Thanks to my position as the most copied woman on the internet, I get a lot of questions about how to deal with blog copying, so I figured it might be useful for me to write a post about it, to try and help other bloggers in the same boat.
(Is anyone else imagining a boat full of bloggers now? Can you even IMAGINE what that would be like? They’d all be Tweeting, and Instagram-ing and asking each other to take their outfit photos aaaallll day long!)
Then I thought, “Actually, you know what, I’m wordy. I will need a few posts to say what a better writer would probably be able to say in one. Please excuse this lengthy post, everyone: I didn’t have time to write a shorter one…
This is the first part of a short(ish) series, then, and I’m starting off with the first, and most frequent question I’m always asked about this:
How do you know when your content has been stolen?
Sometimes, of course, you just DON’T know. This is the thing that bothers me most. For every website I find which is infringing my copyright by stealing my words and pictures, there are probably lots more I DON’T know about. There are, however, a few different methods I’ve used to identify sploggers, plagiarists and image thieves, and probably quite a lot more that I haven’t used, and which you’re more than welcome to tell me about : every little helps, after all, in the war against thieving b******s.
(If you could all imagine me delivering that last line in the manner of Braveheart, please, that would be awesome.)
(Imagine me looking like Angelina Jolie, though, not like Mel Gibson.)
(Angelina BEFORE the whole “leg” thing happened, I mean.)
In a lot of cases for me, and in every single one of the “Amber Impersonator” cases (i.e. people pretending to BE me, as opposed to people stealing my content) it has come down to pure luck, and I’ve found out about it only because some kind person has emailed me to tell me about it, having either recognised my photo, or become suspicious about the person using it and done a bit of detective work. The same is true of the eBay sellers who use photos of me to sell their clothes, although some of those I’ve stumbled upon myself, purely by chance. (I’ll be searching eBay for “green dress”, say, and hey, there’s me! Damn. I have a lot of green dresses…)
Of course, some impersonators are too clever to hotlink the image directly from my blog, or not change the filename to something other than “Forever Amber”, and sometimes they’re going to use the image on a site where no one will recognise it. This is when you need to look to other methods to find the lowlife. Here are some I’ve used:
Google Images allows you to upload your image and search for duplicates, or images which are similar to it. For instance, I uploaded this image:
and here’s what I got:
Which tells me that this image ONLY appears here and on Shoeperwoman.com, which is also my blog: whew!
The “similar images” results were a revelation, too:
I’m similar to Showaddywaddy? SERIOUSLY?
OK, so obviously it isn’t perfect. But it is pretty good, and if you suspect an image might have been copied, Google Images will help you find out for sure. The big problem with it is that it’s down to you to do the searching: I have four blogs, and they contain thousands of images between them – I’m obviously not going to upload them all every day just to see if they’ve been stolen, so although helpful, this isn’t a complete solution.
Google Alerts is a system whereby you set up “alerts” for certain words or phrases, and are emailed every time that word of phrase is mentioned on the web: so you’d set up an alert for your own name, say, or your website name or brand. You can also just type your search term into the Google Alerts page and view results for that day:
(The book isn’t about me. I do sometimes have to use my wits, beauty and courage to climb to the highest position, though. OK, not my beauty. Or my courage, really. And I don’t often have my wits about me. Amber St. Clare would totally beat me in a fight, to be honest.)
Up until last year, I didn’t really use Google alerts at all. I’d tried it out briefly when I first heard about it, and had found that it would occasionally direct me to forums or blog posts where people were discussing me, and honestly, I’d just rather not know what kind of things people say about me “behind my back”, as it were. An eavesdropper rarely hears any good of themselves, as they say, and it just seemed a bit vain to want to know about every single person who dared to speak my name.
After the whole “Shoeperwoman” fiasco went down, though, I realised that I couldn’t really afford NOT to pay attention to Google Alerts. In that case, the copycat was actually trying to trademark my brand name: if we hadn’t found out about it when we did (and, again, I found out about that one because someone emailed me asking if it was me) we could have missed the window of opportunity in which you’re able to oppose a trademark application, and she’d have won the right to the name.
These days, we use Google Alerts for a number of different words or phrases connected to our blogs: they go to Terry, who has the joy of going through them every day and reading a bunch of stuff about shoes, and women’s fashion, plus the occasional forum thread in which people discuss how I don’t have enough shoes. (No, really.) Lucky Terry!
We’ve found that the key to using Google alerts to track down plagiarists is to not just restrict yourself to your name or your blog name, but to try to include other words or phrases which would identify your text: for instance, on this site, I don’t really tend to write my full name on all of my posts (I hardly ever do, in fact), or even the name of the blog, so if those were the only phrases I was receiving alerts for, it would be pretty easy for someone to steal the content without me knowing. Some people actually include specific words or pieces of text in every single post, for this very reason: for a while, each of my posts on TheFashionPolice.net and Shoeperwoman had a short piece of text which was automatically added to it, and which was the subject of the Google alert: we found quite a few copycats using this method, and were able to have their content removed.
Copyscape is a really great tool which allows you to type your URL into a search box and find out if any copies of it exist on the web. As with the Google Images check, this could be laborious work if you have a lot of sites, but there’s also a paid-for version which automatically scans the web for copies of your work: I haven’t tried this, so I can’t recommend it personally, but it certainly sounds like a useful tool.
If you’re a blogger, you’re probably familiar with “pingbacks”, which are a system whereby when someone links to a post, you get a notification, normally in the form of an automated comment with a link to the other post. I’ve discovered several copyright infringements of my sites because of this: you wouldn’t think it would be the least bit helpful for people who steal content from you to link back to you, but here’s the thing: THEY DO. What I’ve found is that a lot of new (and some established) bloggers operate under the belief that it’s OK to use someone else’s images or text as long as they link back to the source. So they steal my image, they type “Image: www.foreveramber.co.uk” under it, and I get a pingback telling me where to find it. Awesome.
Also, if you tend to deep-link to other pages on your site from your posts (i.e this post contains a number of links back to other articles on this blog), someone who copies and pastes the entire text will often inadvertently copy the links, too: I’ve found lots of copied posts as the result of a pingback from the infringing site, which hasn’t realised the copied post linked to other pages on my site: ha!
The message: If you’re worried about people copying you, check in your admin panel and make sure you have pingbacks enabled: not only will they help you find some of your stolen images, they’ll also tell you when someone has linked to you. Which is nice. When they’re not copying you, of course.
5. Your stats package
Most bloggers have some kind of statistics package which tells them how much traffic their site gets, where it comes from, etc: I use Google Analytics, but there are lots of different tools which do the same thing. Keep an eye on these stats, and particularly on where your traffic is coming from, because this is another good way to find out if you’ve been copied, especially in cases where your content has been copied and pasted in its entirety, or by a scraping script rather than an actual person. If someone has hotlinked an image, for instance, you may see an unusual amount of traffic going to that image on your server, in which case your stats package should tell you where it’s coming from.
The stats will also give you lots of other interesting information, like how many people have found your blog as a result of a Google search for the phrase: “I hate gingers, I hope they all die.” Answer: A LOT.
Aaaaand, that’s all I can think of for now. What would be really funny would be if THIS post was copied now, wouldn’t it? Don’t worry, it probably will be…