If you’ve been concentrating on upping your content levels, one of the things you should be concerned about is content theft. Content theft has become a major source of irritation for site owners all over the net, mainly due to the way it can affect site rankings.

There are many levels of content theft, all of which have been around since the net began. In the early days, it didn’t matter so much when someone stole an article from your site. Nowadays, it stings just as much as if they had stolen a computer from your office. As someone who has experienced quite blatant content theft in my time, I thought I’d offer a few tips on how to cope with it, and what to do to make things right.

The implications of content theft

Google and Bing have been doing their best to eliminate duplicate results. Unfortunately, at present they don’t always differentiate between the content’s originator and content thieves – sometimes the credit is awarded to the site the search engine first indexed and other times the credit goes to the stronger site. Content theft has grown from an annoyance to something that has serious SEO repercussions. When your content is duplicated across the net, your search engine optimisation suffers.

How to find out if your content has been stolen

  • Google it. If you suspect your content is being stolen, just search for an excerpt!
  • Copyscape. This free tool is a great way to detect stolen content. As you’re only allowed a few free searches a day, and searching for individual pieces of text can be tiresome, it can be a good idea to invest in Copysentry, which will automatically scan the net on your behalf.

If you’re using blogging software, consider using Trackback to notify you when your links are published elsewhere.

How do deal with the situation

Before we get into how to get your content back, it’s helpful to review the levels of content theft:

1. Partially stolen content. There is a difference between plagiarised content and blatantly stolen content. With so many webmasters desperate for text to fill their pages, many simply rephrase existing articles. When the article is similar in structure but not in text, there’s really not much you can do about it, but if you feel very strongly about it, try contacting the page’s owner and asking to be acknowledged.

2. Content stolen through ignorance. There are a lot of different people operating websites. Not everyone out there is aware that internet content isn’t free to share. This means your first step should always be to contact the owner of the site with a polite email asking them to either give you a link or take the content down.

3. Content deliberately stolen. Allow a couple of weeks, but when you don’t receive a response from the site that has stolen your content, you can assume that it was deliberately stolen.

With deliberate theft, your best bet is to rely on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Although this is a US law, Google’s policy is to remove sites that infringe the DCMA. Mentioning this possibility in a follow-up email can be a good way to resolve things easily. The UK’s troubled Digital Economy Act is less familiar.

Content theft is intellectual property theft. There’s no doubt it’s a serious SEO matter. But until there is a system for addressing the issues site owners face, you need to have a workable plan in place for dealing with it yourself. This should involve a polite email and contact with Google in extreme cases.

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