Stop Plagiarism in 3 Easy Steps

Ian Lurie

I recommend the death penalty for plagiarism. Until that happy day arrives, I’ll share a technique that at least makes life harder for thieving scumbags.

Step One: Trap Your Post

First, you need to add a trap to your blog post. Usually that means an invisible GIF image. Use your image editing software to create a 10×10 pixel image that matches the background of your blog or that’s transparent.
Insert that into your blog somewhere where no one will notice. Use the absolute address for the image. So:

Stop Plagiarism in 3 Easy Steps

instead of just
Don’t include a height or width attribute.
Save your blog post. You now have a hidden image in your post that, if someone cuts-and-pastes the content, will get transferred to their blog. And the image will still be stored on your server.
If you replace the image with something else, the new image will show up, full size, on the thief’s blog.

Step Two: Find the Scumbags

A few days later, copy one sentence from your blog post.
Put it in quotes.
Then paste it into Google and find other blogs that have the same text. In this example, I found one genuine copycat who was also stupid enough to keep my GIF image, and keep it linking to my server:
If I replace trap.gif on my server with another image, it’ll show up on his or her blog. Mwahahahahaha….

Step Three: Have Some Fun!

Since this genius copied this post word-for-word, they also copied the trap image. And, they copied the image, which is still being loaded from your server.
Remove the trap.gif image from your post – you don’t want whatever you create showing up on your blog, after all.
Then replace trap.gif on your server with anything you want. The result:
Weeee. You can, of course, use any image you want. I had something far worse in there at first, but removed it because I realized my son might read it.

Notice to All Thieves

Keep stealing my content if you want. I will keep finding new ways to mess with you and your blogs. Yes, you can always find a way to work around it. But is it worth it?

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  1. I’ve seen a lot of feeds recently with a small paragraph at the bottom of their posts that says “this post was originally posted at X” and a little legal disclaimer. That’s a good way to take care of it too.

  2. Great article.
    I started doing something similar a couple years ago but it started as an accident.
    I found that people were hotlinking my images on their MySpace pages and other sites. I’d see links to their sites showing up in my stats and would think that they’d linked to me. But, when I went to the site, I’d see my images displaying on their page and they were still being hosted on my server. For awhile I’d break the links by changing the image filename on my server and in my post. That got old.
    I then added a bit of code to my htaccess file that would replace any hotlinked image with another image (much like you’ve done). I used my site’s logo as the replacement image so I’d get a bit of free advertising out of it.
    Though other people see the logo immediately, the thief does not. This happens because the original image is still in their cache and their browser usually display thats.
    My articles all have a little graphic that displays at the end of the text. People stealing the text content usually grab that as well and a similar thing happens.
    I wish there was a way to make it harder for people to copy WordPress text but thus far there isn’t. Maybe someday.

  3. Great idea in principle, but there’s two things:-
    1. A lot of spammers get a lot of traffic at times, this can cause unnecessary load on the server, particularly using large images.
    2. How does this work in things such as feed readers, can imagine that feed readers (which also scrape the content), get the unpleasant image too.

  4. Part of the problem is that your content is so juicy and delicious, who wouldn’t want to swipe it and claim it as their own?!?
    My advice: write crappy content that no one wants to read; then you’ll never have anything to worry about!

  5. I love this idea, but I’ve posted a creative commons copyright notice on my blog — Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. No idea how many have stolen articles without attribution, but I have caught two of them.
    The first was contrite and immediately added a by-line and link to their site. The second hasn’t responded.
    My only concern with your idea is that those who quote or copy a portion of an article and provide attribution could also be caught in the trap.

  6. I do a lot of tutorial posts that have many images and a couple of lines in my htaccess means everyone that copies the whole article gets all the images replaced by ones of my choosing
    I like your version though, another one is to include some small obfuscated javascript which checks the page the article is appearing on and can automatically forward to the correct address.

  7. oh and I just thought of another one. put a no width no height iframe code in the article and have it’s source as a page on your server that checks the referrer and takes appropriate action

  8. A very stupid idea, Speaking more clearly, this will only work if the blog editor is a rich text editor.

  9. The only problem with this is where do you put the image that won’t show up for people genuinely quoting you from your blog? Replace image for one person you change them for all.
    If someone is genuinely quoting something from your blog and providing a link back and in general being good, then you go a screw up their post, they won’t be too happy with you.
    I think you could probably put some javascript around the image to detect the copycat’s url and append that onto the trap image then you create the trap image on your server with the url appended and it will only display on that persons website.

