Copyright | Site Scraping & Content Theft
Bookmark this story, and stop letting thieves profit more from your writing than you do
Scrapers, article spinners, and willful plagiarists are the sworn enemies of all serious writers. Yes, sometimes the fight feels futile and time-wasting; it is tempting to simply let it go.
There is some wisdom in that — by ignoring them, they may well fall into an abyss of anonymity and disappear into the sucking black hole of abandoned websites, while giving them more visits (in order to determine what’s been stolen from us) may encourage them to keep doing it.
It’s the principle of the thing. And eventually, repeat infringers get themselves placed on a number of blacklists that will make it increasingly difficult to find a web hosting company willing to touch them with a ten foot pole. Because when you put their web hosting company on alert, you technically make them a willful infringer, and a potential defendant in a suit for copyright infringement, as well, if they fail to act.
What Can We Do?
First, stop feeling “flattered.” You’re not helping yourself, and you’re not helping other writers. People aren’t stealing your words because they love them; they are stealing them because content has commercial value to them, and they are too lazy or too lacking in talent to create it for themselves.
Second, gather some information. Record the title and URL where you found the stolen work.
If it is not yours, find and notify the original author, send them a link to this story, then STOP. You are done.
You cannot file a DMCA “take-down” notice unless you can accurately, lawfully assert ownership of the material. Why? Imagine that I have posted a poem to Medium. I still retain copyright and the right to sell or license my own poem to any publication elsewhere that will take it (despite its having been “previously published”). Now, imagine that an online poetry journal publishes my poem, and you recognize it from Medium. Had I not licensed the poem to the poetry journal, it would be a copyright violation even if I am credited as the author. But if I have licensed the work, unbeknownst to you, it would do me no good to have you go after the poetry journal on my behalf. Such “copyright vigilantism” is not helpful. But having your fellow writers’ backs — finding them, if you suspect a copyright violation and notifying them — is a true kindness and a professional courtesy.
A Word About Medium’s Role: When your work is stolen from Medium, Medium has no role in it whatsoever. It is exceedingly hard to prevent, 100%, a determined site scraping. Trust that they are as invested in retaining profitability as you are, if not moreso. They, too, are frustrated.
The only copyright they can assert here — and this is because we specifically and vehemently insist on retaining our rights when we post here — is a “compilation copyright.” That is, when a whole site is scraped, they can certainly complain about that — just like you and I can. And they do. And you can (and should) notify them, as a professional courtesy, when you see that happening. But don’t get mad at Medium over this.
As the author of a specific story, you must also assert your ownership and file your own DMCA take-down notice. Here’s what happens: Your notice will be acted upon, but some of these scraper sites would rather deal with a handful of authors who bother, than to lose all the content created by authors who don’t bother. This is why we all need to act — together.
IF the work is yours, complete the following steps:
Go to https://www.rankwatch.com/free-tools/domain-to-iP-converter-tool to convert the infringer’s domain to an IP address. This step requires ONLY the domain (e.g., ichi.pro) and not the full URL.
Go to https://whois.domaintools.com/ to find out who owns and who hosts the infringing website. Use the IP address from the previous step. In some cases, you may be able to find the information without first translating the domain name to an IP address, but with many sites now hosted in the cloud, this extra step is more reliable and may save you time in the long run.
Solve the CAPTCHA to prove you are not a bot.
You will see a screen that looks like this — look for the words “abuse” and “copyright violation”:
It is important to note, here, that Digitalocean (in the example shown above) is the web hosting provider, not the infringer. Their role here is to take your DMCA complaint about one of their customers and to address it with their customer (in this example, ichi.pro). They must ensure that their customer acts on it appropriately (by either removing the infringing material in a timely manner — usually 3–5 business days — or responding with a counterclaim stating under penalty of perjury that they own the copyright to it). ONLY if they fail to do this much is the web hosting company liable in any way.
NOTE: I do not recommend engaging directly with criminals. Some instructions advise asking the webmaster to remove the infringing materials, but in the case of willful infringers and wholesale site scrapers, they know they’re committing a crime. Also, it may be impossible for you to get the domain owner’s contact info, if they have paid for privacy features from their registrar.
Go straight to their web hosting providers. Repeat infringers are usually put into a database that web hosting providers can all access.
Next, create a DMCA template for yourself, and use it. Below is a DMCA template that you can use.
NOTE: Be sure to replace all the variables (text shown in [brackets] below) with your own information. Also, pay close attention to the text: This DMCA take-down notice is specifically for work that you have posted to Medium, and you should cc: email@example.com on your email if you leave that language in your version of the template. Just as a courtesy — to let them know, as well, that you’ve found another infringer. I have included language here to address machine translations (unauthorized derivative works) that are cropping up on most of these little scraper sites, lately. You own copyright in any published translations of your work, too.
NOTICE OF COPYRIGHT VIOLATION by [InfringingDomain]
cc: [EmailAddress of DMCA agent, Abuse contact, and/or Copyright Complaints department]
Identification of the copyrighted work(s):
[Title of YourOriginalWork]
[URL of YourOriginalWork]
[Title of InfringingWork — this is the one that is in violation of your copyright]
[URL of InfringingWork — this is where you found the post that must be removed]
The above, along with any other translations of the above work that may or may not appear on the site (as unauthorized derivative works), must be removed immediately. I strongly suggest that the owners of the site be placed on a list of willful copyright infringers.
This is no accidental plagiarism.
I have a good faith belief that all of the above is true and accurate, and I affirm this under penalty of perjury. Additionally, I have reported content scraping by this site to Medium Support, as there appear to be multiple official and individual Medium publications and authors involved.
I am filing this copyright violation complaint individually, on my own behalf, as the copyright owner of all content that carries my name and byline (name and byline appear to have been stripped from the infringing material; however, since they are scraping Medium.com indiscriminately, I assume there are many such “infringing materials”. This content has been licensed to Medium for display and may appear as well on sites owned/controlled by/licensed by me to display (I retain the legal copyright); to the best of my knowledge, Medium has not sublicensed any of their content to this site, and I affirm that I, personally, have not done so.
Recap: This Is Not Part of the Template!
Don’t just “let it go” when you see a copyright violation!
Be kind and professionally courteous to your fellow writers: give them a heads’ up when you see their work (possibly) being stolen.
Gather information: Titles, URLs, Domain names, IP addresses, web hosting provider abuse/copyright contacts.
Fill out the DMCA notice, change the language regarding Medium if they are not the site from which the material was stolen, and send the notice to the web hosting provider’s abuse/copyright contacts (cc: Medium if appropriate).
Good luck! Feel free to “name ’em and shame ’em” in the comments, below.
Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.
If you are reading this on any site other than Medium or on jahangiri.us, the content may have been stolen.