September 2020 was an incredibly difficult month for me. The new job I had started had too many issues to count, I was in and out of doctor’s appointments trying to work out severe stomach cramps I was getting at 3am in the morning so wasn’t sleeping at all and one of my cats was diagnosed with a tumour and we were told he has three months to live. So September fucking sucked. And then, to top it all off, I found out someone had been stealing content off my site and re-publishing it as their own.
The way I found out was completely a fluke. I tend to schedule my posts to go live at 11:30pm – 1:30am Sydney time and check how they did when I wake up in the morning. I woke up on the Wednesday morning after publishing my izneo app review post to see someone had linked to my I Want to Hold Aono-Kun so Badly I Could Die review (which I had included a link to in my izneo review). As I always do, I quickly clicked on the page to see who had linked to my blog and to my shock I came face to face with my own izneo app review post on a website that wasn’t mine. Word for word, screenshot for screenshot – exactly copied and pasted from my blog and posted onto another. At first I was a bit shocked and then mostly annoyed. I had worked so hard on that review and to see someone rip it off really frustrated me. I was on my way to work so I just messaged a friend about it and went back to doing whatever I was doing.
Within minutes my friend replied “They have your stuff from 2 years ago…” and “They stole other people’s stuff too”. I went and re-opened up the website, and, without sounding too cliche, this feeling of dread filled me as I scrolled through and found my friend was completely right. There was content from two other websites on the webpage and they had not one, not two but fifteen of my own posts dating back to 2018. All of these posts were my posts I category tagged as ‘manga’. Before I was annoyed, now I was angry. Until I scrolled to their ‘oldest’ article and saw what it was. Their first/oldest article was my August 2018 post on Natsuyuki Rendezvous – the article in which I discuss and reflect on my grandfather’s death. And that’s when I kinda burst out crying on a train at 8am in the morning.
My head spinning, I made my way to work and kinda just sat down and stared at my computer screen. I had no idea what to do, and my heart was racing. I messaged my mum and she suggested that I make a tweet about the situation. I’m not too good at social media so was a bit anxious nothing would come of it, but was overwhelmed and so incredibly thankful for all the support people gave me. I was such a mess and all the advice and kind words really helped me calm down. Everyone’s suggestions were so helpful and really helped me begin working out exactly what to do.
I really have to do give special thanks to Mike from My Place to Write who contacted me via Twitter and offered his help. Over the two weeks or so it took for everything to be sorted, we were emailing back and forth. The first email he sent me was filled with his detailed investigation of the site and a step-by-step guide on how to go about getting the stolen content taken down. Mike really was an incredible support when I went through this and I think I would have lost my head without him.
I thought it might be useful to share a very brief summary of my steps in case anyone finds themselves in a similar situation (but hopefully you won’t)
- My first action was to submit a DMCA complaint to WordPress, thankfully they replied very quickly but informed site wasn’t a WordPress site and there was nothing they could do (ugh)
- The wonderful Myx from BlahBidyBlah & Mike told me that the site was going through something called CloudFlare (which acts like a proxy). You can’t get the domain or host details from WhoIs and have to go through CloudFlare. They do have an abuse form, so I submitted my complaint to CloudFlare and waited
- I began contacting other sites that had their content stolen, one of which encouraged me to submit a Google Copyright Weblink Removals Request (took 14 days for the request to be completed, by the time it was done the website had been taken down!)
- After a few days, CloudFlare informs me that they agree content is stolen and they have forwarded the complaint to the website’s host
- The website that stole my content did not have any contact information or comment section so I thought it was impossible to get in touch with the owner directly. However, Mike in all his brilliance found an email address!! So I sent an email and demanded they take everything down in very VERY strongly worded language.
- I don’t get a reply from the host from the CloudFlare complaint
- I don’t get a reply from the owner from my email
- Mike’s amazing email also included the contact for the host directly. I send them an email following up CloudFlare’s report – they inform me CloudFlare never sent them the complaint!! I am requested to fill out a new complaint form (which I do happily)
- The host responds in 2 days agreeing that the content is stolen and the owner did not reply to takedown requests. Informs me account is suspended
- I check the website – account isn’t suspended
- I go back to host who says CloudFlare is running an old cache of the website and I need to contact CloudFlare to refresh their cache
- Back and forth between CloudFlare and host about whose problem it actually is
- Finally host does something with the owner’s back up account
- I check the website and see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen
Or at least I thought….
A few weeks later, I published my manga review for the ‘King of Eden’ and received yet another notification that someone had linked to my post. Upon clicking this I found a new website with all my manga posts. At least this one had the respect not to republish the post about my grandfather. But I was still incredibly horrified and disgusted.
This new website did have a comment and contact feature so I quickly commented on each post demanding they take it down and sent a strongly worded email. Surprise, surprise I didn’t hear back. I then used a WhoIs lookup, and find the domain provider, not the host. Thankfully the domain provider was very friendly and provided me the host details and I submitted yet another long complaint email. I won’t bore you with the details, but it took about a week for everything to be taken down with the host and my anxiety was through the roof.
I am still quite anxious about my content being stolen, I noticed that this new website was created on the same date as I did my Twitter post about the first website. I have a theory that it’s the same person behind both websites. When I discussed this with a friend they told me that it could be someone just loves my work so much and wanted to share it. But honestly that just made me feel even more sick.
Whoever is doing this, you have not only stolen my work but stolen any joy I have writing. Each time I create a post I question whether I should even publish it in case you steal it. The month and a bit that I spent taking your websites down were awful. I was up at night, not able to sleep, and consumed by anxiety and stress during the day. I don’t have any else to say but shame on you. You disgust me.
I know reading through this some of you might say that I was overreacting or being too emotional about my stuff being stolen. But honestly, during September and October it was absolutely the last thing I needed. Seeing work that I had put so much time and effort in be ripped off made me feel so disrespected and disgusted. My anxiety has gone into overdrive and I’ve lost all motivation to write posts. I was very lucky that I had pre-written almost all my October posts as I haven’t done anything for November besides my weekly reviews which I painfully force myself to do. When I log into WordPress and see notifications, I feel a surge of panic worried I’m going to get another link notification to stolen content. I sincerely hope that this is the last time that this will ever happen but at least now I know how to deal with it, and am confident if it happens again, no matter how unpleasant, I can get it removed. I’ve also put in some safeguards in.
Firstly, you’ll notice on the sidebar (on computer) or if you scroll to the bottom of this post you’ll see a legal disclaimer saying that all written content on this site is under copyright and you cannot reproduce it without permission. The second is that I changed for any ‘feeds’ to only show the first few sentences of my posts rather than the full post. I suspect that whoever had stolen my content had sent up a feed to copy anything tagged ‘manga’. Unfortunately, to my email followers, this will impact you and you’ll need to click on ‘read more’ in your emails to get the full post. I’m truly sorry for this and I hope you don’t mind .
Example of how email notifications now look
Anyway, a long post deserves a short conclusion. From here, every month I’ll be setting up a day to google random titles or specific sentences from posts to check that nothing like this happens again. And if I do find another site, I am more than equipped to bring it down. I once again, thank everyone and anyone who offered words of advice and encouragement during this time. Stay vigilant everyone, look out for your work!
If anyone has issues with stolen content and would like any advice, or to see the messages I sent to the hosts of the websites please get in contact via Twitter, more than happy to help out and pay it forward.
Or if anyone has any tips on how I can better safeguard my site, those would also be much appreciated!