If you blog long enough, it’s not so much a matter of if but when your site gets infringed upon. Between the spammers that are likely to scrape your posts, plagiarist bloggers that will take what they like as their own and others who will try to share your content in ways that don’t give you as much as a link back, you’re bound to hit at least a few infringements if you look hard enough.
But should you care? Is it really worth the time to search for such infringements, find them and stop them? After all, many bloggers have their content infringed upon and never even realize it, seemingly not hurt by it at all. Others, however, appear to obsess over it, tracking every infringement and working doggedly to stop it.
So which approach is right? Well, that’s a personal decision and it’s one that stems from your specific situation including your search engine position, your personal feelings toward your work and the other sites in your niche.
Whether you want to care or don’t want to care, it’s pretty easy to justify your position. However, it’s important to be honest and make the decision that’s right for you and for your content.
With that in mind, here are a few factors to consider.
1. Search Engine Optimization
Google and other search engines pride themselves on returning the best results that they can for their visitors. Part of that means finding the best and most accurate content for a search result, but it also means not repeating the same result over and over again. After all, a top ten search results list is useless if half of them are just different sites with the same content.
So, when Google sees two sites with the same or similar content, it has to make a decision and choose one of the sites to list and demote the others, either to lower pages or to a completely different index.
Google tries, and mostly succeeds, in trying to reward the sites that post the content originally, giving the best spots to the sites that create the work. However, it’s not a perfect process.
Search engines inevitably mess up and give the top spots to sites that came later, including spammers, plagiarists and other infringers. This means that, for relevant queries, people who infringed your work can easily beat you in the search results.
Not all sites are vulnerable to this. Well-established and trusted sites are less likely to be bit than sites that are new or haven’t built up a great deal of inbound links. For new sites in competitive niches, this can be a major headache but it’s less of a problem for those who are at the top of their field already and generally do well in search results already.
Still, if you’re climbing the Google ladder, you likely want to pay more attention to infringements than if you’re already on top.
2. Personal Views
As a writer, everything you create you put a piece of yourself into. The time, work, expertise and expression of the work is your own and that can be a very emotional thing, especially if the content is deeply personal.
If that’s the case, then having someone infringe your work, especially if they also plagiarize it, can be a difficult experience. It can feel as if someone is laying claim to a part of you, like a huge violation of trust and even like a literal theft.
Sometimes, these feelings of being violated can get in the way of your writing and your honesty, it can make you feel retrained in an environment where being honest is your most valuable asset.
If infringements are impacting you emotionally and you think dealing with them can help, then it’s best to do so. The time it takes to deal with infringements is small and, if peace of mind comes with it, it’s a small price to pay.
The hardest part though is being honest with yourself about your feelings. Many people tell themselves they’re fine with infringement even though, on some level, are bothered by it. This can create a problem that can impact the rest of their work and their connection with their audience.
3. Competitive Advantage
Creating content, especially good content, takes time, energy and, possibly, money. If another site can gain the benefit of your content without putting in that effort, they have an upper hand over you. Not only can they accumulate a lot more content from other sources, but they can dedicate that energy to other tasks, such as promotion.
That’s a major advantage to that site, not just in terms of SEO, but also usefulness to readers. After all, a site that aggregates content from a variety of sources is better for the reader than visiting them separately. However, while some aggregators do a good job creating a symbiotic relationship with the sites they pull from (look at Google for example), others only extract value without returning any to the creators.
If you are wanting to grow your site and reach the top of your field, you may need to, from time to time, work to strike down sites that are gaining an unfair advantage over you using your content in unhealthy ways.
After all, you still want to be the primary destination for your own content.
So should you worry about infringement? It comes down to a simple question: Is it hurting you?
Infringements can and often do harm bloggers, especially as they work to grow their site and build up something great. But this doesn’t mean you should chase down every since copy of your posts. Not only is such an effort a waste of energy, at some point copyright enforcement is a distraction that pulls you away from creating a great site.
Instead, it’s best to look at the problem objectively and focus your energy on the cases that matter the most. Which cases are causing you the most problems, professionally and/or emotionally, and how can you get the greatest benefit from the least amount of work.
If you take a pragmatic look toward your enforcement, you’ll likely find that you can handle the issues you truly need to with minimal issue, freeing you up to create content and grow your site without the dead weight of infringements or the excess burden of over-the-top enforcement.