Catching a Thief Red Handed

Sometimes people borrow and rewrite content, but it is just plain out sick when they steal your site design and content without the decency to even bother changing it. Tonight in the SERPs I saw a weird site that looked awfully similar to a friend's site.

You judge the similarities between the content at (original site) and at (thief). Their site design looked similar to the original, until the site went offline. A few of his internal links even point at the real site! Earlier tonight I called the number that was on the WhoIs data of the site stealing content. He was mad someone called and bothered him, but claimed he did not have anything to do with the content theft or domain. Within hours of the phone call the site was offline.

I bet they hope my GoDaddy representative doesn't look at the link to Google's cache I just sent them, and that they hope their Google AdSense account doesn't get banned. If either of those happened that would be a real shame.

The Anonymous Web of Theft

I am not listing a name or the AdSense account number here because someone may have spiked the guy by putting false data in the WhoIs or publishing someone else's AdSense code to try to get them burned. What is to prevent me from doing that to someone who I don't like?

Part of the great strength of the web is that it is that people like you or I can do what we like and find a way to spread our ideas and profit from them (I use the term profit loosely there...I am not just talking about money). But I think some of the central network operators need to take on a bit more responsibility in who they are willing to partner with.

Google's Lack of Respect for Copyright

The real issue I have here is not just with the content theft, but also with the central networks on the web. Google is currently lobbying to soften up copyright warnings, largely because they have no respect for copyright.

Google's Youtube Copyright & Piracy Claims

Google claims they can fingerprint video content to prevent piracy and copyright violation (although the world is still waiting for that technology). If Google can fingerprint duplicates to remove them from the search results, and claims they can even find copyright video content, then why do they allow 100+ page websites that nearly 100% match current sites in their index to run AdSense ads without doing either of the following

  • flagging the site for automated or human review to compare it to related content sites before approving ad distribution

  • notifying the other publishers of the potential content theft being sponsored by AdSense

Maybe they are slow to getting around to that because doing the right thing would cost them a couple dollars. But delaying on that issue is actually going to cost the web as a whole, because if people think that by publishing anything online that they are granting someone permission to steal it and Google permission to run ads on it then Google isn't encouraging the production of the high quality content needed to make their search service more relevant and more useful.

eBay Also Supports Theft

Google isn't the only large network which openly and proudly profits from theft. eBay, which has made $10,000's from my Paypal payments, is allowing this dirtbag to sell my ebook on eBay over and over again. I have sent complaints using eBay's internal system, and talked to my Paypal representative, but so far they have not yet banned the thief and I am stuck monitoring eBay for theft that eBay's policies clearly and openly encourage.

Making Anonymity Work

Yesterday a leading search engineer at another search company informed me that he thought my book was good, but it was being distributed by another thief on another site. Here I am with a Technorati top 100 ranked blog, thousands of subscribers, millions of inbound links, giving these large companies tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and still eating crow.

How are new entrepreneurs to compete on the web if many of the central networks place a $0 value on content? How is that good for the long-term health of the web? Unless you sell ads, are syndicating misinformation or public relations spin, or have a large back-end up-sell you are screwed.

If the web is to remain anonymous the large networks need to make it easier to inform you if they are partnering with thieves to share in the profits from stealing your content. Or perhaps they could put a little effort into avoiding the issue by limiting their partnerships.

Published: August 2, 2007 by Aaron Wall in publishing & media


Aoleon The Mart...
August 5, 2007 - 10:29pm


You totally missed the point. As a movie maker myself who say would license the content to TV or DVD for major cash, what if some smuck put it on youtube for free? And then Google makes revenue (by attracting eyeballs) and effectively steals the content for free. YouTube may not be a profitable model (yet), but if they continue to command the audience by aggregating (read stealing) everyone else's content, eventually they will get the advertising to support it. Meanwhile, all the content creators (me) get screwed.

Another example are bloggers who get their content scraped, and then google indexes the scraper sites many times delisting the original content creator. That is totally f'd up!

Google has done nothing but promote a culture of grand theft. I hope to god they get their pants sued off by all the other large content companies that they stole from (Viacom et. al).

Death to google!

August 6, 2007 - 6:28am

I bet you will see some sort of action on google's behalf, not necesarilly a very effective solution but a solution none the less. It's plain and simple one of the largest reasons google is what it is, is because we the webmasters are always creating content and growing their database. If we are not happy then google will potentially suffer and we might go for a more reliable engine such as Yahoo.

It's a simple method of marketing and public relations and is most deffinately morth the million they suffer in return for long term positive PR.

