These 10 tips for protecting your copyrighted content online will save you time and stress down the road.

If you’re not monitoring the web for your own text, images, videos, audio, or whatever your content consists of, YOU SHOULD BE.

Content thieves, scrapers, and plagiarizers can outrank you for your own, original content in the search engines and steal more than your content–they can STEAL YOUR TRAFFIC. But you can drastically reduce content theft from your blog or website by following the steps below.

Masked bandit who steals content

Plagiarizers should all be this easy to spot.

One of my other blogs features free digital scrapbooking downloads. But I retain full copyrights to everything I design, and my terms make it clear that people cannot post my designs “as-is.” Users are required to either finish my layouts with their own photos and text, embellishments, etc., before posting them online, or link to my page if they want to share (not hotlink to my images, though, which eats up bandwidth and bypasses my posts and ads).

I used to frequently find my images posted online by people claiming them as theirs, so I’ve learned the hard way how to protect my original content. These days, on the rare occasion that I find my images used by scrapers, hotlinkers, or just plain old content thieves, I can usually have them removed within 2 hours.

Oh, and if you believe that being the first to be indexed in Google proves your copyright, it doesn’t. Search engines know that if you have a newer, smaller site, it’s super-simple for a larger site to be indexed for your original content before you can click, “edit.” So don’t count on that.

1. Monitor for Content Theft Online

Protecting your content begins with monitoring the web for possible theft or unauthorized use. The sooner your content is removed from an infringing site, the less likely it is that they’ll ever outrank you for it and steal your traffic.

One of the simplest ways to do this is to set up Google Alerts by email or in your RSS reader to be notified when someone uses a phrase that you’ve written. Just enter a unique phrase from your post or page, and follow the instructions on the page, and you’ll be alerted if that phrase is found online. Set up an alert for your domain name, as well.

There are other ways to use alerts that are even more accurate, which I will discuss further on in this post.

Now that your alerts are established, here are some steps that will help you prevent content theft and enforce your copyrights online:

2. Add a ‘Terms of Use’ Page to Your Blog or Website

It may or may not be legally enforceable, but it won’t hurt for you to make it clear from the outset that your website is not permitted to be copied, scraped, shown in frames, or hotlinked to without your explicit written permission. At the very least, it will give you a stronger position if you have to sue an infringer, and it may even stop a few unscrupulous scrapers.

If you have an attorney, ask your attorney to help you draft a “website terms of use” page or advise you about what to include on your page. You can search for examples online, but keep in mind that other’s terms of use pages are copyrighted, and you’ll need to rewrite to the point that you are not plagiarizing. You may also be able to find what you need free or lost cost on or

What I do is simply to spell out for people what they can and cannot do on my site, and that they AGREE TO MY TERMS BY VIRTUE OF USING MY SITE.

You can thank Demand Media for that dubious little tactic.

And here’s the kicker that I developed to add some teeth to my terms (feel free to use): I include a statement that I will only give permission to use my content via digitally signed email.

Ergo, no signed email, no permission.

I thought of this after learning that another site’s owner filed a DMCA takedown with Google and GoDaddy over content that had clearly been stolen from her. The infringer, located in China, filed a counter-claim stating that they had permission to use Savvy’s baby’s picture and her content. Seriously?

But it worked for the baby-photo stealing toads.toad

Their site was put back online, and Savvy was told that she would have to take them to court to enforce her rights. The thieves didn’t even complete the counter-claim properly, but it was good enough for Google and GoDaddy.

So add that stipulation to your page. You can always get free secure email through and send your permission emails with a digital signature, should the need arise. I’m not guaranteeing this will help, but again, it won’t hurt, and it may provide the edge you need when reporting infringement of your copyright.

Perhaps a better alternative is to require they show proof from the online notary service, ReadNotify. This service is reasonably priced and claims that they provide “court admissible” proof that documents when an email was sent, received, and read. Their contact info is a bit lacking, so use at your own discretion. They do offer a free trial that might be wise for you to take them up on first if it seems like a good solution for you.

One more thing: While I’m not attorney, I do know a bit about legal research. And it seems that courts do consider the visibility of the link to the ‘terms of use’ page when deciding whether a particular one is enforceable. The ideal location, according to case law that I found, is in the “upper left quadrangle” of a website. But wherever you place yours, make sure it’s clearly visible and clickable on every page of your site. Again, consult your attorney if you have one.

3. Watermark Your Images and Videos

Either add a faint copyright notice to all of your images via an image editor, or install a plugin to do it for you. I use the Scissors Continued plugin, which also re-sizes images, and it works perfectly. You simply create a text image (preferably as a .png or .gif with transparent background), and upload it to use as your watermark, and Scissors takes care of the rest.

When adding videos to YouTube, your URL should be clearly visible on every frame. YouTube makes this easy to do, or you may be able to do this in your video software or Camtasia, if you use them. The text below your video on the video site should start with your URL.

You can also use this area to encourage people to visit your site for more details. For tutorials, you should never include the full instructions on YouTube, or every scraper site out there may end up outranking you for your own hard work.

