With the onset of the search engines, increasing the importance of content online has started a new phenomenon of businesses taking content from others and using it as their own to help improve their search rankings and to avoid the onerous work of creating their content. This is a topic that has become near and dear to my heart over the last few years, as our website content has been plagiarized by several competitors, including consulting and accounting firms, who are supposed to be professional organizations.
If this happened once, you might write this off to one bad apple, but this has happened seven times in the last five years, as recently as last month ago by an immigration agency offering consulting services. This article is to serve as a cautionary tale to those who are considering “stealing” content from others' websites as well as to help businesses who have invested time and money in content marketing protect themselves.
How to Uncover Your Content Has Been Plagiarized
I was unaware of how prevalent this practice was until a few years ago until a friend of mine who owns a web development company asked me if I had ever checked to see if any our content had been plagiarized by others. I have adult children who are recently out of University, so I was aware that there were tools in both High School and Post-Secondary schools that teachers and professors could use to check school work. I also teach at a College, so I have used them. I never considered that business people would take the content and put it on their website as their own, much less have the nerve to add copyright at the bottom.
The friend suggested that I run my website through a tool called Copyscape. I was not prepared for what I uncovered. There was a woman who was selling business consulting and coaching services in the next Region over who had copied 10-12 pages of our website and was using it to sell services. She was even using information that was about myself and my business partner, which was unfathomable, as she did not have the background and experience that she was saying she had. Not only had she used this content on her website, but she was using this across the web on directory and event sites.
I contacted a friend of mine who specializes in copyright and patent law and is a litigator to ask her what I should do. This was when she told me about Wayback Machine. She suggested that if I did the work to find out when my pages versus her pages were indexed, this could save me money in her legal fees. This is the tool that many lawyers use. I plugged in every page she had plagiarized (verbatim), and it showed that content that was on my site on those pages and how it read. The text she copied verbatim was on my website a year prior. Though I had updated it, so read a little different – it showed the date when it was the same, and the date was two years prior. Her website was less than a year old.