August 7, 2007 - 12:47am

Is it just me or is Google nothing but a scraper themselves? Not sure why people expect a company that came about by scraping other peoples content and aggregating it to be the police on this. I think one of the things that makes the internet a fun playground to play in in is that there's not a lot of rules. It's extremely hard to litigate which opens a lot of opportunities for a lot of people that just aren't available offline. It's the old adage of the rich wanting to get richer. Only online can you out rank Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual and Countrywide for the keyword mortgage. You don't even have to be a big corporation to do it, just a teenager in their basement can do it with the right tools. As the internet progresses and moves forward it's going to kill a lot of these opportunities that are out there to aggregate and republish like a magazine or news channel does with articles and the apwire. I saw stop whining!

P.S. do you really think the street vendor on the sidewalk in NYC selling copied video's is eating into the movie studio's profits? Of course not. They just like to whine.

August 2, 2007 - 12:37pm

Whats worse is that its getting more and more common

August 2, 2007 - 12:38pm

To that, you can add the majority of the digital products being sold on the Internet. Compelling sales pages, products sold for $200 which do nothing. I am not going to give examples, but many of them are like that. I consider this almost as bad as theft.

August 2, 2007 - 3:33pm

A few months ago Google registered ""and took the same domain in a number of other extensions.

I would like to believe that Google has plans to allow webmasters to register original contents upon publication. I would like to believe that new webmasters shouldn't have to just accept that some of their best new content will be stolen by sites that are crawled more often than them and rank higher than them. I would like to believe lots of things, but alas that doesn't make them true.

August 2, 2007 - 3:44pm

Its almost commical how the person on ebay says "My name is Aaron Wall, and I'm an SEO consultant myself. And while big companies happily pay my $500 hourly fees to solve their search engine ranking challenges, there's no reason why you should do the same."

Its really crazy!

Also, aaron why don't you accept Google checkout instead of paypal?

You do realise that they allow payment for intangible goods as well.

Many sites nowadays accept Google checkout instead of paypal.

In addition, since this is an ebook about search engine optimization it is certainly very appropriate that you use Google checkout as a payment option.

(besides, it has less fees than paypal)

August 2, 2007 - 3:51pm

Google claims that they penalize sites that have duplicate content. If they have the technology, why can't they apply it to copyright? $$$$ that's why. They don't lose a couple of bucks. They probably loose tens of millions. Why would any company put money into solving a problem that will cost them millions? I mean why would any publicly traded company do that? They wouldn't and they won't. Even if they roll out some system, I bet it won't be very effective because in the end it's only the little guy that loses out so who really cares?

Well, we care but I doubt the search engines will as long as they profit from the crime.

August 2, 2007 - 3:55pm

It's interesting how radically different standards are applied to the printed word compared to web content. Imagine what would happen if someone copied chunks out of the latest Steven King novel and started selling them as their own work! There'd be hell to pay.

Original web content is no easier to produce than the printed word yet it's treated with so little respect. It's incredibly frustrating.

Jordan Koene
August 2, 2007 - 4:05pm

- The issue of how (what means they use) to pay is irrelevant to solving the issue. The issue is content theft! Also you cannot depend on other companies that you spend $10,000's or even $1,000,000's with to prevent theft of your intangible good.

Solve it or limit it yourself! – In some ways the internet is like the wild west and you have to play by those rules or lack there of–

(Idea)- Maybe sell your book with a value add of updates, newsletter inclusion or another compelling reasons to purchase your eBook vs. the other scammer!

I know you already do some of this but maybe make it more prominent on your ad text for selling the book. I am sure the buyers of your book are shopping around. They didn't just stumble upon the eBay seller and say ohhh this is a great buy! They have read your blog know who you are and wanted to get the eBook free but only found the thief.

This is not an end all solutions just a suggestion.

Terry Reeves
August 2, 2007 - 4:29pm

It is for this very reason that my next publication will be an actual book, not an ebook. The web makes publishing content in a real book format extremely easy and affordable. There will probably be less revenue from a real book however, the real book can be sold for more than an ebook and will not be given away free on some Torrent sites which SEO Book is.

Also, authoring a real book offers some prestige and notoriety that will never come from a ebook, unless you are Aaron.

August 2, 2007 - 4:45pm

Though the little scraper sites with AdSense steal some revenue, a larger problem exists when your content is picked up and syndicated from authoritative sites and you get booted from the rankings.

This is happening to me - Yahoo! news, ABC, and a bunch of other news sites are grabbing my articles (through a single news aggregator source) and my site (I think) is being penalized for duplicate content. My blog fluctuates daily, sometimes showing up ranked 1 in Google, sometimes in the thirties, and sometimes not at all.

