Why You Have to Push Back on Unethical Content Thieves

When you create content – either written, visual, or aural – you hope that people will read/watch/listen and enjoy.

The added benefit is if that content consumer shares with their friends, or recommends your content to others, more people become aware of what you’re trying to do.

To enable this, content creators use either RSS or email to grow their audience, with both options allowing subscribers to get instantaneous updates once any new content is published.

Personally, I prefer email – I find it much more personal and, for me at least, it feels like the blogger is only talking to me when I read a post via email.

Many others prefer RSS, so I offer an RSS feed too.

While this helps folks subscribe in their preferred RSS reader, it also opens up content creators to the likes of content scrapers and content thieves.

Case in point – Bjorn Geoffrey Schram.

Imitation Through Content Theft is No Form of Flattery

It all started with a simple tweet.

Given I had written that post as a look back at a special #BeerDays weekend I’d spent with Mill Street Brewery, I was about to thank Bjorn for sharing.

But, seeing the ift.tt URL shortener, along with his claim “New post on my blog”, I decided to click through.

And found this.

db stolen content header

As you can see, it’s definitely a post about Mill Street Brewery. And it’s definitely about a weekend spent with them. However, what it isn’t is this post:

How Mill Street Brewery Remains A Close Family of Punks in a World of Corporate Beer

The first image is from Bjorn’s site, while the embedded post is a snippet from the original post.

Not that anyone who may have clicked Bjorn’s link would have known.

Instead, they would have believed the post was by Bjorn, given he had his name as the author at the top of the post, and then had this at the bottom of it.

db stolen content single post

As you can see, he also claims it’s his post in the author bio box. Not that it’s my post that he’s published, in full, on his site. No – this is his post.

Sure, there’s a mention that the article is from my site, but that’s only because I use a plugin that drops a link back to the original piece, so content scrapers like Bjorn can’t pass it off as theirs.

Clearly this didn’t deter him.

This is something I’ve come across a few times over the years I’ve been blogging, and it pisses me off no end.

As content creators, we work our asses off to create content for others. A single post is much more than just typing some words up and sticking a pretty picture in there.

It can literally take several days (and longer) to create a single post, because you’re more than just a blogger. You’re also responsible for:

  • Research
  • Writing
  • Formatting
  • Editing
  • Media
  • Citations
  • Publishing
  • Promoting

Even the quickest posts (where it’s simply an opinion piece, or thought, with no research required) can take a few hours to create.

So, yes, when someone like Bjorn comes along and steals all that – because, let’s face it, anything taken without permission is theft – it pisses me off.

So I challenged him about it.

First in a tweet, advising him the content was not his post, and used without permission.

Then, given his Twitter feed looked like a purely automated one, so little expectation of a response, I sent an email, advising the content was not his and he needed to remove it immediately.

And that’s when the fun began…

Public Feeds Are Still Private Property

Initially, I didn’t hear back from Bjorn. Then, a couple of days later, I got a reply to first my email, and then my tweet.

In the email, Bjorn claimed he wasn’t sure how this had happened.

At the first place I want to say i don’t steal content. I don’t know how it comes on my blog.

He then claims that the blog is auto-populated from RSS (no shit Sherlock, that’s the issue!), and he’d be unable to do anything, I’d have to do something instead.

So I wrote him back advising that it was using the IFTTT feed (a software service that connects apps to automate actions), and that he’d need to go in and cancel the pull of my RSS.

All sorted – at least I thought. Then he came on Twitter…

And so started what turned out to be an enlightening, and at sometimes frustrating/saddening/annoying (delete where applicable) exchange, not only between Bjorn and me, but others that saw the conversation and offered their own take.

That last tweet in particular made me smile, given I took the conversation offline and was quite happy to deal with it via email, until Bjorn decided Twitter would be better.

What’s really annoying, on top of the original content theft, is the complete lack of comprehension that anything bad, illegal, etc, had been done.

Indeed, when questioned about other stolen content he has on his site, and that still remains there, he was adamant that it won’t be deleted, that it’s public property and, as such, will remain on his site.

Which means, while I’m happy my content has finally been removed, other publishers still have stolen content of theirs on Bjorn’s site.

Which he admits he’s only using to make money from:

So, not only does he get fresh content for his otherwise lazy, empty site, he gets paid for advertising – all off the back of someone else’s work.

Shitty Is as Shitty Does

The problem with people like Bjorn is they have a flagrant disregard for how things are meant to be done.

It doesn’t matter that there are various legal systems in place to counter his kind of activity. It doesn’t matter that he gets found out, and challenged.

It doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t care – content scrapers rarely do. Sure, they’ll remove the stolen content when you go after them, but how many others are unaware of his activities?

Looking at his site, he has stolen content from the likes of Mashable, Top Rank Marketing blog, and more. And he’s published more stolen content since being challenged about my posts.

So, clearly, despite his protestations otherwise, he’s happy taking content that belongs to others, without permission, and using that content to line his own pockets with advertising revenue.

It’s a shitty model for shitty site owners.

So, apart from a DMCA Takedown (which can be expensive for small site owners and bloggers), what can you do?

If you run WordPress, you can install something like the Copyright Footer RSS plugin, that lets you customize the text at the bottom of every post in a RSS feed, and link back to your original.

Since my little adventure with Bjorn, I’ve amended mine to read:

Original article (all rights reserved) appears here: ARTICLE LINK – if this is not on dannybrown.me then this content is stolen.

I was going to be a bit more abrasive. I may yet, we’ll see.

In the meantime, it should leave readers in no doubt as to the origin of the piece, and the type of person whose unauthorized site it’s being read on.

If you’re not on WordPress, you could manually insert a postscript to each post along the same lines of the above. Or, there may be a way to implement a permanent script that does the same thing automatically.

Either way, I highly recommend doing something that the scrapers don’t pick up, and is displayed on whatever site they have stolen content on.

Additionally, use something like Copyscape to periodically check your posts for duplicates online.

When you drop the URL of your post in its search bar, it’ll return any duplicates along with the percentage of copied text. It’s a useful and quick way to find folks like Bjorn, and the sites they run.

You can also use the Trackback feature in Google Analytics, that will show you sites linking back to you. If any URLs look dubious, you can click through to the trackback in question to check it out.

Trackbacks Google Analytics

One other simple thing you can do is drop your blog domain into the search bar of your preferred social engagement platform (like Sprout Social, Hootsuite, or even native Twitter).

This will show you all shares of posts from your site. A quick scan through results will let you see the URLs of the share, and if something looks fishy – like the one from Bjorn – click through and see where it takes you.

And if you do find something of yours that’s been stolen, don’t be afraid to challenge the thief.

Because, regardless of their proffered innocence/ignorance, it’s theft, pure and simple.

You work hard to create your content – don’t let others take that away from you.

Update: After I published this post, Bjorn came out with this nugget of wisdom. Which says all you need to know about his ethics.

Update 26th March, 2016: Bjorn emailed me, advising that since my content had been removed, I should delete this post. However, all he’s done has diverted content belonging to others to another site, and he continues to tweet that content out. So nothing’s really changed.

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