Content Theft Is Legal

I don’t care much about search engine traffic anymore. These days my business relies on other traffic sources. We run a fairly busy WordPress security blog and our readers are mostly folks on our large mailing list.

But we do get some search traffic and so now and then I’ll check in on how that’s doing. Today I wanted to see how one of our newest posts was ranking. It’s titled “Is WordPress Secure?“. The post is a question we get frequently from our customers and that a friend recently asked about – so I wanted to give our customer service team something to point to.

Seven days after posting I noticed the post was not ranking at all. It appeared to have been removed from the search results. For some reason I picked a random phrase in the post and Googled it and the problem became obvious.

Six websites had scraped our content verbatim, most of them including our images, and republished it without modification. They are all now ranking above us. In fact if you do a Google search for a phrase in the post –  “Think of your website as a giant dartboard and a hacker is trying to throw darts that simply have to hit the board.” you’ll notice that we appear below the ‘omitted results’ threshold and right at the bottom of the results.

I’m fairly confident this is a straight up ‘duplicate content’ penalty we’ve been hit with because we still rank #1 for our usual search phrases in our category.

It turns out this problem is not fixable in any practical sense. Google used to have something called Authorship which may have helped identify who owns content, but they cancelled this program back in 2014.

Now your only option appears to be to issue DMCA takedown notices to websites and hope they comply. This effectively makes content theft legal unless the author chooses to take action and has the resources to do so.

The result of this is what has happened in the adult film industry. MindGeek has become a monopoly through content piracy and leveraging the DMCA. They created or bought up sites that were pirating adult films. Content owners had to jump through DMCA hoops to get copyrighted content taken down. This was not feasible so they couldn’t keep up. The freeporntube sites became massively popular and profitable. Adult studios profits plummeted and MindGeek, the owner of the free sites ended up buying a ton of studios dirt cheap and became a porn monopoly. It didn’t help that the FTC isn’t exactly rushing to provide the adult film industry with anti-monopoly protections.

When you look at fox4online.com, one of the sites that stole our content, they make it clear they are more than happy to comply with DMCA requests with a “DMCA compliance” link in their footer:

Of course they are. The law favors them. We have to jump through their hoops and every other pirate site’s hoops to get our content taken down.

Google isn’t motivated to solve the issue because content pirates are likely to use AdSense, which gives Google a share of the profits. It makes no difference whether that revenue comes from the content owner or a pirate.

I’m curious how other publishers deal with content theft. If you’re struggling with this or have found a solution, please comment below.

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