When Idiots Attack: How to Handle Web Site Plagiarism

Ian Lurie

Earlier this week, a ex-Portent employee-who-remains-a-fan sent me a note:

The e-mail that started it all

The e-mail that started it all

Sure enough, it had happened again: Someone ripped off our site, images, text and all. They didn’t even bother to change the names. Apparently, we now have an office in Sydney:

To me, there are three classes of plagiarists:

  1. The smart: They steal your copy, but edit it juuuust enough that you can’t quite tell if they outright ripped you off.
  2. The slightly brain-damaged: They steal your copy, taking an exact duplicate and pasting it into their own template, thinking you won’t notice, or that all those links pointing back at your site won’t make anyone suspicious.
  3. The complete idiots: They steal everything. Images, text, all of it. They don’t edit anything. Then they assume you’re as stupid as they are.

In this case, we were clearly dealing with #3. I’m sure they’ll be back. They showed some real persistence for a few hours. But here’s my idiots-stole-my-website procedure:

1: Track Them Down

First, you need to figure out who you need to contact. Use WHOIS. I do it using the command line. You’ll see something like this:

WHOIS result: Name Servers

WHOIS result: Name Servers

The blurred out stuff are the name servers. I had to use a ‘live’ site because the site thieves have already been pulled by their host. Nameservers typically have addresses like ‘foo.bar.com.’ Check ‘bar.com’ and see if that’s a web site. If it is, that’s probably their current web hosting service.

If it’s not, do a WHOIS on the ‘bar.com’ address and see where that leads. Keep drilling down the rabbit hole and chances are, you’ll eventually find what you need.

You may also luck out and find an e-mail address for the actual site owner. In this case, I found a ‘private’ address. I also found the registrar address:

WHOIS query: Registrar and owner addresses

WHOIS query: Registrar and owner addresses

Keep the registrar and web host address (the ‘bar.com’ address, remember?) address handy, and the site owner email address. Move on to number 2.

2: Send Them a Note

Write an e-mail. Address it to the site owners (if you have their address), and cc the following addresses:

abuse@[web host name]
abuse@[registrar name]

99% of web hosts have an ‘abuse@’ address. Don’t just spam their sales, info and tech support e-mail addresses. The web host is the fastest option for dealing theft—be nice to them.

I usually do something pretty straightforward:

Your site at [domain name] is a complete duplicate of our site at [domain name]. Please immediately take it down. I’m cc’ing your web host and domain registrar. If nothing happens after 48 hours, I will file an DMCA request with Google.

I leave off the part where I’ll substitute images and turn their site into a proxy for Turd of the Month Club.

3: Contact Google?

You can contact Google if you want to. I’ve never seen it work, even with a full DMCA request. That may be because folks take the stolen content down before Google can act, but who knows.

4: Start Checking the Site

Keep an eye on the stolen site. I usually set a few appointments for myself so I remember to hit the site with my web browser. You can also use a tool like Server Density to monitor site status.

5: Don’t Trust Your Web Browser

It’s possible that these nubwitted neanderthals think you’re as dumb as they are. In that case, they may block your IP address from browsing the site. They figure, hey, if you can’t see it, you’ll leave them alone.

Apparently, they haven’t heard of Google:

Seriously? You guys didn't think about this?

Seriously? You guys didn't think about this?

So, when the web site disappears, go search for a phrase on your home page. See if they show up.

Even better, use a proxy server to browse the web. That will hide your IP address. I use NetShade:

6: Stolen Domain?

If they are using a domain that’s a lot like yours (like, say, portentgroup.com), consider filing an ICANN claim, too. That gets complicated, but a really similar domain is the one plagiarism-related thing that can hurt your brand.

7: Take a Deep Breath

Believe me, I know how infuriating it is to have someone steal your stuff. I’ve even devised devious ways to sabotage their web sites.

But you gotta ask yourself: At the end of the day, is it really that important? I see three reasons to get rid of a duplicate site:

  1. You’re annoyed
  2. It may confuse your customers
  3. It might hurt you in Google

Assume the odds that 2 or 3 are slim. I’ve never seen either one happen (I’m sure I’ll now get comments describing how someone outranked someone else with a copied site. I’ve always found another problem in those cases, though).

So that means you’re back to number 1. Unless you’re a vengeful bugger like me, I suggest letting nature take its course. Usually, that takes the content thieves straight off a cliff.

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  1. Nice way to end this post man. Karma will get em in the end. But thanks for the tips I’ll be sure to use them if someone steals my stuff.

  2. Thanks Ian for this interesting post!
    As a site owner, my content has been plagiatized many times. It’s a real problem. I recommend using plagiarism detection tools that scans your content automatically such as Copyleaks – http://www.copyleaks.com.
    After i find the plagiarists i usually send them an email stating that they must take the stolen content immediately or else i’ll take legal steps. It is usually enough.
    Thanks again and let’s hope we won’t suffer from plagiarism anymore,

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