4. Mark Your Content With a Unique Code

Either devise a unique string of characters, letters, and numbers that has zero search results in Google, and add that code to the end of every post and page, or install a plugin that will do it for you. This will allow you to search for all instances of your content with a few digits, instead of having to search for a phrase from every post you’ve written, helping you find copyright infringers quickly and enforce your ownership rights. offers a plugin with tracking that does this for you, which is what I use, and there are other free and paid services for WordPress as well that you can find through your “add plugins” section of your WordPress dashboard.

5. Add a Copyright Notice to Your Feeds

Here again, a lot of people think they can just pop anyone’s feed onto their own site and not worry about copyrights. Wrong. And if you don’t want your feeds scraped, add this to your ‘terms of use’ page.

I use a WordPress plugin called, ©Feed. It adds a custom copyright notice to the end of every post in my feed with a statement indicating that if the person reading the post is not viewing it in an RSS reader, then they should visit Savage Sites for the original, authorized content.

6. Be Cautious When Uploading or Posting Content to Sites That You Don’t Own

When uploading your content to other sites to share or store, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Always read the terms of use. Make sure you can delete your content and any time, and that you retain full rights to it.

For example, if you were to upload your content to, say, to store or share it, you would be GIVING your content to the site owners, thanks to this clause in their terms of use:

You grant, transfer and assign to FileSonic and its successors, assigns and licensees, FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE of enabling us to make your Content available through the Service, a fully-paid, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right and license to publish, distribute, reproduce, transmit, use, and archive (if applicable) the Content.

Another lesson learned thanks to Demand Media. And if you have ever written for eHow (or Examiner, come to think of it) and you don’t read the terms of use on the websites you use, especially when posting or uploading content, you deserve what you get.

7. Stop iFrame Content Theft

Protect your site against iframe exploits by adding a simple frame killer or frame buster code to your site, as shown in a previous post. Frame “preview” sites like to pretend that they’re doing everyone a service by allowing them to preview your site in a frame, but the links that should go to your site just lead viewers in circles on the scraper frame site. This one is possibly the most fun you can have online if you’re a webmaster, because it turns their exploitation of your work into clickable links! When someone clicks their “preview” thumbnail of your site, it breaks the frame and opens your site in the same window while closing the iframe site, even though the scraper didn’t intend for that to happen.

8. Stop Hotlinkers from Stealing Your Bandwidth

Not everyone who links to your images realizes that what they’re doing costs you bandwidth. But your site could end up crashing if too many people view your images at once if they’re hotlinked. Install the Hotlink Protection plugin for WordPress and save yourself the headache. It absolutely stops hotlinking–I’ve tested it. (But it won’t work on subdomains.)

9. Enforce Your Copyrights With DMCA Takedown Notices

First, keep in mind that some infringers don’t realize what they’ve done. There are still a lot of people who actually believe that if it’s on Google, it’s free. So find the site owner on their contact page, or on if that fails, and send them a quick email asking them to remove your content. Most content aggregators and larger commercial sites have DMCA agents listed, and those agents are required by law to act quickly when informed of infringing content on their sites.

No contact? Then go straight to filing a DMCA takedown.

It’s not that hard to file a DMCA takedown notice with search engines and hosting companies. But one thing that most articles on DMCA takedowns neglect to tell you is that you have to do it right the first time. The law protects people from having frivolous, erroneous, or incomplete DMCA takedowns filed against them by requiring you to file everything you have the first time.

Remember: Better too much information than too little, because you won’t get a second chance to state your case.

This is the basic DMCA takedown notice for Google. If the infringing site shows Google Adsense ads, you can file this DMCA takedown form online. Be sure you have included all details before hitting “submit.” Note that you are no longer required to fax or mail the form–you may submit it online.

YouTube DMCA takedown notices for YouTube videos that violate your copyright should be filed with YouTube. Read the policy and click through to submit the form online.

And if you have a ‘terms of use’ page with that no-certified-email-permission-no-proof clause, INCLUDE IT. Let Google and the infringer’s web host provider know that if anyone has permission to use your content, then they will be able to forward the digitally signed email to prove it.

10. Most Importantly, Make Sure You Don’t Violate Copyright Laws

Read up on U.S. copyright law to make sure you understand the basics. And if you’re thinking of using content from a non-U.S. site, you’d better know what you’re doing. Europe protects copyrights more stringently than the U.S. does.

It’s not easy, because there are so many myths and rumors about what can and cannot be used without explicit permission. The last thing you want is for your blog or website to be slammed with a DMCA takedown notice, taking you offline for several days, at best.

If you want to stay safe, use public domain images from trusted sources or create your own, and write original posts.

Take an hour or two to implement these steps just one time, and then you can pretty much relax. Do a quick search for your URL once a week to be sure that your content hasn’t been compromised.

If you do find your images or posts on someone else’s site, make sure that it’s really harming you before you take action.

Many sites show search engine results in iframes, and they usually link straight to you. That won’t reduce your traffic, so don’t bother complaining. The scraper sites that change your links to their own won’t hurt you either, if you’ve added frame killer code to your site.

There are no guarantees here. If someone hand-copies your content, omits your code, and re-names your photos, you may never discover the theft. Frame killers can be over-ridden–it’s not impossible. And no matter how solid your proof of ownership, you may have to be willing to take someone to court to enforce your rights. Only you can decide whether the stakes are worth it.

So don’t sweat it. Relax and blog, design, video, or podcast–you’ve covered your bases as well as you can, so spend your time publishing and promoting. That’s where your future lies.

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