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Good Content in Bad Places

  |  August 17, 2007   |  Comments

When your online content is scraped, stolen, or splogged: a what-to-do guide.

While it happens to this publication on a near daily basis, I'm surprised at the rash of mildly hysterical e-mail that flowed in this week from marketers, bloggers, and even some of our competitors. All have the same complaint: we found a blog (or Web site) that's scraping and republishing our content (often, ClickZ's content, too). The writers think we should know -- and they want us to help.

So I heave a sigh and go through the drill. It ain't no fun, but it's a necessary part of publishing quality content on the Web. Sure, the issue is one of copyright, but it's also about protecting your brand and keeping it out of bad neighborhoods, be they AdSense-fueled splogs (define) or bottom-feeder marketing companies making a low bid for legitimacy by passing your content off as their own.

Is It Happening to You?

The first step in protecting your content is to keep track of it. If you're not listening online, you should be. When setting up an online listening mechanism, don't neglect to add given names or other unique keywords found in your content. Splogs and scrapers rarely to never attribute your site or domain name, so you need other methods to be vigilant.

When Your Content Is on Another Site

OK, so you've found your blog post, white paper, article, or presentation on a Web site (as opposed to a splog).

Now what?

First, get in touch with the site's owner or publisher. Check the content or "About Us" pages for information. What if the info isn't there? Before shooting an e-mail to admin@the-domain-in-question and hoping for the best, there are more tangible options. Try a WHOIS lookup of the site owner. Alexa can help, too.

Once you've dug up who to contact, a polite cease-and-desist e-mail, fax, or letter is in order. Your goal is to point out the transgression; to request removal of the content, a correction, or attribution; and to create a paper (or digital) trail. Be detailed, and point to the URLs where the content resides on your site, as well as to your own copyright policy, if you have one posted (not necessary, but never a bad idea. Creative Commons is a great place to start if you need one.) Let the recipient know how to get in touch with you, a deadline by which you expect a response, and that you may resort to legal action if the matter isn't resolved.

In most cases where Web sites are concerned, this helps open a dialogue and resolve the problem.

When Your Content Appears on a Splog

Splogs are more nefarious content thieves than Web sites because they're designed and built to illicitly make someone else money on your content. Most are on Google's Blogger platform for one good reason: it's free. Sploggers needn't register a domain name or prove their identity. Good luck finding a feedback or contact link, and if you do, don't hold your breath waiting for a response. Sploggers seek out keyword-rich content to transplant to their sites, which they monetize with contextual advertising, usually Google's AdSense.

Standard Blogger blogs feature a nav bar containing a flag link for reporting abuse to Google. Sploggers tend to hide or disable this feature (in itself a violation of Blogger's TOS). If you use Firefox, there's a fix.

You can report a splog to Blogger. But why stop there?

Splogs exists to collect ad revenue. If they're making money off your content, it's up to you to put a stop to it.

Report a policy violation to AdSense. You can also click the "Ads by Gooooogle" link, then select "Send Google your thoughts on the ads you just saw" to report a violation.

In the less-likely event the ads are delivered by Yahoo's Publisher Network, send your detailed complaint to: ypn-feedback(at)cc.yahoo-inc.com. And, of course, if the splog is part of an affiliate program, you can report abuse to Commission Junction, AdBrite, or the program in question.

Another tactic is to report these sites for term violations to the search engines themselves. The goal is to get offending sites removed from the search engine index, rendering them essentially invisible.

Report a spam result when a site or splog violates Google's quality Webmaster guidelines or Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) obligations. You can also report them on Yahoo's copyright infringement page and Microsoft's support page.

Open Eyes, Realistic Goals

Cleaning up the Internet is a Sisyphean undertaking. That's not the goal here. However, marketers, advertisers, bloggers, and publishers have an obligation to protect the integrity of their brands and their content. Ethics, standards, and copyright law are very obviously deep subjects this column doesn't attempt to tackle. But if it hasn't happened already, one day soon your stuff will appear on someone else's Web site. The above tools will help you to cope, and rectify an unfortunate situation.

Meet Rebecca at SES San Jose on August 20-23, in San Jose, California.

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Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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