers don’t really care about things like intellectual property and copyright violations. Very few people know how to pursue content thieves or feel it will be a great expense to take them on.
Also, there are people who are under the mistaken impression that once something is online it falls under the public domain and anyone can use it. Most of the time when you confront that type of person they will take the content down because they didn’t know any better.
It helps to educate the world about content theft. What it is, how people steal content, and how it shouldn’t be supported. The more people who are vocal about and take action against content theft, the less likely it is to happen. Content theft is one of the few times I’ll advocate public shaming (if the content thief isn’t accommodating) and creating an uproar. This is our livelihood and we can’t let anyone mess with it.
How do you handle content theft?