Seven Easy Ways to Deter Content Theft

Seven Easy Ways to Deter Content Theft

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Much has been said recently about content theft in the blogging world (see this post by Dianne Jacob as an example) and it is seemingly on the rise. Bloggers are finding their text, recipes and photographs have been stolen and are being shamelessly posted by others without permission or credit. This is bad enough but, to add insult to injury, these thieves are often making money from our content, as they sell e-books and even print publications compiled from ‘hot’ property.

So how do you stop it from happening to you? Sadly the only absolute way to stop content theft is to get off the internet. Once you’ve posted something online, there will always be a way for an unscrupulous hack to rip you off. Actually, even offline plagiarism occurs, just ask Eliza Acton who had 150 of her recipes ‘borrowed’ by Isabella Beeton and published in Beeton’s epic Book of Household Management. That was in 1861, so well before copy and paste was even an option. Copyright infringement is not new and it will happen, regardless. But what you can do is make it as difficult as possible for them, in the hopes that they will (in the best case scenario) realize that plagiarism is too much of a pain and mend their ways, or else (in more realistic terms) find someone else to steal from. Not that we would wish this on anyone else, obviously, but sometimes the best we can do is to watch our backs, and those of our friends, and help others to do the same.

Which leads me nicely to my list. Here are a few things you can do to deter content thieves from making a meal of your hard work. You may choose to implement one, several, all or none of the following. Or you may have some additional methods to add to the list (in which case please leave a comment below!). I use some, but not all, of these. It’s a personal decision and very dependent on your goals for your blog, your readership and the nature of your content. I’ve tried to offer the pros and cons of each method, some of which are the subject of lively debate, so that you can make up your own mind.

1. Post a copyright notice on your blog

Pros: Lets viewers know immediately that you ‘own’, in an active sense, your work and that they should not mess with you.
Cons: Might put some readers off, as some people find it insulting (although honestly, if they do, then they really don’t understand how much work you’ve put into your site and content). Criminal minds will completely ignore this.
How-to: It’s as easy as placing a text widget in the sidebar of your home page and posts that simply says ‘All content copyright 2012 XYZ’ where XYZ is your name or the name of your site. An alternative is to use a ready-made banner, such as Copyscape’s free offerings. They also offer a nifty search tool, which I’ll be discussing later (see number 7 below). If you want to be less in-your-face about it, place a politely-worded notice in a location where viewers might go if they’re interested in using your content. As an example, see my Photography page.

2. Splash a watermark across your images.

Pros: Makes your images less attractive to thieves, as they’d have to remove the watermark (crop or laboriously erase it in editing software like Photoshop) or else actually give you credit. Serves as a warning to thieves that you’re alert to content theft and therefore more likely to go after them.
Cons: Makes your images less attractive, period. Time-consuming, as its an extra step in your photo editing routine.
How-to: The most common method is to use photo editing software, such as Photoshop (PS), to ‘sign’ your images with your name or the name of your blog. I used to watermark my images using the text tool in PS. After creating and selecting the text layer, go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options and then, under General Blending, play with the opacity to make it somewhat transparent. If you end up with light-coloured text on a light background, add a drop shadow (Layer > Layer Style > Drop Shadow) to the text layer to make it stand out a bit more. There are also automated solutions on offer, like Star Watermark, which is free, available for Mac and Windows and offers batch editing. If you’re going to watermark, I’d recommend making the watermark large and placing it across the middle of the photo. If you look at my example below, the watermark is fairly easy to either crop out or delete using PS tools. I wasn’t willing to make it more obtrusive, so I decided to go another route (see numbers 4 and 5 below).

Example of a poor watermark

3. Digitally watermark your images.

Pros: Invisible to the naked eye, so won’t spoil the look of your photos. More difficult to erase, and can make it easier to track down and prove image theft.
Cons: Invisible, which means it won’t really act as a deterrent. Main advantage is after-the-fact, in catching the culprits.
How-to: You can embed a digital watermark in PS (Filter > Digimarc > Embed Watermark) and this will appear if someone rips off your image and then opens it in PS or PS Elements. It might deter them from using it at that point, although that’s doubtful. But if you want to be able to search for your images, you have to subscribe to Digimarc’s service and be given a unique ID. I am unaware of a free service that does something similar – if you are, please leave a comment below.

