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How would Charles Bronson handle article theft?

If you submit articles to article directories about any topic, eventually your copy will get stolen and used without attribution. It’s not a question of if, but when.

This has happened to me about 10 times in the last 2 months and it really pisses me off.

The thieves’ business model seems to be:

a. Set up a free blog, or multiple free blogs
b. Apply for Google Adsense or some other advertising program. Stick the Adsense code into your new blog.
c. Steal relevant content from article directories and delete all reference to the author
d. Attract traffic to the new content rich web site using web 2.0 methods
e. Wait for the Adsense cheques to arrive

These sophisticated copy thieves set up networks of these blogs. They may only make a few bucks per day each, but if you have 50 – 100 blogs full of good content, the revenue can add up quickly. It’s called bum marketing apparently – get a few cents per day from lots of people.

One way to monitor this theft is to set up a Google alert on a unique string within the text. Put that string in quotes so that there is less chance of false positives. Here’s an example:

Assuming you do find some copy theft going on, what should you do about it?

In my case I have two approaches depending on the extent of the theft and my mood at the time.

The softball approach is where I send a polite e-mail to the administrator of the domain and a few other addresses that I guess ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected])scumbag.com and so on), requesting that they remove my article and other articles they have stolen within 24 hours. I use domaintools.com to work out the domain owner’s e-mail address, the rest I just guess.

I also warn them that I have notified the other copyright owners of their thieving ways. Most of the time this works and gives the thief a few sleepless nights. Karma.

The hardball, Charles Bronson, approach where I seek to do financial damage to the thieves. I reserve this for sites running Google Adsense. The thief’s Adsense Account is their centre of gravity. These thieves usually have Spam-Blog (splog), sites full of content they have copied from other sites without attribution. These are the steps:

1. Use domaintools.com to try to work out the contact address of the domain owner.

2. Go to the offending web site (usually a blog), and make multiple comment posts along the lines of “if you like this article, please click on my ads to help keep this site running”. The comment happens to be from the e-mail address of the domain owner. In may cases the comment will just go through to the keeper without any approval and now be visible on the web site for all to see.

3. Go to Google and report a violation of the Google Adsense terms and conditions and the copy theft. List original source addresses where the article of blog post was first posted. If the comment is visible, refer to the comment and how this web site owner is asking for clicks. Here’s the link to report the violation to Google. For added firepower you could contact the authors of other articles that have been stolen and suggest they do the same.

4. Keep an eye on the offending blog. In as little as a few days the Google Adsense ads will have magically disappeared along with the thief’s Adsense revenue. Google takes these sorts of violations very seriously. In the case of non-Google advertisers a short e-mail to the advertising company usually does the trick.

The crazy thing about this theft is the business model would probably still work if the attribution was left on the articles. Most article sites make it crystal clear that it’s OK to copy material for use on other web sites of the article is not altered in any way. This includes leaving the author bio/resource box intact.

The splog site still gets revenue, and the article writer would get some links and recognition.

Don’t get mad, get even.

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