Freelance writers already have a number of obstacles to jump over on a regular basis, and unfortunately one of the big ones is dealing with theft. Theft and plagiarism are a big issue for any writer, but it seems to plague online writers more than anyone. All it takes is about 3 clicks of a mouse and anyone can copy and paste your words onto their own website or article page. Easy, quick and it leaves no evidence behind.
Protect Your Online Writing Work
Know the techniques for finding when someone steals your online work, and what to do when it happens.
Most people are fully aware that this kind of poaching is wrong. Oddly enough, I know there are also some people who genuinely don't realize that is it stealing in the full sense of the word. Many folks think that anything on the Internet is free and public domain material. So, even just letting readers know that your words are not to be taken can be a deterrent. A small and discreet disclaimer at the bottom of each page might not be a bad idea.
But actually stopping people from copying your online writing is virtually impossible. My personal suggestion is to be diligent in tracking down the thieves after the fact and getting your stolen work taken down. There are a few different ways of going out this. You can periodically take sentences from your writing and use that text to do a search on Google. For quick and easy results, that can show you stolen articles right away. If you want a little more sophistication, take a look at Copyscape.
They have varying levels of service, including some free searches if you want to give them a try. Rather than having to search for snippets of text, you give Copyscape the URL of whatever page you want to check on and it will search the Internet for any copied text from that page. I've tried a few and was pretty horrified to find some of my work has been copied over dozens of different websites. Granted, I've been doing this for a very long time so these thefts have accumulated over decades.
If you want to really stay on top of this, you could try their Copysentry service. There is a fee for this, but it automatically scours the Internet for copies of your work. Getting in touch with someone who stole your work immediately is more intimidating than doing so 4 months after the fact.
Another unrelated bonus of using Copyscape is that you can discover where people have quoted your work (definitely not the same as stealing!). This can lead to further contacts with other journalists or web site owners, and who knows where that can lead.
More on Your Freelance Rights
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What Can You Do?
When you do find someone has copied your work, what do you do? Well, there is no sure-fire solution and in many cases you won't be able to do anything. Just being honest. If the perpetrator can be reached by email or comment, that should be your first step. Polite usually works best but sometimes a more aggressive approach works best. Asking them to take down the material, and you will be surprised how many people do so. It can be quite a shock to get caught.
If that doesn't help, you may be able to get results if you go to the offending website's hosting company. They may or may not take action against the site if they have any policies against stealing content. No guarantees this will get you anywhere.
Finally, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) does give you some options. The details on this are a little more complex so that will be a topic for another future article. Under this act, you can have certain pages removed from Google, for example, which can help you a great deal even if the actual material isn't removed. More on this later.
Does it Matter?
Of course, the obvious reason is simply the principle. Stealing your work for their own gain is wrong and you have every right to put a stop to it. But does it really do you any harm? Well, yes it does. Firstly, there are consequences with regards to search engines and duplicate content. You want Google to find your work and give you nice high rankings right? If your content is duplicated (by no fault of yours), it can penalize you in Google's algorithms. This changes as Google adjusts how it works periodically, so this may or may not be a big issue right at this time. Something to keep in mind though.
Also, having your writing work stolen can dilute your personal "brand". When people are reading around the Internet, and see that they've found the same article again, it won't matter who had the content first or who actually wrote it. If they see your site second, you will look like the copycat. That doesn't reflect too well on you and your reputation.
So keep on top of your work and do your best to keep people from stealing it.