4. Limit the size of your images.

Pros: Keeping your images smaller will deny thieves high-resolution versions of them. For some thieves, depending on their intended use, this may render your images unappealing. It will almost certainly make them useless for commercial purposes, so you know no one will be selling them and making money from them that way. An added bonus is this reduces your file size, so if you’re limited on file storage, you’ll max out less quickly.
Cons: It can sometimes be useful to readers to be able to click on your images to see a larger version, for example to examine a small detail, or simply to better admire your work. You’ll be denying them that opportunity.
How-to: Use your photo-editing software to reduce the size of your images (as a guide, no larger than 500 pixels along the longest side) and save them as a version (don’t replace your original!). It is helpful to indicate this in the filename you give it (ex: image1web.jpeg to indicate the web-ready version of image1.jpeg). Upload this smaller version to your site rather than the original.

5. Remove the ‘link to’ feature from your images.

Pros: If you don’t want to faff around with changing your image size, then this will stop viewers from clicking on your image to see the larger version. Choosing this method will give you the choice, if you later change your mind, of simply re-allowing the larger image to be viewed, rather than having to go back and upload the larger file. (This is an especially important step if you’re considering disabling right-click on your blog, as per number 6 below.)
Cons: Again, some viewers may have legitimate reasons for wanting to see the larger image and will be disappointed. You’ll be possibly needlessly storing a large image file on the server.
How-to: If you’re a WordPress blogger, from within the post editor’s image upload/edit window (NOT from the Media Library, as illustrated below), go to the ‘Link URL’ field and either delete what’s there or simply click on ‘none’ immediately below it. Save. Blogger will not let you leave the link field blank (in your editor, click on the image and the menu will appear along the bottom) but you can either insert the url of the post you’re editing, so it just links back to itself, or else use my Pinterest solution listed below. If you blog on another platform, then the procedure will be slightly different, but there should still be an option to not link the image to anything.
Alternative: Link your images to Pinterest. Follow my instructions here and your images will become huge Pin It buttons. When clicked, viewers will be given the option to ‘pin’, rather than download, them. Two birds with one stone.

Do NOT mess with the File URL in the Media Library

DO remove the Link URL in the post's image editing window

6. Disable ‘right-click’ on your blog.

Pros: This protects text as well as images, as it stops viewers from being able to select, copy or save.
Cons: This is a fairly contentious option, because it can annoy legitimate viewers. It can also be rather easily nullified by disabling javascript in their browser.
How-to: If you’re a (self-hosted) blogger, you can install the WP-Protect plugin (search for it from your ‘add new plugin’ option on your dashboard). There’s a solution for Blogger here. For those of you on other platforms, Google may yield some solutions specific to your platform, or else try <hyper>gURL’s scripts. If you decide to disable right-click, remember to also disable the link from your images (as discussed in number 5 above). If you don’t, then a viewer could simply click on the image and see it in a new window. That new window would not be right-click disabled.

7. Periodically search for your content online.

Pros: You may be surprised to see what’s out there. If you’ve been blogging for a while, then chances are that your content has already been stolen. This will give you a chance to ask those people to either take it down or give you credit. If they refuse, then you may or may not choose to go after them legally, depending on the commercial value of your content and their geographic location.
Cons: It’s a bit time-consuming and won’t find everything.
How-to: For text, simply plug (in quotation marks) a chunk of your text into a search engine and hit enter. For images, Google has a Search By Image function (not the same as image search) which will look for images similar to the one you give it. TinEye also has a good one. Finally, as mentioned in number 1 above, Copyscape offers a free plagiarism checker, where you drop in the url of the page your content is on and it will look for similar content across the net. All of these are free to use, so bookmark them!

As a final note, I’m going to be cheeky and ask that, before doing any of the above, you please take care to not be inadvertently guilty of content theft yourself. If you must use someone else’s content, make sure that you have their permission. When in doubt, ask. If you’d like to brush up on some guidelines, Chef Dennis wrote up a great summary here. And watch each other’s backs out there. If you see something that raises an eyebrow, whether it’s a friend using questionable content or a site using a friend’s content, please speak up!

Further reading:

Elise Bauer’s write-up of her experience and some tips for dealing with it if it happens to you.

David Lebovitz’s article on the guiding principles of recipe attribution.

If you have any tips to add, please let me know by leaving a comment.

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