Someone stole our content! How to find copycats and deal with website plagiarism

I was recently writing a lecture about website plagiarism and duplicate content for my upcoming online course about WordPress website maintenance. The course will include a section about how to check whether your website has been plagiarised. While preparing this lecture, I was shocked to find 2 websites that had actually plagiarised our own site! In this post, I’ll share how I discovered this duplicate content and took action to have it removed.

First, some background into why I was writing about website plagiarism in the first place.

It’s very easy for people to copy the text on your website and use it on their own sites. This can damage your search engine position and make your own website seem less trustworthy. Fortunately there’s a free service that will tell you if anyone has copied your content.

Is duplicate content or website plagiarism a problem?

A lot of people think that duplicate content – which is when the same text appears on multiple websites across the internet – is a huge issue and will be disastrous for their site. I would say that it can be a problem, but isn’t the end of the world.

SEO impact

A lot of people think that if another website copies their content then the search engines will penalise all the sites with the duplicate content. It’s not really that bad.

In reality, if a search engine discovers duplicate content then they will look at which content is the most important and index that version of it, while ignoring all the others. This means that if someone copies your text and posts it on their own website, there’s a risk that theirs will be indexed instead of yours. This is actually quite unlikely to happen because the search engine algorithms are very sophisticated and know what signs to look for. They’ll look at things like when each version was published to decide which is the definitive content that they should index.

So if you publish some text on your website and someone else copies it a few months later, Google will know that yours came first. Great!

Trustworthiness

If a potential customer discovers duplicate content on your website AND on another site then they might think your site is less trustworthy. In reality they’re unlikely to notice, but this could potentially happen – particularly if someone copies something really significant like the text on your homepage.

So duplicate content isn’t the end of the world, but it’s still worth bearing in mind. However there’s a free tool that helps you to find duplicate content, so it doesn’t hurt to use it.

Copyscape – the free website plagiarism checker

Copyscape lets you search the web for copies of the text on your website.

It’s very easy to use – just paste the address of your website into the box and Copyscape will look for other sites with text that matches your site. It lists all the websites with matching text and tells you what percentage of the page matches.

copyscape-1

When you click through to view a result in more detail, it even includes a screenshot of the offending page which highlights the sections that match your site.

The only drawbacks of the free version of Copyscape is that you have to run a separate scan for each page on your site – which is time-consuming if you have lots of pages. You can also only run a limited number of scans per day. They have a premium service which automatically scans all your pages on a regular basis so you don’t have to remember. Personally, I set a reminder to manually check our main pages every 3 months and don’t bother with the paid version.

Plagiarism on our own website

I entered the address of our own website – barn2.co.uk – into Copyscape to get some screenshots for my lecture. Lo and behold, the results showed that 2 other websites had significantly plagiarised our homepage! When I ran a search on our Services page, I discovered that one of these sites had also copied that page.

Although Copyscape only detects copied text, these websites had also copied our images. One had even copied a montage of websites that we have designed, implying that they had designed them. Somehow, this feels even more dishonest than copying our text as it affects our clients too!

I emailed the offending companies, asking them to reword their websites. They were all were very helpful and changed the wording within 2 days.

It turned out that the owners of these websites didn’t know about the plagiarism. The text had been written by either a freelance copywriter or a junior member of their team. Or so they said. Actually I believe them (probably) as it’s easy to imagine that some unscrupulous copywriters would copy and paste text from other websites instead of doing it properly. They obviously didn’t think they would get caught. Ha ha!

How to take action against website plagiarism

For the definitive guide about how to get plagiarised content removed from the web, I recommend reading the Plagiarism section of the Copyscape site.

In case it’s helpful, I have included the wording of the email that I sent to these companies in the ‘Resources’ for this lecture. I’m not a lawyer and this is something that I wrote for our own purposes, but it might be a good starting point for you.

Subject: Illegal duplicate content – please reword the [website-name] website immediately

I run the WordPress web agency Barn2 Media. Your website has come up in Copyscape as containing duplicate content that was illegally copied from our own website [your-website-address]. I checked and saw that a lot of the wording on your website has been taken directly from our site.

Please could you reword your website to use unique content, as at the moment you are damaging your own SEO and ours. Your search engine ranking will probably increase after you have reworded it because Google will see that your content is unique. Google can tell that our content was added before yours, so they will be able to penalise you for this.

You can see the exact content that needs to be reworded at: [insert URL of the Copyscape page that includes a screenshot of the offending page]

If you don’t reword the content within 1 week then I will report you for copyright infringement and I will also publicly name and shame your company on our blog.

Protect your site from website plagiarism

As you can see, I was successful in getting the plagiarised content removed from the web, making our own content unique again. I hope this helps you to do the same for your website.

Our article on WordPress maintenance tips summarises all the regular tasks like this that are needed to keep your website running smoothly. If you’d like our UK WordPress experts to take care of this sort of thing for you, check out our WordPress maintenance plans. We can do regular plagiarism checks as part of an ongoing support service.