The Internet has created a truly unique marketing platform where fair play is so often disregarded in favour of boosting sales and stealing business from rival companies. One of the most common problems that successful businesses report is seeing their best content, usually content that they have invested a lot of time and money in creating, being stolen and used by their competitors who then manage to get the content to rank higher in Google.
Copyright theft is against the law, however, in the “wild west” that is the Internet it can be extremely hard for a business to effectively control this. Our copyright rules used to work effectively when we only had printed media – one letter from a lawyer would ensure that stolen or plagiarised content would be destroyed, damaged paid and an apology issued. But, today new websites can be created in minutes, and the owner can largely remain anonymous, which means a legal representative can do very little. Fortunately, there are still a couple of options available that are almost guaranteed to work every time, so let’s take a look.
Removal Of Content From Google Search
Google recently reported that it has removed over 1.77 billion web pages from its Index following copyright requests – you can see the latest figures here. Almost 900 thousand websites have had some or all of their pages removed from the Google index on the grounds of copyright infringement.
Getting stolen content removed from Google Search is the modern day equivalent of instructing book shops to throw out material that infringes another author’s copyright. It does not remove the information from the web, but it does ensure that people searching Google will not find the infringing website in Google search.
Fortunately, Google now provides a very efficient system for the reporting, assessment and removal of content from its search engine. The system in place uses the DMCA to provide a legal channel for businesses and website owners to request content removed from the Index. Their tool is in the legal section of their webmaster support portal: Removing Content From Google. There are actually several options available, such as requesting to remove content from Blogger, Drive and Docs, Google Ads, Google Play (app theft is becoming more common), YouTube, Image Search and several other services. Web Search is the option that we need to choose to remove content from the search engine.
When you select web search, you need to then select “I have a legal issue that is not mentioned above” at the bottom, which gives you the option to then select “I have found content that may violate my copyright”. From here you go through more selections to inform Google whether you are the copyright owner, or representing the copyright owner, and then to confirm the type of content you wish to have removed, and the provide some evidence to support your case. Remember, this is a legal process and by completing it you are saying that you are willing to defend your action in court, if need be. Anonymous individuals cannot make false claims in an attempt to remove a competitor’s content.
If you think this process is a little long-winded, think yourself lucky – as recently as 2010, Google’s DMCA process only accepted faxed letters of complaint!
If Google agrees with your complaint it will remove the content and inform you. This should result in you winning back some traffic, but it will not stop your competitors sending more traffic to their website through social media, email marketing or other search engines.
Take Down Notices
A more dramatic action, but one that is often even more effective, is to issue a take down notice to the web host. Most people who are stealing content will not be easily contactable, but their web hosts sometimes are. Most web hosts provide an email address where these notices can be sent to – they are almost always abuse@ addresses. Note, this is not always that case because some individuals run their own servers, and will therefore ignore your requests.
A take down notice is another legal letter which usually asked the web host to “cease and desist”, which means to immediately cease their activity and to not do it again later. All reputable web hosts will take these letters seriously and following an investigation, they will remove the content from their client’s websites. If the client does not cooperate, the web host will usually delete the website entirely. There are many examples of cease and desist letters on the Internet.
Not all requests to have content removed will be successful. All countries allow “fair use” of content, and this is a grey area with not strict definition. Fair use allows people to use content if it is supporting the business that the content is taken from. For example, the use of product descriptions is considered fair use – most retailers will copy the manufacturer’s product description (although this is certainly not optimal in terms of SEO).
Other examples include using the front cover of a book or film in an independent review of the product, or printing and excerpt from some text. In the cases of using copy, fair use is more ambiguous, and decisions are normally based on the percentage of text used. For example, if somebody copies 400 words from a 50,000 book to promote the book, this is fair use, but if they copy 400 words from a 400 article, this is not, and nor would be copying 400 words from a 600 word article. If there is an infringement, a decision will always be made on a case-by-case basis, and this is why the removal of copyrighted content can be a long process.
When Not To Complain
There are many reasons not to complain though. If somebody has used your content but is not ranking, you need to ask yourself – could it be advantageous? If they have also copied your links, you may get referral traffic from their site. If somebody only copies a short paragraph and provides a reference link on the page (it could be at the bottom) this may also be or more benefit to you.
People tend to get upset when they receive a complaint, even when they are in the wrong, so always be careful and consider who you may be upsetting – if they are running a nefarious black hat operation, they may not take kindly to your legal letter and take cyber-revenge on your website.
We have experience with managing both of these methods, so if you have seen competitors steal your content and out-rank you, we can help.