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Business@Work Newsletter

Website Plagiarism: How to find it and respond

Sadly, online plagiarism is rampant. It doesn't take much more than typing Crtl + C and Crtl + V for someone to take your website content. It can happen to anyone. A few weeks ago, I found out it was happening to us. We responded partly by writing a blog post about website plagiarism. The post shows actual side-by-side screenshots of a company that plagiarized not just our content, but our entire design. It wasn't a fun experience, but we learned a few things...

But first, what is plagiarism really?

In an era where online sharing is not only ubiquitous, but an important part of marketing, it's important to understand the definition of plagiarism:

  • pla·gia·rism (noun): The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

Pretty clear. If someone makes it sound like they wrote your content, and hold it out as their own with no citation, no link, or attribution, that’s unlawful and you've enter the world of copyright infringement. If they don't cite the work and linked back to the author, it's likely plagiarism and unlawful.

How can I tell if I'm being plagiarized?

It's amazingly simple. Checking for violators is as easy as searching Google. One of the most popular of the many plagiarism checkers is Copyscape. Here’s how it works: Just type in your web address, click submit and you'll see a list of websites that have copied your content. When I first tried this and entered, I immediately saw a list of four websites that have copied text from the Orbit website. Clicking one of the links will bring you to the offending site and the plagiarized content will be highlighted. It literally takes seconds. Copyscape will also tell you how many words were copied and what percentage of the page. In the worst examples, entire sites are being copied. It's actually very common.

Believe it or not, we’ve seen this happen to five client websites in the past few years, not including the copy of the Orbit site. One was discovered just last week. Each time, the website was completely copied, with only minor content changes. In one case, the plagiarists didn’t bother to remove the Google Analytics code when they posted the copy! That one was easy to find...

What's my recourse?

Here are 7 things you can do, escalating in aggressiveness:

  1. Send a Cease and Desist letter. This is the first step in the legal process, but not necessarily the last. Hopefully, it’s enough and they quickly remove the content and contact you with a contrite response.
  2. Notify their Chamber of Commerce, if they belong to one.
  3. File complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
  4. Write a one-star review on their Google place page. Start by finding the listing in Google Maps, then click the big, red “Write a Review” button.
  5. Send a “Take Down” letter to their host, requesting that the site be taken down immediately under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Here is a template for one (yes, it’s ok to use this). Just find the host using a lookup service and fax the letter in. Some hosting companies make this even easier with an online form.
  6. Report them to Google. It’s perfectly legitimate to notify Google that you believe an unauthorized use of your copyrighted work is appearing in search results. It’s also perfectly reasonable for Google to blacklist them, removing them from all search results. The domain will never again appear in a Google search, even for the business name. Game over.
  7. Sue for damages. Not my style, but it may be appropriate. Contact a good attorney and have at it. Federal copyright laws, and potentially others, will apply.


If you'd like to take the high road and start by simply contacting them, there is an excellent example of a professional letter written by Blair Enns, which was sent to one of the plagiarists we found. It's posted at the bottom of this page. I called it a gorgeous piece of business writing, a legal threat but also a coach-able moment.

Imitation is flattery. Plagiarism is unlawful.

If you're a web designer, don't even think about it. Even if you’re the type who can plagiarize and still sleep at night, you’ll eventually get caught. It takes less than one minute to catch you. Besides, what happened to differentiation? What happened to standing apart? What happened to being real? Being authentic? Being yourself?

Last Updated on 2012-02-28 09:41:20.709

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