Protecting your work from content theft online

Way back when Brainripples first sprouted, I told you that the pirate’s life just isn’t for me.  I respect other people’s work, and I request permission before I use another person’s creation.  Spending months tackling the delicate permission/consent request process for an upcoming book has afforded me an even deeper appreciation for the importance of respecting every author’s work.

Recently I’ve experienced increasing instances of content theft online.  I’d like to say that it’s because folks just love my work so much, they forget to ask before they use it.  Unfortunately, in just about every instance my work appears to have been “scraped” for a “splog.”

Scraping” can refer to automated content theft: as I understand it, software is used to extract blogging content as it is syndicated (e.g. RSS).

Splogging” refers to “spam blogs”: blogs which scrape content and repost it at a website, often filled with advertisements.

The reason this happens is simple: typically this is an attempt to make a profit by using other people’s content to drive traffic to a website (often filled with advertising).

So why am I talking about this uninspiring and somewhat unfortunate topic at Brainripples?

We all have different motivations for creation.  Whatever our reasons for creating (and blogging about our creations), such creation requires time, energy, effort, and often a very personal investment in our work.  Speaking for myself, it’s disheartening (to say the least) to find my work used without my permission solely for someone else’s profit.  (Ever heard of the term “starving artist”?  I may not be starving, but I’m not relaxing at a beach resort either.)

I’m writing about content theft at Brainripples to help share a little of my learning.  There are already some outstanding experts out there blogging about content theft prevention who offer helpful advice, ideas, and resources for how to protect your work, how to handle content theft, and how to understand copyright.

Here is a selection of these resources.  If you have some of your own to share, please feel welcome to let us know in the comments!  (At this point, I can use all the help I can get!)

Lorelle on WordPress is a champion in knowledge sharing.  Check out her articles:

What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content

Finding Stolen Content and Copyright Infringements

The Growing Trends in Content Theft: Image Theft, Feed Scraping, and Website Hijacking


The BlogHerald has recently posted a couple helpful articles as well which I refer to regularly:

5 Content Theft Myths and Why They Are False

The 6 Steps to Stop Content Theft

You can get helpful details about copyright from the US Copyright Office, the Creative Commons, the ever-expanding Google, and numerous other online resources:

US Copyright Office

Creative Commons

Google: Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Standford Copyright & Fair Use Center


Chilling Effects


Plagiarism Today


You can read a summary of the original legislation for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 at the US Copyright Office Legislation page.  Below is a direct link to the .pdf version of this document (note: when you click this link, you will launch (or be prompted for) Abobe Reader):

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (.pdf)

These are all just starting places.  As Lorelle VanFossen of Lorelle on WordPress tells us, “The first step in learning about what you can do when someone steals your content is to know that it will happen […]”.

I’m not an expert yet.  I’ve only had to tackle about 10-20 instances of content theft (knock on wood!!).  That’s probably just a sprinkle of sand on the beach compared with the ocean of trouble that some of the more popular bloggers have to swallow.

I’m of the mind that art begets art: we artists have been generating ideas off one another since humans first put chalk to rock.  However, if someone likes my work so much that they would like to use it directly in their own work, the process is really simple: all they have to do is ask for my permission, and wait for me to give it; (as Geraldine Hartman kindly demonstrated yesterday when requesting to use a piece of my photography.  Thanks Geraldine!).

Don’t get mad: know your work, know your rights, and take action.  Then, get back to creating!

14 Responses to Protecting your work from content theft online

  1. I just wanted to thank you for writing on this and say that, if I can be of any help, please let m know. I haven’t been as lucky, I’ve dealt with over 600 but sometimes my bad luck pays off when others get into a bind.

    Let me know what I can do to help and keep up the good fight!

  2. JLB says:

    Jonathan, thank you for visiting! I knew there were a few links missing from my post… I’ll be updating shortly to include one for Plagiarim Today. In fact, I may well take you up on your offer – it sounds like you (unfortunately) have much more experience than I do in handling content theft. Thanks again for stopping by, and for all the great information you contribute to the ongoing dialog regarding content theft.


