Spammers and Scrapers

When I first started blogging, I was startled but pleased to find that a whole load of people who sold port-a-loos in the US were devoted followers. At that point, I was pleased if anyone followed me, to be honest.

Anyone more technologically sophisticated would have realised that these people were spammers, trying to flog their products. Quite why anyone reading a food blog would want to hire or purchase a portable lavatory is a question probably better left unanswered.

Most of these pests are caught by a spam filter, like Akismet, as used by WordPress. WordPress informs me that since I started writing this blog it has stopped tens of thousands of spam messages. Usually I delete them straight away (I am mildly irritated by a current spammer who just says what? what? what? all the time like Harry Secombe on The Goon Show) but sometimes I read them for the entertainment value.

The spammers are relatively easily dealt with but I met a fellow food blogger the other day who told me her entire site had been cloned. The woman who stole her material had simply replaced my friend’s name with her own throughout including, rather insultingly, on the copyright notice.

Other friends have repeatedly had their carefully crafted photographs stolen, even when they were watermarked. This sort of thing makes my blood boil.

To be clear, I’m not talking about fellow bloggers who like a particular recipe and have the courtesy to ask me if they can use it and then link back to my site. I’m talking about thieves.

Whether you monetise a blog or not – some of us do, some of us don’t – your words and pictures are in theory protected by copyright. But it can be very hard to enforce, especially if the person nicking your stuff is overseas.

I did a search on my own material the other day and discovered that an outfit called Entertainment News (I am not going to boost their ratings by providing a link) was lifting in their entirety pieces I’d blogged at the Huffington Post. There was a small note at the bottom saying they had come from HuffPo but no mention of my name. And they didn’t ask. I am a professional journalist and although I choose not to make money from this blog, writing is how I make my living. Pay up or shut down, boys.

Their modus operandi seems to be to keep the material on their site for a week or two, then kill it off, so if you’re not quick to spot it, there’s little or no trace of it. I reported them, variously, to the Huffington Post, their website provider and to Google. Because these content scrapers can affect your online blog ranking.

Of course, they also flog ads on their sites so they are making money out of other people’s hard work. I test these recipes until I get them right, take the photographs and write the copy. It’s a considerable investment of my time. I do it for love, not to line the pockets of some cheapskate in Budapest.

So if the same thing happens to you, here’s what to do.

You can try sending them a warning message. This only helps if they list some method of contact on their website.

Enter their domain name or IP address into Whois. This will tell you who their server is and you can complain direct to them asking for the offending material to be taken down.

The most useful bit of advice: go to Google’s copyright removal page and file a notice of infringement. Please note that you’ll have to file separate notices for each infringement and you need to follow the wording in their example closely. Just saying ‘these scumbags stole my stuff’ doesn’t cut the mustard.

Not sure whether your material’s been stolen or not? Try Copyscape. The basic service is free, though limited. You can also set up Google Alerts. Enter the title of your post in inverted commas and it will bring up any cloned copies. Then follow the suggestions above.

I found these articles from 2DogsMedia and Quertime useful.  Good luck. If you are a fellow blogger I hope it never happens to you. If it does, I hope this helps.

PS Since I published this, another food writing friend has pointed out that you can check to see if your photographs have been used elsewhere by right clicking on your picture. If you have personal experience of this sort of plagiarism and any advice to give, please leave a comment.

8 thoughts on “Spammers and Scrapers

  1. You are not the only WP blogger to write a post of this kind in the last week or two. Clearly it’s a problem, particularly for an information-sharer like you. Thanks for all this useful and hard-won information.

    • It’s the HuffPo stuff that’s been ripped off,
      Margaret, not WordPress. But yes, judging from the responses I’ve had on Instagram, it’s a major problem.

    • It’s very annoying and you’d be surprised how widespread it is – you only have to read the comments on my Instagram post (let alone the private messages I’ve had). Very hard to police, though.

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