What To Do When Your Work is Stolen Online


Stealing on the internet is easy.  It takes very little effort for someone to copy your work and slap their name on it.  Almost every month I hear of a photographer, blogger, or designer I know whose work gets used without their permission.  With all this copyright infringement going around, I’d be surprised if a majority of WWD readers claim that this has never happened to them.

When it does happen, what should you do?

Document first

The first thing you should do is to document the act of infringement itself.  Since there are so many things for you to document – from screenshots to various site stats and rankings – I’ll just point the way to other articles that have covered the documentation process exhaustively:

Try to communicate

Unless the theft seems malicious or has serious consequences, it often helps to take a calm, but firm approach.  While you may be hurt initially, don’t get emotional when writing that first email or making that call.  After all, they might not have had proper knowledge of copyright law when they did it, or it might be an honest mistake (such as what happened to fellow WWD blogger Aliza Sherman a few months back).  Show them the facts and tell them what they need to do to set things straight.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should have warm, fuzzy feelings for copyright violators.  There is a huge difference between a scraper site and 10 year old girl who is a first-time blogger.  It’s perfectly fair to get web hosts and search engines to ban the former, but it would be an unnecessarily scathing experience for the latter.

The point I am trying to make is that when you communicate with the person at fault, do it formally.  Don’t send a flaming rant or make a defamatory post in your blog.  (Yet.)  Remember that you’re a professional, and everything you send out must show this.  If it is an obvious, honest mistake that can be fixed with a little communication, then it’s best to take that route.

Get help

If you’re unsure how to approach this situation, look at the legal facts and turn to a professional.  There are some websites where you can get free legal advice, which you can use as a starting point to clear up the legal aspects of the violation.  Also, familiarize yourself with the actual provisions and exceptions of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).  If reading the actual text seems too tedious for you, at least read the Wikipedia page on the DMCA.

It’s important to remember that nothing beats the advice of a licensed lawyer that you can discuss all these things with.  That’s why I noted in a previous post that a lawyer is one of the most important contacts you could ever have.

This is especially important if the case is vague, such as two blog posts discussing the same subject with the same angle, or two website templates that look similar.

Copyright infringement may be rampant, but many internet users are starting to take it seriously.  There might come a day when it no longer happens, but until then, we should be standing up for our rights to our work.

Has your work been stolen online? What did you do about it?



Have you guys heard of this site?:


if you’re worried about your work getting stolen online, these guys provide a service for proving ownership of any type of creative work…worth taking a look at anyway!


Try to use Google Alert when you do something unique, use specifi symbol in title, or some name.
Google alert helps very much.


I’ve had my work stolen a couple of times by teenagers-yes-and had to remind myself to be gentle with them first and not to take them down publicly. I’m not going to be responsible for ruining the lives of some kids. They corrected the problem right away and everyone was better off for me not flipping completely out.

Thanks for bringing this up.

A. Acevedo

Your article is a good reminder that it’s every web developer’s responsibilty to review “fair use” copyright laws.


Great article thanks!

A few months back I had an RSS tool running that picked up a story and reran it without checking with the original author. He tried to contact me but the email he has was invalid so he sent a DMCA email to my hosting company who promptly took down my web site … powerful stuff.

The point is, taking the time to read about your options is important.

John Mayson

This article brought back memories of a series of very bizarre events about a decade ago.

I received an email from a woman claiming I had nude photos of her, stolen from her website, on mine. I figured it was some weird form of spam and ignored it. The next day I had another message this one asking for my attorney’s contact information as I failed to take down the photos. Just to be sure I checked my paltry website. No nude photos. I emailed her back saying she had the wrong person.

The next day I had an email from someone else who claimed to be this woman’s attorney. I so wish I had saved this email. Imagine if a gynecologist and a lawyer got together and wrote an email describing to the Nth detail every image. I’ll keep this family-friendly, but from the descriptions it was a very raunchy site. And the strict use of medical terms made the email even more humorous.

My response was short. I didn’t appreciate the email and unless he could connect me to the website in question I would consider the matter closed. I never heard from either again.



I’m dealing with it right now. Only my work was not plagarized by an online entity, but by my local, community newspaper. Shame on them…this is a professional newspaper and they most certainly know better. I have drafted a letter and will be sending it out by certified mail.


I’ve had content misappropriated. A few times it was some inexperienced person copying and pasting my whole web page instead of just linking to my page. In general it only takes an email to straighten it out. Though that can get tough with the large megalithic information sites that push out a lot of content and display no reliable way to contact them (are you listening, about.com?).

I one case there was a guy ripping off the content of a lot of experts like me. He would post the first few paragraphs of an article, then require payment to get a link to the actual article. He was taking advantage of people who weren’t very good at Google, and this didn’t sit well with me, because I had posted my pages for free. He also made it look like the experts were writing content exclusively for him.

This guy was adamant that he was in the right, but I got ahold of the copyright law, and there it states that the copyright holder has the right to control how the content is copied. Since he was copying part of my text, and his use could not be regarded as fair use, he finally agreed to remove my content. But he persists in stealing work of other people. Unfortunately I think he finds new experts to rip off faster than the current experts wise up and get him to cease and desist.

Tony Wright

Great post!

I’m going to suggest that you take an important step FIRST (especially if you are self-employed)…

Assess the cost of the theft, the cost of “fixing” it, and the benefit of “fixing” it.

Half of the time, content theft is by someone who doesn’t know any better (a quick polite email can fix this– low cost!). The other half, it’s deliberate by someone who might not even speak the same language as you do. In this case, the cost to fix it is very high.

In EITHER case, I’m not sure the ROI on the time it takes is worth much more than a quick form email.

Celine Roque

Glad you found it helpful, Brandon.

I’ve been ripped off as well, from scraper sites to clients who used work which they didn’t pay for. Were you successful in stopping your thieves?

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