How do I prevent my website from being copied? And how can I protect my online artices, images, ebooks, and digital products?
It’s quite a common question. In fact, I get it from clients all the time.
I’ve been in the business for several decades, and, while the global mentality of website development and content ownership has changed over the years, there are still website owners, writers, and administrators who still seek resolutions to this question.
And it’s understandable. Trust me, I get it.
I’ve written a lot of content over the years, and I’ve also been victim of many occurrences of plagiarism, content theft, and outright violations of my content, websites, and products I’ve sold online.
It’s a challenging thing to deal with, and it can undeniably cause frustration to both yourself, as an individual, and your business.
It can even be harmful, on quite a serious scale. The theft of your content, website, or digital products can wreak havoc on your business and cause all kinds of problems. Here are some of the worst issues with it:
- Loss of revenue
- Tarnishing of your business’s reputation
- Time and money lost in investigating, moderating, chasing, and taking down content that infringes you or your business’s rights
- A decrease in personal morale and enthusiasm for what you do, which leads to a drop in your personal motivation
These are just a few of the awful side effects that can be unfairly imposed on you, and your business, as a result of the lack of respect by others.
But, there’s one thing that’s important to remember.
The internet is a free place. But I don’t mean that in the way that you’re probably thinking.
I’m not saying that the web is free (of charge), although it very much is, but rather that it’s a largely under-regulated land where individuals and corporations are often provided with the freedom to roam free. People can make decisions that can subsequently have disastrous results on businesses, and most often without any form of ramification.
Let’s just think about the number of websites that are hacked, or compromised, every year. In fact, the numbers are staggering.
But quite honestly, it’s probably much, much worse than that.
This number only reflects a generalized estimation, but there isn’t a way to truly know, with definitive certainty, the exact number.
What we do know, is that it’s likely to be infinitely more. You can times this number at least by 3, and you probably still wouldn’t be anywhere near close enough.
But if the same rules were applied to the web as they are in the real, physical world, we’d be seeing a lot of prosecutions, and subsequently, a lot of probable jail sentences.
For a whole range of crimes, no less. Trespassing, theft, slander, identity theft, and impersonation... just to name a few.
If raucous groups and individuals were parading down the street at night, smashing storefront windows and stealing customer data, the world would be in panic.
Yet, this kind of treachery occurs every day. Online.
And as we’ve established, the web is a largely unregulated place. In fact, potentially the largest guardians of the web are hosting service providers, since they are usually quite keen to retain a clean slate, and only desire to work with honest, law-abiding website owners.
Beyond that, you start getting into real legal actions, which are, for the most part, quite inaccessible for most people (and businesses).
So the outlook is indeed quite bleak.
It’s not all bad — it doesn’t have to be. But as far as the starting point, the world wide web is not a land of fairies and gold dust, either.
But this all sounds quite negative.
And if you’re anything like me… you don’t do negative. If you’re really like me, you won’t even accept no for an answer.
Sounds like you, huh? I figure that’s why you’ve found this article — I don’t believe you simply stumbled upon it, not for one moment! This is exactly what you were looking for!
Well, I think I’ve already got the bad news out of the way. The web is a tough, tough place, and it isn’t always realistic to hold certain expectations.
In fact, one of my long-time colleagues ignited something in me when I asked him how he deals with the theft of the property of his own online business.
At the time, I was selling products digitally and had even written a fair amount of content which was published online, and free for anybody to access. I fell victim to a lot of content theft, as well as the unlawful distribution of my paid products for free.
I asked him, point blank — “Anthony, how do you deal with digital theft of your company’s content and products?”
His answer hit me quite hard.
Well, it was more like “i dont” — he doesn’t really use capitalization when instant messaging, and ignores grammatical errors for the most part. (sorry Anthony)
So, I asked him what he meant. Now I was really curious. His business was a much bigger target (and victim) of theft than mine was at the time.
What he said next shook me. Quite really.
“We have too many loyal, paying customers for me to devote any energy to those who steal our products and content.”
He went on to say:
“I’d rather spend time focusing my energy on targeting honest, paying clients, rather than waste my time chasing down thieves and fraudsters. If you spend all your time chasing after people, you’ll never get anything done. It will always happen, and if we spend time investigating it every time it does, we won’t have time to create new products and content of value, for the law-abiding customers who pay.”
Honestly, his response really shocked me.
My colleague was ordinarily quite a “simple” guy.
Whenever we talked, it was about work, and whenever we did talk about work he was always “to the point” and didn’t really sweat the details.
Much less was he an emotional, sensitive person. But his response to my question, I felt at least, was quite a sensitive and emotional one. It felt as though he’d spent time thinking about this previously.
Like me, I imagine he’d probably been quite concerned about it at some point in the past. But from what he was saying, it sounded as though his viewpoint had changed.
Quite certainly, he had a very different mindset than I did at the time. But what he said resonated with me, and it didn’t take longer than a couple of weeks for my own mindset to shift, too.
I began to view the business quite differently, and my mindset about the web changed quite drastically in this time, too.
I must say, I have something to thank him for. Even up until this day.
So, what did I learn?
Quite simply, it isn’t really possible to prevent theft of content, cloning of sites, or malpractice on the internet.
Well, that’s not strictly true.
There are indeed some methods you can implement to safeguard against this (trust me, I've tried).
But as far as my personal opinion goes, it usually isn’t worth the headache.
First of all, if your website garners relative attention, it’s safe to assume that something, somewhere, will be copied or stolen. That’s something you need to accept.
A good analogy I like to use when describing intellectual property on the web is that of fashion and streetwear.
The moment you walk out of the door this morning, the outfit you’re wearing is no longer really “yours”.
It’s now the property of everybody else. You’re on display, and eyes are peeled. Especially if your dress sense is nice. If somebody notices the shirt you’re wearing, or the nice color of your dress, they’re going to sneak a look a little longer than usual.
And one of those people are bound to consider picking up something like that for themselves.
Maybe not now, but just wait until payday!
There really isn’t a way of preventing somebody else from “copying” your outfit. Or even outright stealing it! At the very least, if what you wear is nice, it’s bound to be inspiration for someone. The environment on the web can be looked at in much the same way.
With a killer website, or spectacular products (of which I’m sure you’ve got both!), you’re acting as a source of inspiration for someone.
And once you start seeing a little success, someone’s bound to stumble across your site and pinch one or two of your ideas.
Of course, in the world of the web, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Using other websites (and their content) as inspiration is actually a great way to foster innovation and keep things moving.
It helps the rest of the web become steadily more progressive, and pushes for an enhanced user experience and quality of content, across the board. If someone’s doing things well, and they’re successful at it, they’re positioned directly in the spotlight to act as a source of inspiration for others.
Of course, there is a point at which inspiration becomes theft, and that’s where somebody literally “steals” the exact design, content, or product (or parts of it) that you’re making available online.
That’s not cool. And it’s not okay. Not morally, and certainly not legally.
While there are certainly things you can do about it, and steps you can take to mitigate and control an issue once it’s happened (and is out of control), there isn’t really any intrinsic method of preventing it.
Software is software. And on the web, there isn’t really much you can do to protect it.
If there was, the multibillion dollar film and television industries wouldn’t still be battling piracy in 2019. Unfortunately, they are.
And as long as we have the glorious freedom of an open web, this will remain the case. For them, and even more so for us mere mortals.
In the words of my colleague and good friend Anthony, devote your time instead to reaching honest, paying clients.
Forget everyone else.
What methods do you use to prevent content theft on your website? Let me know in the comments!