A couple of weeks ago—January 19th, to be exact—I logged into my blog analytics website to check on a traffic spike that I had noticed on this blog. While I don’t check my stats daily, I do try to take a look at least once a week to see what sites have been driving traffic to mine and whether there has been any unusual activity. The extra traffic ended up coming from a Polish blog that had linked to one of my posts and is completely unrelated to the rest of this tale. But while I was investigating my extra traffic, I discovered something else.
I noticed a link leading to my site that was unfamiliar to me. I decided to check it out and discovered that it was a hootsuite link originating from someone’s timeline.
Since I always love finding new bloggers to read, I clicked over to see what this person’s blog was about and that was when I entered the Twilight Zone.
On first glance, this individual’s blog wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. She runs a Book Review blog and clearly has a sizable following, but the topic (YA novels) isn’t one that particularly holds my interest. I surfed her site a bit longer and was about to “X” out when a link on her menu caught my attention. “Building a Better Blog” it said. That made me giggle at first, because, as many of you know, my good blogging buddy Vahni has a similarly named “Build a Better Blog” page on her blog. “What a funny coincidence,” I thought, and opened the page.
That was the last time I laughed.
Right away, four blog posts jumped off the page at me. They sounded just like posts written by myself and a few friends. Still, despite the similarity in the titles, I thought “oh, that has to be some sort of a strange coincidence. I am sure the content is completely different.”
I was wrong. WAY wrong.
Wait. What?! She Stole Your Content?
Yup. That is exactly what she did. And not just mine. Vahni of Grit and Glamour, Fajr of Stylish Thought and Jamillah of Made to Travel were all impacted by this, though Jamillah doesn’t even know yet (we got your back, friend!).
This post covers the first half of the story… it addresses how the plagiarized posts were discovered and how Vahni, Fajr and I were able to prove our content was stolen using screencaps and IP address information. It will also address why access to applications that measure and analyze blog traffic are a must-have for every blogger.
And for the nitty-gritty on how we approached this fight—and won—please read Vahni’s post, B*tch stole my content! Plagiarism: How to Deal with a Thief. She also provides tips and resources on how to deal with this situation if it ever happens to you.
[Please note: the screencaps below have been censored to protect the identity of this blogger. Although I would love to out her to the world for the thief she is, we came to a resolution that includes protecting her privacy.]
So, what exactly happened?
Let me walk you through what I discovered.
First up, we have the original posts:
- Exhibit A: Klout—What it is and Why It Matters. Publish date: March 9, 2011 on grit and glamour
- Exhibit B: Guest Post: How to Not be a Savage Blogger—“Follow Back” Alternatives for New Bloggers. Publish date: June 8, 2011 on this site.
- Exhibit C: 10 Things about your Blog That Drive Me Crazy. Publish date: April 8, 2011 on this site.
- Exhibit D: 10 Popular Blogging Myths Debunked. Publish date: October 5, 2011 on this site.
- Exhibit E: Introduction: So You Want to Leave Blogger for WordPress? Publish date: November 8, 2010 on this site.
- Exhibit F: 10 Things I Wish I Had Known About Blogging, Publish date: April 6, 2011 on Stylish Thought.
And here we have the plagiarized versions, each of which was published at a later date than the originals listed above (links to the full size images are provided below each preview):
Remarkable similarities, no?
I couldn’t believe what I had discovered. Could this blogger actually have plagiarized our content? I didn’t want to believe it. It couldn’t be true.
This woman is a respected part of the blogging community. She is a Book Blogger, of all things, so she knows all about plagiarism and even wrote a post discussing the topic on her own site.
Surely she wouldn’t intentionally steal the hard work of others and pass it off as her own?
I didn’t want to believe it, yet the evidence was staring back at me from my computer monitor.
“I think we’ve been plagiarized…. sort of”
I knew I had to contact Vahni and share my discovery with her immediately. She had a right to know and I still needed confirmation from someone that I wasn’t imagining the whole thing.
“… I SWEAR this woman is copying our content and passing off a slightly-tweaked version as her own. That does NOT make me happy. Am I over-reacting? Do you see the similarities as well?
I know it isn’t a copy/paste job but it IS a form of plagiarism, isn’t it?”
V’s response confirmed what I had known all along. This blogger had stolen our content, re-worked it ever-so-slightly, and passed it off as her own.