    <script language="javascript" type="text/javascript">
    document.write("<img src='[your-blog-url]/images/trap"
    + (window.location.hostname) +
    ".gif' alt='' / >");
  10. Could you explain the image trick a bit more? How on earth do they manage to copy the image with the rest of the post if they browse to the page, select and copypaste.
    Because far as I understand it the user would only copypaste the words themselves and not the html that goes with them … unless the thief copied from view-source.
    Wouldn’t they, if they’re smart enough to copy from source, be also smart enough to remove the image?

  11. One suggestion:
    Give that image an ID value, and in your own CSS set it to hidden:
    Then in your CSS, add the following rule:
    #myimage { display:none; }
    That way, if you switch out the image you don’t also display it on your own blog post (kinda like shooting yourself in the foot)

  12. Am I the only person to think.. “That won’t work”?
    Are people seriously that stupid that they cut and paste direct (from browser to RTE)? Perhaps they are but thanks to the way formatting is taken over I never cut’n’copy direct, normally via a plain text editor (notepad++ being my current favourite).
    I started doing this not to stop the thing described in the blog entry, but to avoid the usual rubbish that MS products add into a clipboard entry.

  13. You put your material on a medium that can be readily copied, then complain about people doing just that? So what is it about those original ideas you come up with that make them so precious that you think it’s “bad” when someone copies them?. Let’s suppose someone does. And they get “credit” for it. And they make money off it. Isn’t that good? Sure someone else benefited from your work, but isn’t that in itself good? Isn’t that why you wrote the article in the first place? You teach people how to do something, they learn, go forth and prosper. So somebody cuts corners and tries to prosper directly from your work in a manner not intended – so? You *were* helping people, weren’t you? If it’s credit you are wanting, do you think everyone that learned from your actual content is going to give you credit?
    I’m not trying to be a dick, just playing devil’s advocate here? What is it about plagiarism that gets people so upset? I’m of the same opinion too, but I’m thinking I’ve been duped into believing this by a 12th grade English teacher that’s never actually published anything. But if you wrote something worth “stealing”, eventually someone will copy it. Or repeat it. Or use it without giving you credit.

  14. Color differences too subtle for the eye to notice can be incorporated into any image, then be clearly exposed by a graphics-program filter to bring out the newly contrasting hues clearly against a colorful, drab or convoluted background. This works because each color is assigned a numerical value, similar numerical values can be given vastly dissimilar color values via your proprietary filter creating glaring contrast, thus drawing visual attention to the subject at hand. Some of the simpler graphic applications make designing these personal filters easy. This would fall into the category of: steganography made e-z.

  15. Post actual examples here of when this worked “in the wild”! Ian, thanks for gelling something I’ve seen done several times, but haven’t seen it as a guide until now. πŸ™‚

  16. This is a bad idea. What if someone does a copy and paste of your article but also adds text that credits you as the author?

  17. It would be more productive to have ads (rather than the shaming image) that appear in the article so the more people steal the articles the more money you make.

  18. What about people that just copy/paste into a simple text editor and then place the article on their website? How many of these thieves are going to actually copy/paste from the source code?

  19. Quick question, where did you get the image of the girl from? I hope you didn’t steal it. πŸ™‚

  20. I for one think that this article does more harm than good. You have a whole lot of great content on your site and what good is that content if you don’t share it? For example, I use your RSS feeds from your site to populate content at, not to steal, but to share. The article links back to your website, it gives you more inbound links which increases your traffic on Google and other search engines, you’re welcome. I am sure that this equates to more traffic to your site, maybe not a whole lot, but if you have a few extra clicks from 10-20-50 sources then they start to add up rather quickly. All of your links within your content is maintained so I would think that you would welcome this. If you have an affiliate link for example in your blog and you get that link out in front of your audience and the audience of others and someone clicks it guess what, you still get the credit. Free traffic, and you scold those who give it to you? Please, I must know where you got this marketing idea so I know who to never recommend to anyone. I will gladly remove your RSS from my site if that is your wish.

  21. @bill I’m a ‘dumb ass’? These spammers don’t copy and paste. They automatically grab the content.

  22. @RickyRiot they usually copy automatically, grabbing everything I put in there. That’s the point.

  23. @Scott You don’t include links (at least you didn’t – you probably added them once I published this). You’ve been stealing my content for months. I’ve e-mailed and commented repeatedly asking you to stop. So as far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the worst offenders, and yes, you should stop doing me ‘favors’.
    People who legitimately use my articles ASK first, or provide a link, in which case I don’t mess with anything in the article. In those cases I let dishonest publishers like you off the hook so I don’t hurt the legitimate ones.