So, how do you get your name and content out there without being penalized for duplicate content? Rather than trying to track down scrappers and scammers, how do you let search engines know that yours is the original, copyrighted work?

PS: Thanks Aaron - we don't get to see you angry too often. As I read this post, I pictured your poor keyboard taking an angry beating.

Matthew Shuff
August 2, 2007 - 5:07pm

In my small and recent history trying to either monetize websites and domains, or simply to create valuable content and sites, I have found a large portion of the web and the people who work it to be scum. For every good person or company providing excellent products, services, information, or just trying to make some honest money, there seems to be a growing number of less savory characters out there.

I have been the victim of domain theft. The perpetrator: GoDaddy. They stole it right from my GoDaddy reseller account. No recourse. I have pointed out people doing all sorts of things on eBay from trying to sell sites/domains with faked Alexa rankings or Google PR to copyright infringement on Google and eBay (people selling the same software and websites over and over again).

I'm sure all this activity is hard to police, but I find real fault with the search engine system. They talk about value and unique content, yet they turn around and make money off the opposite. And, the handful of people I know personally that are making money off of ads (SERIOUS money) are doing so by gaming the system. I know a guy who is now up to $15,000 a month. It has only taken him 9 months, and he spends roughly two hours a day. He doesn't have a single unique site. He hasn't produced a single piece of unique content. He doesn't do affiliate programs or sell a product or service. It's all ad revenue. And...the kicker is...he doesn't have a single site that can be found in a search engine or in a PPC ad on any search engine.

Until such time as this sort of thing doesn't happen, you'll find more and more "people" emerging from the muck to make a buck.

On one hand, it's disgusting, but at the same time, if I could make that kind of money under those circumstances, I'd gladly cash the checks. Of course, he won't tell me how he does it! :) Some friend.

...and yes...I always find it hilarious when you confront these "people" engaging in unethical if not criminal behavior....and they give you a rash of sh1t for harassing them. Such indignation!

August 2, 2007 - 6:21pm

That's true, I agree, as web master I have seen it in many places in the web. I try to copy stuff as well, but at least I change the style.

August 2, 2007 - 6:28pm

Even the big players do it. One of my client's sites (multi £million business) was duplicated by a fairly prominent business person in the UK (one of the "Dragons" on the BBC show Dragons Den).

The design wasn't an exact copy but close enough - their pricing structure and sales copy was ripped directly from my clients site and most of the content areas on each page were exact copies.

Fortunately, they aren't a particular good business person - since then my client is sitting happy with 1 million visitors a month and their site has died a slow death. :)

So there is an up side to incompetence - being able to sit and watch idiots drown in their own p!ss. :D


August 2, 2007 - 6:30pm

There's a guy on sitepoint who does this all the time, either straight copy of a site or blogs with stolen content. I think his username is dr00t. I try and get him kicked off whenever I see him, but apparently Sitepoint is not interested in banning him.

August 2, 2007 - 6:46pm

I remember Greg Bolcer of invented a peer 2 peer app that could stop theft of pictures and videos and I belive (I will have to check) that they could encrypt the original photo, file or video so that the originator got paid if it was copied.

Endeavors also stream apps which stops illegal pirating (Softricity's Softgrid do the same and M$ bought them out) Maybe Google should think about taking on endeavors so that they can make sure peeps pay for their products?

Well done for highlighting this!!

August 2, 2007 - 7:39pm

Getty Images has managed to turn this calamity into their advantage. They hired a company in Israel to create a robot that trolls the web looking for Getty Images that are not licensed. Getty then sends a letter demanding payment and threatening a law suit.

Anyone that chooses to consult their lawyer will be told they have no hope of winning, regardless of who was hired to do what or who did or did not know what.

I fully support IP rights. Often a cease and desist is all an photographer/author really wants. Getty Images will not be satisfied by a cease and desist. Mistake or not, they expect to be paid.

It seems that those effected most are the small solo entrepreneurs that can't afford to recover from a mistake that costs thousands of dollars.

It is important that those that produce content know what is right. They need to understand what stealing is. A clear understanding of right and wrong is such a fundamental underpinning to life, yet it seems that very many individuals are lacking the moral/ethical context to make good decisions.

Christopher Rees
August 2, 2007 - 7:39pm

Hey Aaron,

I'm sure you already know, but you can sign up for an eBay Vero Account, which allows you to go online and simply report the eBay auction number and a little about what it is, and eBay will take the auction down.

Send me an e-mail and we can discuss that in more detail, there are a few services you might be interested in that I've provided for other clients seeking to reduce pirated content being sold online. Have had some really good success with it.

