If there is a war that is as hard to win as the wars on drugs and terrorism, it must be the war against content theft. Content theft is so widespread that calling it an epidemic isn’t an exaggeration. Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to protect your content against theft in one form or another, but if you just sit and do nothing when theft occurs, this only encourages thieves. While the methods of protecting your content are far from perfect, you still need to apply them – simply to make it that little harder for thieves to steal from you.
Fair Use and Protection of Ideas
First, without going into legalese definitions, let me say briefly that not everything that looks like content theft is. For instance, the so called ‘fair use‘ allows you to freely use portions of work for commentary and criticism. With parody you can legally go even further in ‘borrowing’ and creatively twisting ideas from other authors.
Another case that is not classified as content theft is when you present an idea, not a finished piece of work. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, though some manufacturers gladly file suits against competitors for, let’s say ’rounded rectangles used for displays in smaller devices’, as if they were the ones to discover the rounded rectangle as a shape. So, if you write on your blog about what designs, videos, ebooks, or other stuff you plan to release and see that somebody else releases the same titles, this is cannot be theft. If you had designs, videos, ebooks, etc. to a completed project and find that somebody uses parts or whole items of them elsewhere, now this is theft.
Put Notices that Your Content Is Copyrighted
In addition to fair use and ideas in a non-physical form that can be used and this isn’t theft, there is one more case where users might be confused if a particular item is copyrighted or not. With so many quality in the public domain, it’s possible to get misled that everything you find online and offline is free to use.
Anybody who knows at least a bit about intellectual property (IP) will presume that if an item is not explicitly listed as belonging to the public domain then it isn’t. But in order to avoid even the slightest confusion about your content, always put notices that it is copyrighted. These notices won’t stop real thieves, but if you don’t have any copyrighted notices, even unintentional thieves might get encouraged.
Protect Your Content by Making It Harder to Get and/or Reuse
If you make it harder for thieves to get a hold of your content/work, this will stop at least those of them that are after the low hanging fruit. Measures, such as watermarks, disabled ‘Save As’ and copying, or using low resolution images can provide some protection. But to be honest, their effect is far from comprehensive. Still, they will make it a bit harder to get your content in a split second and reuse it right away. Unfortunately, these are the best options we have at our disposal, if we are to protect our assets.
For images and videos, watermarks are the most serious way to make it harder to reuse a stolen image. While a watermark is not stopping thieves from obtaining your work, when your URL/logo is splattered across the image/video, you are at least getting some exposure. Sure, this doesn’t compensate for the theft but some free publicity is better than nothing.
Watermarks are easy to create. You can make a separate image file with your URL or company name and add it as a layer to your images or videos.
Watermarks might be the most reliable of all the methods for protecting your images/videos but unfortunately it’s not rocket science to remove them, if you really want to. Some watermarks are simple to clean, while others might require a little bit more work. If a thief is determined, they will succeed. This is why, when you design your watermark, think how to make it harder to clean – this will provide more protection.
Good watermarks have to be unobtrusive but they also have to cover the important aspects of the image/video. If these two conditions are met, you can rest assured that you’ve done your best to protect your images/videos without irritating viewers.
Disable Save As and Copying
The next best protection you can use for articles and images/videos, is to disable ‘Save As’ and ‘Copy’ from the context menu of a browser. Usually you do this by deploying some script to disable the right click. Disabled ‘Save As/Copy’ works if your thieves are not technically savvy because if they are, there are ways to bypass this protection.
For instance, if a thief uses a not so popular browser, the script might not work and the protection will be broken. Even if this doesn’t happen, if somebody is desperate to get your article, for example, he or she can easily make a screenshot and type it from there.
Of course, this is a lot of effort for a thief and this is why I’m saying this measure will chase away only the thieves who are after the quick thefts, or the low hanging fruit. Still, if you manage to eliminate the quick thefts at least this is more or less a success.
Submit Low Resolution Images
If you sell high-resolution photos and designs, you might want to show publicly only their low resolution versions. You can use this strategy to protect offline content as well.
For instance, a friend of mine got burned once when she submitted some designs to a competition (or when applying for a job – I don’t remember exactly), only to see them reused by some unscrupulous company. Since then, she submits only low resolution stuff – this is good enough to show her abilities and isn’t easy to reuse for quality projects.
For photos, 72 dpi, 600×400 images are a good combination. Yes, not much detail will be seen but images with such parameters are hard to resell. Sure, they can be posted on some site without your permission but at least you won’t find them competing against your originals on the photo stock sites you make money from.
Consider Google Authorship
The newly released Google Authorship service is one more option to consider. It’s too early to say if this will be working or not, but at least the start is promising. When you claim your stuff in your Google Authorship profile, this doesn’t guarantee it won’t be stolen but the comfort is that at least you will rank higher in Google searches than the copycats. You can also integrate your YouTube videos in your Google Authorship account.
How to Handle Content Theft
All these ways of protecting your content don’t guarantee it won’t be stolen. In the unlucky case this happens, you’d better know how to handle the theft.
Very often you will be unaware of a theft. One of the ways to learn when your articles (or photo/image descriptions) gets posted somewhere else is with the help of Google Alerts. Set these alerts with excerpts from your articles/descriptions and when a match is found, you will be notified.
After you become aware of the theft, the next step is to contact the site owner (if the content is posted online). Sometimes a cease and desist letter is enough to see your content taken down. If this doesn’t help, consider contacting the hosting provider of the thieves. Cases when accounts have been shut because of copyright violations are not unheard of, so going this extra mile is worth it.
For online content, you do have one more option – report it to Google. A DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint with Google will frequently lead to the removal of the content from the index of Google. This won’t physically remove the stolen pieces from the server but when they are deindexed by Google, they won’t be getting a lot of traffic – and certainly won’t rank higher than your originals, which is really irritating to see.
The ultimate step is to sue but this is so much of a pain that you will want to do it only for really precious items and when you can prove your case at 100%.
Basically, this is what you can do to protect your content and to handle content theft. None of these methods are foolproof but this really is the best that we have. And yes, it’s an endless battle, but we’ve got to fight it.
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