  24. @Bart I check carefully first to make sure I’m not going to nail anyone who’s providing a link. Also, I don’t leave the image up for long. Just long enough to make a point.

  25. Stupid stupid idea! First paste the contents in a text editor such as notepad, and paste back. These steps are not going to stop plagiarism. No way!

  26. @John It makes stealing a little harder. Like locking your bike with a Kryptonite lock that you know someone can jimmy with a pen. Plus, it makes me feel better. Like punching a plagiarist in the spleen.

  27. I don’t think most of them would copy the image link unless yeah they are copying the whole thing off without even bothering to make little change…. moreover isn’t Copyscape a better idea. Anyway .. ur idea is kinda fun though, I have to admit… to play with the stupid plagiarists πŸ™‚

  28. Well back when I wrote allot I used to use flash to protect my text. If you embed all of your text in a flash file you cannot copy it from the flash. The flash file wont be large as it just contains the text but whoever sees your site must have flash which most people do by default.
    Write the text in a flash page just simple and then embed that into your blog where the text would go and you are fully protected and they cannot steal it unless they retype the whole article. This also works for images.

  29. I tried copying this article into TextEdit to see if the technique would work. The images, however, showed up as just the image filename.
    A solution to this is to not parse the img src tag, and instead render it as a semi-invisible string of text (i.e. play with the font size to make it look like a small horizontal line).

  30. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a **** because he has hundreds or even thousands auto generated blogs from which he earns money through adsense and he earns money just from people who don’t scroll down and click adsense instead. He’s a dumbass though because he can’t properly scrape images and download them to his server.

  31. Great article..!! I’m writer and designer, and several times images and articles that I wrote was stolen from my blogs. One time I send an email to one of the “thieves” and he told me: In Internet all the images and articles are free..! I didn’t want to discuss more with him.
    Your post give me a great idea!!!

  32. I think ‘Plagiarism’ is too nice a word to use for the act of simply replicating other webmasters content. Plagiarism should involve, at the very least, some minor depth of rewriting the source content.
    Anyone simply using your content word-for-word are ‘Thieves’ plain and simple.

  33. So if you title me a plagiarist then I think that I would be afforded the opportunity to defend my position, how about a link swap here? links back to your site and to this article directly in the post. Not only that but it shows an example of one of the so-called plagiarized bits of your content and how the links were in fact maintained. Just post this comment with the link intact and we are swapped, if not no big deal take a moment to read the post. Thank you.

  34. If someone copies and pastes it into wordpress, your technique will work. But if they copy and paste it into notepad and then copy it from there into wordpress, it won’t work – because the html code is only copied and inserted when pasted into a wysiwig editor – pasting it into a text-only editor will only display the text. Copy and paste it into wordpress html mode and you’ll see the image won’t be copied.
    Best way to prevent plagiarism is to hound the net for it + subscribe to copyscape (quite cheap actually) and you’ll get notified about it. IMO I try to be relaxed with my content, if they’re trying to profit off it in a vile manner such as selling my content as their own then I get involved. If they copy and give attribution I’m more relaxed about it, and ask them to remove it first, if they don’t respond or don’t get a response I just leave it. Assuming they aren’t selling it, and they’re not doing anything shady with it – I don’t really care, I support copy-left so I don’t mind.
    If they’re trying to profit from it, or trying to pretend as if they own it – that’s where I get upset. I’m more likely to get angry over someone who’s doing it on a large scale, then some individual small blogger.

  35. Hi there,
    It must feel wonderful knowing that you are so good that somebody steals your content!
    I surf the Net a lot and see very often the same ideas in many blogs.
    But believe me, copying is always something else that writing yourself.
    The truth comes out sooner or later, with or without transparent gifs…

  36. they might not always be actual plagiarists though they might be copying a sentence with full attribution and get your ugly image.

  37. This is an old concept originally used in conjunction with the “Goatse” image replacement. This is a nice hack that incorporates text, instead of just stolen images hosted on your server.

  38. Or… you copy everything on the page, paste it to a .txt file to remove any images and formatting, then re-copy it from the .txt file and past it into your own blog. I don’t blog, but this one is pretty easy to get around. Not really much of a solution.

  39. Boooo
    That why you paste in to notepad first!!
    LOL πŸ™‚
    It is a great idea, but to easy to get around, maybe if you could somehow use a transparent gif that resizes over the whole of the text block so that right click gives you a save image maybe.