Christopher Rees

August 2, 2007 - 9:49pm

It is so hard to deal with theft like this. I have found several site that have stolen my content - even one company that works down the street,(!), and there is really nothing I can do. It is these times that the Internet drives me crazy.

August 2, 2007 - 11:10pm

Here is an article I came across about content theft. The writer puts a lot of work into prevention and even tracking content theft - some tips might be of interest to you all.

Please don't steal this Web content

August 3, 2007 - 12:53am

Maybe you havent heard of this being in the US: In Germany some guys apparently stole the facebook idea & design (copied it exactly until they later changed filenames, etc.). The site is called and its a great success... ;(

August 3, 2007 - 1:07am

"I have sent complaints using eBay's internal system, and talked to my Paypal representative, but so far they have not yet banned the thief"

I'm absolutely amazed by this. I mean, if it had happened to Joe Soap, understandable, but your custom brings in way more than the average user for PayPal!

August 3, 2007 - 1:40am

Worse - I caught someone I was working for blatantly pulling material off of other sites and posting it on her own. When I confronted her she slapped her lawyer on me and threatened to sue me for defamation of character. Can you believe that?

August 3, 2007 - 2:34am

I've had this happen to me at least 3 times since i launched my new design a year ago.

The first 2, stole it and changed some text here and there(i've mailed them and they took it down, after a while)...but the last one, just uploaded my homepage, and every link on it takes you to a 404 error page full of ads.

Go google for "web studio spine", first result should be my site, and in top 5 should be the clone, with exactly the same title...and the same homepage.

That's really a shame, but there's not much i can do about it, i'm sure they don't reply to emails :(

"" as someone mentioned before could be a good starting point in hunting down these thiefs...but i don't see anyone stepping in for us...

concert reviews
August 3, 2007 - 5:57am

I'm shocked that people sell your own ebook, pretending to be you. It makes me realize that building your own brand, and getting serps to your site is very important. sorry to hear about that

August 3, 2007 - 6:05am

Notice he sells the book cheaper as well :)

His content on the ebay is surprisingly the same as you. Have you contacted him and that??

Normally ebay are ok with this sort of stuff, for example i have seen some people try and flog off original comics when they were a replica and ebay has taken them off before...

August 3, 2007 - 8:44am

The technology to fingerprint audio and video has been around for years. In order for it to work though, there has to be a reference fingerprint of the original work to compare with.

The ability to fingerprint text based web content doesn't yet exist in a reliable package. With Bezier analysis, quite a lot can be done but to use it across all the sites search engines index would not be very likely.

Personally, I don't know why you expect Google to be the 'Net police.

August 3, 2007 - 8:54am

Personally, I don't know why you expect Google to be the 'Net police.

Personally, I don't know why you think I expect that either.

They don't need to police the web with stuff like "snitch on someone who is buying or selling links," but that is a choice they made.

If they believe in policing the web to that level, then they ought to police who they work with and sell links through, especially if they are funding a large percentage of the current online copyright theft problem.

The ability to fingerprint text based web content doesn't yet exist in a reliable package.

Honestly, if Google found that the technology was anywhere near as profitable as aiding content theft is the technology would already be available.

August 3, 2007 - 10:48am

Several of my friends are models, and they have very similar problems. Except in their case, it's almost like stalking - people set up profiles, steal their images and then actually pretend to be them.

Weird or what?

Sometimes, people suck.

August 3, 2007 - 6:11pm

Yes these people do suck, they are the lazy ones trying to make a quick buck off of the hard work that other people put in. Sadly enough I have seen some people offering to sell your book on DP forum for a "discounted price".

August 3, 2007 - 8:10pm

You forgot YouTube, which allows millions of copywrited videos to be viewed daily by millions and Google profits from it.

August 5, 2007 - 1:46pm

Aaron: The only way eBay will do anything is if you get the police (FBI?) involved.

August 5, 2007 - 1:55pm

Aaron: I just thought about something. I think since you are the publisher you are allowed to delete listings that violate your copyright because I once had a certain piece of used software in the box (I didn't need it anymore) and the company canceled the auction even though it was fully legal.

Aoleon: Yes there are copyrighted videos on Youtube but Google looses money on it not makes money. Google still hasn't figured out how to profit.

Red Robot
December 14, 2008 - 3:29pm

I dont think its a good idea to tell everyone where they can find someone who is reselling your book at a presumably lower cost.

December 14, 2008 - 3:40pm

In most cases the people who would rather buy a pirated outdated version to save a few dollars were not going to be customers anyway.

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