During the closing keynote at TBEX Toronto we took questions from the audience after our live round table discussion on This Week in Travel. One of the questions from the audience dealt with how to deal with websites that steal your content.

Gary ArndtMy rather abrupt answer was, “obscurity is a bigger problem than piracy.” 

I should note the quote originally came from Tim O’Reilly who said back in 2002, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

He is right. The problem for bloggers isn’t people stealing your stuff, the problem is no one ever reading it in the first place.

Mary Jo asked me to elaborate on the point I made at TBEX and to explain in greater detail why bloggers shouldn’t waste their time pursuing most people who steal content.

Let me start by staying that I am not defending plagiarism, piracy or theft. It is wrong morally and violates the laws of every country that I know of. The argument against getting worked up about piracy is a straight forward practical and business argument.

I am also not claiming that people should NEVER worry about piracy. As I’ll explain in a moment, there is a time to be concerned about it, but it, too, is based on hard pragmatism and business.

The vast majority of cases where bloggers have their content stolen involve scraper sites. People create websites that automatically download content from an RSS feed and then republish it on a different domain.

This is something that happens to me every single time I hit publish on my blog. To see for yourself, here is a list of exact match Google searches for a recent post I published about my trip to the Caribbean.

Some of the results are from my website. Some are from social media platforms where I shared the article, like Facebook. Most, however, are sites which republished the post without my permission. Google returned 211 results for the search and I estimate half are for domains that I know nothing about.

What have I done about this rampant piracy???

Nothing.

If you look at the search results, you will see that my website and my social media outlets rank ahead of everyone else. If someone is searching for my content, odds are quite high they will end up on my site or one of my social media outlets. Given search clicks break down, I’d say the odds are over 90% that someone would end up coming to me.

To put in more direct terms, the combined efforts of almost everyone amounts to nothing compared to my original content. Toss in Google Authorship, and it is very clear where the original article came from and who wrote it.

Like many bloggers, when I started out I was agitated when I saw someone scraping my content. I would send angry emails, contact Google, and occasionally even the ISP that hosted the website. What did I get for my troubles?

Nothing.

I didn’t get any money. I didn’t get more traffic. The only thing I did was spend a lot of time in an effort which did nothing other than to vent some steam.

Some of you might be reading this and saying to yourself, “Gary, it doesn’t matter if you get more traffic or money. It’s wrong! You should pursue wrongdoers!

Fair enough. It’s wrong. So is jaywalking. You are certainly free to spend time pursuing scrapers if you see fit.

However, it isn’t going to stop anything. Scraping is automated. It is done by computers. Stop one, they just start a new domain and begin doing it again. The cost of pursuing legal action will be far greater than any amount you will ever hope to collect, assuming you can even find the people who did it and assuming further that they are in the same legal jurisdiction as you are.

Is there anything you can do?

There are two things most people can do mitigate any possible problems which might arise:

1) Put links in your RSS footer

Use a WordPress plug-in that puts a link at the bottom of your RSS feed that links back to your website. If someone scrapes your content, then they will, in fact, be doing link building for you and tossing some link juice back your way. Granted, the links aren’t high quality, but you will be doing a form of SEO judo where you are using the scrapers for your benefit.

2) Rank higher than scrapers.

If your content ranks higher than scrapers, then there is little damage being done to your traffic. Scraper sites are by nature very low in quality. No one links to them and no one reads them directly. The whole reason they exist is to game Google. Having higher authority than a scraper site is very easy to do. If you find yourself being outranked by a scraper site, then your efforts should be focused on getting ranked higher, not tilting at windmills trying to shut down the scrapers of the world.

If you can’t out rank a scrapper site, you have far bigger problems than piracy. An hour spent chasing down scraper sites is better spent creating new content.

What about sites that aren’t scrappers? What happens if another blogger or a bigger media company steals your stuff?

Even then, in all but the most egregious examples, you aren’t going to get any money or traffic by using the nuclear option.

If another website uses one of my images without permission, I usually just ask them to put a link back to my website giving me attribution. That’s it. I’m not going to get any money from them and I don’t want to waste the time it would require to pursue a real copyright case. I have never had a case where someone was obstinate about using a stolen image. A link back to my website has some small value and that is good enough for me.

The only time you might want to think about taking action is when a big company with money steals your stuff.

This very rarely happens because most large companies take precautions to make sure it never does. In the event it should happen, the value of the publicity you will get will probably be worth more than what you would have gotten if they had just paid for it. When caught red handed, most big companies will take down the offending content and maybe provide some compensation. Unless your work has been previously registered with the copyright office, you probably will not get top dollar for any settlement. Registering each piece of  your content will take money, and there still is no guarantee you will ever get your money back if you do it.

Piracy on the internet happens. You can’t stop it anymore than you can stop the wind by shouting at it.  The more popular you get, the more your content will be pirated.

To again paraphrase Tim O’Reilly, piracy is a tax on success.

Dealing with piracy is an exercise in picking your fights. 99% of the piracy issues you will face online are fights that aren’t worth your time and attention.

Play offense, not defense. Focus on creating new and great content, not trying swat an unending stream of pirate flies.

Author Bio:  Gary Arndt has been traveling the world non stop since 2007. During that time he has visited over 125 countries and territories and all 7 continents. He is one of the most popular and honored travel bloggers in the world and was named by Time Magazine as having one of the top 25 blogs in the world in 2010. His travel journalism has also been recognized with a Lowell Thomas Award, NATJA Gold Medal, Northern Lights Award, and a Travel + Leisure SMITTY Award.