How to Protect Your Digital Content from Being Stolen

by Howard Richman

If find out that your digital content has been stolen you can hire us to help undo the damage, but what can you do to help minimize content theft in the FIRST PLACE? The suggestions below can help prevent your website content from being stolen. In each case you have to compromise between protecting your content and causing your site to become less and less user-friendly. For example, there are ways to disallow people from copying your images or text by right-clicking. But you have to consider the annoyance and hardship of the legitimate user who just wants to grab a bit of text for their school project (and give you credit). Also, some of the suggestions below will help you to prevent website content copying, but at the same time, reduce your ranking with search engines, or in some cases, make your site entirely invisible to search engines. So, this is never an easy decision and each “solution” must be considered carefully.

Display Copyright Notice to Help Prevent Content Theft

Of course, any thief intent on copying your material will not be thwarted by this, but I believe that it does serve to reduce theft to a degree. It also will help to protect you in the future if you need to contest the theft, by proving that you have a particular copyright date associated with your material. If you research copyright law, you don’t need to have LITERALLY filed the copyright, but merely that you have displayed the copyright notice. This is because the actual filing of a copyright can be retroactive to a prior date!

Here is the traditional copyright notice format:

COPYRIGHT—– COPYRIGHT SYMBOL—— DATE—— COPYRIGHT OWNER

so that would look like this:

Copyright © 1989 My Name

The above format works for USA copyright law. However, in other countries and also for US residents who want to protect their intellectual property in other countries, it is recommended that you add “All Rights Reserved.”

So the preferred format would look like this:

Copyright © 1989 My Name
All Rights Reserved

Display a Strong Warning Help Prevent Content Theft

Use text or a graphic that says clearly that copying your material is prohibited. Here are some examples to use as a reference point:

WARNING! COPYING PROHIBITED

WARNING! COPYING PROHIBITION ENFORCED

WE WILL PROSECUTE ALL INTERNET THEFT OF OUR COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

PLEASE DO NOT COPY OUR TEXT OR IMAGES WITHOUT OUR PERMISSION

WE’RE CRACKING DOWN ON INTERNET PIRACY — DO NOT COPY OUR CONTENT

STEAL OUR CONTENT, WE’LL STEAL YOUR HAPPINESS

DO NOT COPY OUR MATERIAL

COPYING PROHIBITED

NEVER RE-POST OUR MATERIAL ON YOUR WEBSITE OR BLOG

There are actually “official” badges and widgets that you can get that do this from a few companies like CopyScape.com and our own, StopWebPirates.com

Disable Right-Click

If you have an image that you do not want people to copy, or text that you do not want people to copy, there is a way to add a bit of code to the page using Javascript to do this. But then legitimate users will be frustrated and annoyed by your decision to do this. So it is not an easy decision. Also, a crafty theft can always “view source” code and STILL get access to your text and image, so this method is definitely not fool-proof. Having said that, it will certainly deter a lot of casual copying that would occur and this may help you out.

Add the following code WITHIN the body tag to disable the mouse right-click AND keyboard copy functions.

The above solution works in most browsers, but not in all.

Embed Content in Flash

Flash can display your content and it is very difficult to copy. But the problem is that search engines do not see flash at this time and you will risk low search engine ranking.

Reduce Auto-Copying Spam Bots

Sometimes the worst offenders are automated spambots. Unfortunately, ALL of the suggestions in this section will seriously interfere with your search engine ranking. But it is worth including for situations where this is not a concern.

  • Place an .htaccess file in each directory that you want to protect.
    An .htaccess files do many things, but in this case, it can ban specific web robots and even ban visitors with specific IP addresses and countries! Here is a great article on exactly how to do this.
  • Use a Meta Tag to prevent robots from indexing your page.
    Place the following code into the portion of your page:
  • Embed content within frames
    Search engines do not “see” content in frames so this will reduce spam bots, but also reduce your SEO.
  • Password-Protect the directory that contains the web page that you want to protect.
    Clearly, nobody could copy it unless you issued the password. But, of course, your page also won’t display on search engines, so you have to really think if this is what you want. Here is a good article on how to do this.
  • Use HTML Encryption
    Just do a search for “html encryption” and find one of many encryption generators where you just paste your html code in and receive the encrypted version. Re-paste this code to your site. The browser will display it, but spambots won’t see it. (Unfortunately, search engines won’t see it either!)

Use Absolute Links to Internal Pages of Your Site

Most people who steal your content will just grab it and post it on their site without adjusting the links within. If you have relative links like this:

/articles/my_amazing_ info
(This is a “relative link.”)

then you won’t have the benefit of them linking back to your site. (At least if they have stolen your work, it would be good if they link back to you!)

But if you make your hyperlinks like this:

http://www.yourdomain.com/articles/my_amazing_ info
(This is an “absolute link.”)

Then at least you will get some traffic to your site and your SEO will be INCREASED.

Watermark Your Images

This is where you see a faint logo or text placed OVER the image, so that if someone tries to copy it, it will RETAIN your name or logo, or whatever you use as your watermark. There are many software programs that can help you do this. AiS Watermark Pictures Protector is one of the best watermarking programs, giving you the most control.

Use HTML Protection Software

Normally, this approach shouldn’t be necessary if you implement some of the strategies listed above. But it is very handy to have a “one-stop-shop” approach if that is what you prefer.

Here are two that are high quality:
HTML-Protector
HTML Protector from AntSoft

How to Deter Image and Bandwidth Theft

“Hotlinking” is when people display your image on their website or blog by linking to the actual image on YOUR website. So even if you have granted permission to use the image, they are still “stealing” your bandwidth and slowing your own site down and costing you money.  David Airey came up with a very creative solution to deal with this issue. You can see his approach here.

Another way to work around this issue is to host your images and photos on a free image-hosting site like Flikr or Picasa so that if people DO hotlink to the image, it won’t slow down your servers or use up your bandwidth.

Force Thieves to at Least Link Back to You To Help Increase Traffic and SEO

Free service from EmbedAnything forces anyone copying your material to include code that links back to you. Very cool.

What if Your Content is Not Digital But Illegal Digital Copies are Being Distributed Over The Internet?

For example, what if you have written a book that is ONLY in physical form but someone made a .pdf version of this book and now you see this unauthorized digital “ebook” given away for free on hundreds of filesharing sites? That can be so frustrating. So this is not going to stop the most hardened criminal, but it is worth it to post the following warning to somewhat stem the tide:

WARNING!
This book is in printed format only. ALL DIGITAL VERSIONS ARE UNAUTHORIZED. If you upload or download an ebook version of this work, you are committing a crime and causing hardship for the author. For additional copies of this book, please see our website which will list legitimate sources to purchase:
http://www.yourwebsite.com

It is suggested that you place the above warning on the title page of your book or somewhere prominently in the beginning.