  3. Very important issue JL and you’ve provided some additional information that is appreciated.

    I certainly know about the importance of respecting the ownership of someone’s work; being a long-time freelance writer and instructor. Some people don’t realise that this amounts to theft but it is just as serious as stealing merchandise from a store etc….

    thanks again for use of the beautiful pine photo!

  4. Jaye Wells says:

    Thank you for this. I’m afraid my knowledge of these matters is limited, so it’s good to have a starting point.

  5. JLB says:

    Geraldine, thanks again! It’s always refreshing (especially in the midst of tackling this stuff) to be reminded that many folks are able and willing to take the time to do it right.

    Jaye, I’m glad that this info can be helpful. In my (limited) experience, it’s best to be as informed as possible and approach the situation with professionalism. That doesn’t make it any less annoying, but it does help one feel as if there’s something to be done. 😉

  6. spyscribbler says:

    Hey, what do you do when you google for an image, and you find it in multiple places with no one (that you can find) being the artist or photographer? Is it okay to use it, at least until someone claims ownership? Or not?

  7. JLB says:

    Spyscribbler, this is a good question. I can think of a couple answers:

    1) For myself, I always dig and dig and dig until I find the original author. Since this was part of my book research recently, it was critical: every image to be used in the book required a formal permission request letter, so I HAD to find the owner. This approach might take a really long time (and a little creative research) in order to get it right. My conclusion: either find the original artist, or find a different image.

    2) For others, the solution is often to do as you say, use the image, write “author unknown” and/or “Author/artist retains original rights”, and wait for the owner to step forward. The trouble with this method is that it’s still copyright infringement if this is a protected work (not public domain). It’s also difficult to gauge ownership, and it requires effort on behalf of the artist to make (and prove) their claim.

    Either way, it still comes down to a personal choice. I know some people who are pretty loosey-goosey about copyrights. They don’t mean it in a vindictive way, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are using someone else’s work without authorization.

    Any help?


  8. Angelique says:


    I’ve wondered about the whole image-thing, too. I wonder if it’s tougher to find the origins of images via the web than it is to find plagiarized text?

    Also — did your investigation indicate how effective splogging really is? I’m assuming that it’s making someone money (why else would it be done?), but I’m not sure how. Is anyone really following those false links?

    Great work, excellent post. Happy almost-new year!


  9. JLB says:

    Angelique, the toughest part about searching for images (and their origins) is that it’s a challenge to search for descriptions of images. Text-related searches are obviously more direct. I’ve had to get pretty creative when looking for the original authors of photographs/images.

    As for the question of the effectiveness of splogging, I’m equally as curious. I continue to wonder just what kind of revenue they generate, and at this time I have no certainty… a lot of folks buy into “money making schemes” of one kind or another… I’m not sure if anyone ever really makes much money with any of them, but new ones continue to pop up. 😉

    I’m glad you found the post helpful. It’s sticky issue, but nonetheless unavoidable and important to attend to as an independent artist.

    Happy Almost-New-Year right back at ya!


  10. spyscribbler says:

    Thanks, that is helpful! I’ve looked high and low and I’m giving up. Easier if I pull out my digital camera and take my own pictures, whatever the quality, LOL!

  11. kimnixon says:

    Thanks for your comments on my website and even more thanks for the education you are helping provide to others!

  12. Sarala says:

    Hey, thanks for the info. My words have been stolen and I have not been able to do anything about it. I hope I learn something after I follow the links you have given us.

  13. TheOtherIvy says:

    Great information. I have only been blogging for a short time but have already been linked to by an automated site. It seems to be particularly tricky for people who publish images and poetry. It appears that our means of sandbagging this type of theft is becoming more sophisticated.

  14. JLB says:

    SpyScribbler, glad I could help a little.

    Kim, I’m glad to share what I know. Thanks for visiting!

    Sarala, it’s good to know you found the information helpful. After scrambling around several times myself, I found these bloggers to offer a lot of useful guidance.

    TheOtherIvy, greetings and welcome! Apparently, there is a trend toward this type of content theft on newer blogs (and you’re right, the images are really tough to track). I’ve found it helpful to add labels with a title, my name, the year, and the word “copyright” to my image. That way, there is a little searchable text associated with the image.

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