Copyright theft and the problem with stealing content


Tina Dubinsky

Copyright theft continues to plague my online articles. Sort out one infringement and another violation appears. While a friendly email to the ‘alleged’ infringer often results in the removal of the content, some cases need more patience.

Sometimes the infringer denies copying the content. While the evidence says otherwise, their skewed view of copyright law makes it okay in their mind to take content and reuse it without permission.

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What is online copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when an infringer reproduces a copyrighted work without permission of the copyright holder. Even if the reproduction has only a portion of the original text, if it is [su_tooltip style=”cluetip” position=”north” shadow=”yes” rounded=”yes” title=”Legally” content=”Usually a qualitative rather than quantitative.”]substantial[/su_tooltip] it may still infringe on the author’s rights.

Linking to the original work or referencing the original author does not excuse or bypass the need to get permission from the copyright owner. I hear this excuse the most when contacting infringers.

Copyright theft excuses

  • But, there’s a link back to your article.
  • I didn’t copy all of it.
  • I changed it.
  • Your name is at the bottom as the original author.
  • I’m not earning anything from it.
  • But I copied it to a personal website/blog/forum, so it doesn’t count.
  • There was no copyright notice or symbol on the page.

These reasons for the theft of online content frustrate copyright owners. When I hear them, a short response outlining why the user’s misuse of the material remains an ‘alleged’ infringement resolves any misconceptions.

Copyright Laws

If an online article does not contain a copyright notice you can not assume the content is free to copy. If you want to use it, you must seek permission from the copyright owner.

While copyright laws differ from country to country, international treaties extend protection across borders.

In Australia, copyright protection is free and automatic. As soon as an author writes a work down on paper or saves it electronically, the work becomes copyrighted. This copyright status extends to content published on the internet.

While legislators recommend the use of a copyright notice there is no obligation for an author or website to include a notice. Original content on a website without a © remains copyright protected.

Other types of copyright notices should appear on the same page as the content.

What is stolen content?

Stolen content includes copying and pasting a significant amount of text from a website to another without permission. The act of stealing online content in this manner is called content scraping which trespasses on the original author’s rights.

Even if you reference the original page, format it as a quote and give a link, this borrowing of content without the author’s permission, may still infringe on the rights of the original author.

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Some websites deliberately scrape content from other websites hoping to boost their traffic. Web scraping tools extract content from websites often without the author’s permission. A website firewall may help to reduce content theft of this nature.

Other reasons for content scraping maybe less hostile. A person may find the content useful. They copy and paste an article to another site to generate discussion with online associates.

Places where pasting stolen text would be considered an infringement include:

  • Blogs.
  • Websites.
  • Forums.
  • Social media websites.
  • Other document types such as pdfs.
  • Inside hidden code on a webpage.

Copying and pasting small amounts of copied text maybe okay, especially if you give an adequate reference back to the original source material.

There are exceptions that may apply, such as whether the copied material supports a review, criticism or news report.

Infringing on an author’s rights

Aside from litigation costs, online copyright theft may negatively influence:

  • The author’s authority.
  • SEO page ranking and visitors.
  • Monetized content.

By participating in content scraping you could be affecting the search engine optimisation (SEO) of the original content. Search engine page rankings may crowd out the original article in favour of the copied article.

Small amounts of copied content are not a [su_tooltip style=”cluetip” position=”north” shadow=”yes” rounded=”yes” title=”Legally” content=”It comes back to evaluating what makes up a significant use.”]high risk[/su_tooltip]. If you quote a writer’s article consider providing a link back to the original work.

Google’s Matt Cutts explains how duplicated content influences page ranking.

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How copyright theft and content scraping affects an online writer

Online writers, like myself generate income through the sale and monetization of articles. monetization includes:

  • Page advertising like Google Adsense.
  • Affiliation links like Amazon affiliates.
  • Page sponsorship.

These income streams rely on traffic. When an online user scraps content it has the potential to divert traffic from the original source.

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Nearly all the copyright cases that I chase up come from readers who like what I have published. They find my articles helpful and want to share my advice. While they often mean well, their misuse of the content has the potential to damage my earnings.

I recommend readers share a small extract, about 140 to 200 characters in length which also provides a link back to the original article. Most websites offer share buttons which include a quick summary, image and a link to the article.

Linking to the original content is not only the polite thing to do, but it’s a nice way to say thank you. Also, it helps to give back to the writer by promoting their article which may drive traffic to their content.

Don’t do the wrong thing and scrap content without the author’s permission. Writers have a hard enough time making a legitimate income from their writing profession. Share the link, not the content and keep writers’ writing.

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How to resolve copyright breaches of your content

If you have problems with someone scraping your content,



Comments, thoughts?