  40. Some of you are missing the point. The point is that it seems to me the author doesn’t have a problem with sharing his articles but he does have a problem with other bloggers etc copying his articles and then pretending they were the original authors. That is not ‘sharing,’ it’s STEALING! Bloggers whose sole intention is to borrow or share his articles will have no problem with posting his name, the URL of this site and crediting him with being the original author.
    In any case, CopyScape is good for finding the thieves in the first place, and using the image trick (after you check that they are in fact stealing your article – and if they haven’t removed the .gif) is a good way of exposing the thieving mofo to the general public.

  41. this reminds me of people that hotlink images, and the person hosting the image replaces it with something hilarious!

  42. ROTFL! Brilliant tricks! This “invisible” lesson is sure to teach stupid plagiarists a lesson! I can’t wait to implement this technique on my blog!

  43. dude, only the idiots within thieves use the original html, css, js or stuff plainly and include them without checking into their site … never heard of cross-site-scripting?

  44. This i a good article, inventive and fun. It would be ironic if someone were to try and paste this onto their site!

  45. Um… someone “stealing” your content. If that’s the case simply add a few good links back to your site. If anything you simply earn a few backlinks.

  46. I think you’re a genius, seriously.
    My Web site has been plagiarized four times this week, nothing new but in greater frequency. And now I’ve got to find ways to stop it. It’s getting tiring and time consuming to keep filing complaints with ISPs, search engines, etc.
    Thank you πŸ™‚

  47. @kat I despise plagiarism and continue to research ways to make content thieves’ computers explode. I’ll keep you posted.

  48. Heh! People steal my product descriptions all the time — and not just affiliates either. However, they’re selling our products, so no harm, no foul, at least according to the Legal folks. It sill irks me, though. I sweat over these “copy blobs” (as a designer friend so felicitously calls them), and then there they are, all over the flippin’ Internet. Grrr. Our SEO Guru tells me I should feel flattered. (I don’t.) He also says that Google knows where the copy originated, so we’re not being penalized or anything. And, of course, we lowly e-commerce copywriters write anonymously anyway, so it’s not like I have a byline at stake. But still….
    Ian, I agree with the person up above who said that your copy is so juicy and delicious that it attracts the plagiarists. Writing crappy content might be the answer — but it sure would be a disappointment to your loyal fan club!

  49. If people copy you, it’s your fault for making anything to copy in the first place. Your ideas are worthless, anyway, so why do you care? Let’s suppose someone copies you anyway and gets all of your high and mighty ‘credit’ and the potential money you would have been making. ISN’T THIS A GOOD THING? Didn’t you write this article in the first place to benefit others!? And boy, are they benefiting, while you rot under a park bench. If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, isn’t obvious that he should instead steal all of your fish that YOU caught? Isn’t the point of teaching him to help him, even if he just helps himself? If you want credit, do you really think all those people are going to give a shit about you?
    I’m not trying to be a dick (even though I obviously am), just playing devil’s advocate here????????????????????????????????/?///1 What is it about stealing other people’s hard work and effort that makes people so upset? I know this makes me sound like a huge hypocrite, but I actually hate plagiarism too, only this ideal was instilled in me by the educated professor who helps students learn and grow but has never had the time to publish anything himself. The point is, if you write something worth “STEALING”, someone’s going to do it. AND IT’S YOUR FAULT. And there’s no other point to this rant than that.
    -ctrl-F Kris

  50. An art class teacher once told me that thievery is the best form of flattery. So if your stuff is constantly getting stolen, sit back and realize that you have arrived (in someone elses mine other than your own) Your doing a good job!
    If I had this problem I solve it by making sure I include a 1X1 pixel image named as my keyword including an alt text tag with a similar keyword linking back to my site in the middle of my post. At least this way the thief gets to provide you with a backlink and doesn’t even know he is doing it.

  51. OH MY GOSH this is so freaking awesome. I was looking through Google comparing titles to optimize my eHow article on how to deal with plagiarism. When I found this it grabbed my attention.
    I also was sidetracked reading some of your other articles. VERY good work indeed.

  52. You can put much worse photos instead…=)
    Actually, there is sth. still weird. What if you have learnt the basis of the article from a published book and even can’t remember it. Articles should be like Wikipedia everything has a source.

  53. I LOVE IT! Thanks for the laugh. They deserve it. I should hire you to do something like that to the person who stole my content. I am going to share your link (just your link and title, will not copy) with my buddies.

  54. Even though this post is so old, I still love it. I like little tricks like this, especially for people stealing content.

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