Stolen Content: How to spot it and how to deal with it

Stolen content and plagiarism is ruining the internet. Here’s how to spot the Melania Trumps of this world and take the power back.

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Discovering that your copy has been stolen is maddening. The topic you’ve spent hours researching, poured your heart and soul into writing about, and had checked and re-checked before finally hitting “publish” is completely cheapened by someone thieving it and passing it off as their own. I imagine Michelle Obama could be experiencing something similar.

Yes, it’s all over the headlines at the moment: Melania Trump has copied from Michelle Obama’s convention speech.

I am loathed to give Donald Trump any attention what-so-ever, but I swear it’ll be brief. Basically, his wife, Melania Trump, delivered a moving, heartfelt speech on Monday at the Republican National Convention, as is tradition. Very well-received, her messages of compassion, respect and truth were almost drowned out by applause at times, but have now come under scrutiny due to similarities in both ideas and wording to Michelle Obama’s speech back in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention.

Everyone’s outraged.

Stolen content and SEO

If you’re not familiar with the perils of duplicate content, go and check out what Google has to say on the matter, but suffice to say, it generally spells bad news in terms of SEO. Lifted content, if it’s word-for-word, is fairly easily detected by the likes of CopyScape or PlagTracker. With a few tweaks, however, and by swapping some words out, what once was your original content quickly becomes the work of someone else, often in an effort to manipulate SERPs. Google no-likey.

Google likes fresh, unique content – that’s basically SEO 101. Although the search engine (or rather its Panda algorithm) is getting better and better at identifying the original source of content, rendering you safe and sound, there could be instances where other people are ranking above for content originally written by you.

Spotting stolen content

We’re perhaps not all so fortunate as Michelle Obama in that we shouldn’t hold-out for an online vigilante to expose content thievery. There are ways, however, of monitoring for plagiarism that do not involve being famous. Here are a couple:

Google Alerts

Head on over to and enter your search. Use the show options drop down to refine your query, then hit create alert. You’ll see the preview of your query appear below your selection:

Plagiarism and SEO - Melania Trump Michelle Obama - Browser Media

This service is totally free.


Claiming to be “the most advanced plagiarism protection service on the market”, once you’ve signed up, you’ll receive any notifications of copying via email. It scans for duplicates of web pages every day for the professional service, and once a week for the standard.

Prices for the standard service start at $4.95 per month for up to 10 pages on your site.

Protecting your content

Not to sound defeatist, but you really can’t. You could try including a Terms of Use Policy on your site, permitting people to pinch your work so long as they credit you… but there’s no guarantee anyone will take heed of your notice. You can watermark images and code in those ‘Read More’ links, but that might not work either as watermarks can be cropped, and links can be deleted.

CopyScape recommends adding a warning banner to your site as a deterrent…

Copyscape - warning banner - browser media

… but they’re easily ignored too. Seems vigilance is your only hope!

What to do if your content’s been stolen

After you’ve calmed down and stopped swearing, contact the plagiarist. Maybe they did heartlessly steal your awesome content, but maybe it was an accident. Give them the benefit of the doubt before you start dobbing them into Google, and send a firm-but-friendly note carefully explaining that you have reason to believe they’re using your work.

  • Reference the work you think they pinched – both your version, and theirs
  • Include proof with a copyscape screenshot highlighting any duplication
  • Request they remove the content, or at least credit you in some way
  • Suggest a time period in which you expect confirmation that the above has been actioned
  • State clearly what you intend to do if your request it not met (like filing an infringement notification)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Taken from Google’s Support page on the matter:

Plagiarism and SEO - DMCA - Browser Media

You can file an infringement notification over at Google’s super-handy Copyright Removal page. You’ll be asked to…

  • Identify and describe the copyrighted work;
  • Provide the url for the copyrighted work, and;
  • The location of the infringing material

Or, you could file a DMCA Takedown. There are loads of warnings about taking this step as a last resort. Don’t muck about with the DMCA!

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery*

Sure – but only if the original is referenced. Seeing your work passed off as someone else’s utterly sucks and is, in my opinion, ruining the internet. In a world where everyone’s talking about Content Marketing, we’re all working to create content for sharing, not stealing!

*Colton, Charles Caleb (1824). Lacon, Or, Many Things in a Few Words: Addressed to Those who Think (8 ed.). New York: S. Marks. #217, p. 114. Imitation is the sincerest of flattery. Via Wikipedia

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