What should you do when someone copies an article from your blog or steals your website graphics without permission? How can you prevent online plagiarism? What legal action can you take against sites that copy your web content ?

Recently some registered web domain www.labnol.com and created a mirror copy of my technology blog including the site design. All the blog articles and reader comments were copied verbatim without any attribution or credit.

His scripts were continuously monitoring the contents of this site and any changes here were reflected almost immediately on his site. After couple of interactions with the person behind the site, his hosting company and some excellent suggestions from Darren - that offending site is now removed.

Here are the various steps and approaches that helped me get the website removed for plagiarizing content without permission and attribution.

How to be a detective and find if someone is copying my content ?

Try to find a sentence in your articles that either has a spelling error or formed using a unique combination of words that people haven't used before. Search for that sentence enclosed in quotes on Google Blog Search and Yahoo Search (it indexes fresh content quickly than Google).

You found a copy of your blog article on another site. How can you get it removed ?

The easiest approach will to send a polite email to the blogger requesting him to remove the article from his blog. The email of the blogger is generally available on the blog itself. If you can't get hold of the email, drop a comment in any of his blog posts. Most bloggers generally read user comments.

Sending an email didn't help - the copy-paste blogger refused to comply

Don't be surprised if the blogger starts accusing you of copying his content. That actually happened with me. At this stage, there's no point in communicating further with the offender - you must now get in touch with his web hosting company.

How should I complain to the web hosting company ?

Run a WhoIs lookup on the web domain name to find the domain registrar and the name of the web hosting company. (See: Tool That Tell You Everything about a Website)

In the above case, brinkster.com is hosting the copyright content. Most web hosting companies are very strict in these matters and will almost immediately respond to complaints. Visit the corporate website of the web host and look for the section that says "Contact Us". Here you will find the email address (abuse@name.com or support@name.com) where you have to formally send your complaint.

What should I write in my complaint letter to the web host?

This is the toughest part - Your job is now to convince another person that you are the original owner of a particular content. Hence, you must submit as many proofs as possible to prove that you actually own the content. Here are some useful pointers:

» Provide a link of the Google Cache to prove that Google spiders discovered your content earlier.

» If you are site is mentioned in the Web archives (archives.org), share that information with the web host.

» Inform them about the Google Page Rank of your site - a site which indulges in copyright violations is generally a new site with no or a low pagerank.

» Share you Technorati Rank to prove that you are a popular blogger and thousands of sites are linking to your content. That may put the ball in your court.

» Share your Alexa Ranking and Traffic details to confirm the age of your site.

» Send the Google search results for link:labnol.blogspot.com to prove how may sites are actually linking to you.

There are just some example which should be sufficient to convince the web host. If the web host fails to act, move on the next step.

Instruct Search Engines to Remove that Duplicate Content Site from their Search Indices

Google, Yahoo and other search engines accept user complaints for getting search listing removed if the site violates copyright laws. Once the offending site is removed from search engines, the traffic would collapse and even his motivation to steal content. Bored and frustrated, he may himself take his site offline.

Go ahead and file a DMCA complaint with search engines - it's equivalent to a Cease & Dessist Notice. Google and Blogger will require you to fax a DMCA notice to their US office.

Related: Send a Fax Over the Internet for Free.

Everything else fails - Complain to the Site Advertisers

In most circumstances, the thief will be planning to monetize your content using advertising from Google Adsense or Yahoo Publisher Network or some other service.

Once he sets up advertising on his site, your job get even easier - just complain to them and immediately, the ads will be pulled off from the offending site.