Here is just one sampling of what she had done:
Detective Mode: Collecting the Evidence
So, what should you do when you discover someone has plagiarised your content in this way?
Before you confront them, you should gather as much evidence as possible to support your case.
- Screencap, screencap, screencap! As you can see from this post, and from V’s counterpart on her site, screencaps are a must if you want to prove the posts existed.
- Gather IP evidence! Hands-down, the best way to prove a blogger stole your authentic content and passed it off as their own is by proving they visited your website. They can claim ignorance all they want, but if you have proof they were on your site they are caught red-handed.
So… the question becomes, how do you prove someone visited your website?
Blog Analytics Explained
At the start of this post, I shared I discovered this blogger’s website because I came across an unknown link on my analytics software program. In all honesty, making the discovery was a complete fluke. Had I waited a day or two, I likely never would have seen the incoming link, so I never would have found her site. However, when it comes to investigating possible cases of plagiarism, application that measure and analyze your blog traffic are the absolute key to proving your case.
What exactly are Blog Analytics?
- Web-based tracking: Google Analytics, Statcounter and performancing metrics (pmetrics) are just three of the countless website applications that can track visits to your blog. Though wordpress and blogger each have built-in versions, the data they provide is limited. I highly recommend using an outside application like the ones I mentioned. Each has its positives and negatives: I recommend you try multiple sites until you find the one that fits your needs best. For me, pmetrics is the surefire winner!
- How do I set this up? Set-up is generally straightforward: sign-up for an account, add the tracking code to your blog, and let the web-based software do the work.
- What type of information can I see? The data collected by a good tracking website goes beyond simple visitor numbers. You can also see:
- Average time a visitor spends on your blog
- Bounce rate
- Incoming links (where a visit originated)
- Which sites are driving the most traffic to your site
- Outbound links (where the visitor exited your page)
- Actions (how many pages/links a visitor interacted with)
- Total time spent on your blog
- Search terms that led people to your site
- Which of your pages are getting the most traffic
- Who is currently-right this second-visiting your site/what they are looking at
- Where your visitors are from
How does that translate to catching a content thief?
1. Identify the thief: Find out as much as you can about the owner of the blog in question. I did a Google search on the bloggers first name and Blog Name, and that led me to her LinkedIn page with her full name and location.
2. Identify the most recent known visit to your blog: I knew Ms. Thief had visited my site via the hootsuite link mentioned above. Using that information, along with the knowledge of her location, I was able to isolate her IP address in pmetrics. If you don’t know the most recent visit date, you can use their location as a starting point instead to try to discover their visits. It may take some time, but it is worth the effort.
3. Isolate the IP address and identify ALL visits to your blog: Once I had isolated the IP address, the next step was to identify how many times she had visited my blog. Turns out Ms. Thief visited this site 29 times, with the first visit dating back to September 23, 2011.
4. Identify specific visits to the plagiarized posts: Start drilling-down into the visits you discover to see if you can find any correlation between the dates of visits and the dates any plagiarized posts were published.
- Ms. Thief visited my “10 Things About Your Blog That Drive me Crazy” post (published by me on April 8, 2011), on both November 11th and November 12th, 2011
- These dates correlate with the date the plagiarized post, “10 Things I Dislike About Your Blog Post”, was published on THE THIEF’s BLOG (November 12, 2011)
5. Gather all of the evidence, screencap everything, and document your proof! Once everything is documented, the Thief can’t deny visiting your blog. Well, that isn’t true. They can try to deny it. And, in our case, Ms. Thief did deny it. Repeatedly. But you have the proof that they are lying. And that can’t be denied.
How We Fought a Plagiarist—And Won
This is the point where I turn over the rest of the story to Vahni. She will tell you exactly what we did to find a resolution to this problem. She’ll share all of the drama—the lies, the denials, the contradictions—and all of our frustrations.
The ending to this story is a happy one—and that wouldn’t have been possible without Vahni and Fajr. And quite a few glasses of wine.
As for Ms. Thief, her last words to me were:
“I apologize for my actions and for the disruption I have caused all of you. This has been a very eye-opening experience for me. I assure you… You, nor anyone else, will never need to contact me regarding this issue ever again.”
I hope that is true. I really do.
And to anyone thinking about stealing someone else’s content and passing it off as your own work: think twice before you go through with it. Not only are you cheating the person you are stealing from, you are cheating yourself.