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What to do if your blog or website is cloned

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Recently, I fell victim to copyright theft. This blog was cloned, along with those of my friends Cathy Winston and Gretta Schifano. It appears that the same person or company cloned all three of our blogs, along with hundreds of other travel, lifestyle and food blogs from the UK, USA and Germany.

Blog cloning is an ongoing problem, so it’s important to be vigilant. If it happens to you, here are some steps you can take.

What is a cloned blog or website?

Unlike many of the recent cyber attacks, if your blog has been cloned, that doesn’t mean it’s been hacked or that your site is insecure. The person who clones a blog simply plugs your RSS feed into their website and copies all your posts over to their site, including all the images.

The cloned site will be given a new name and URL, but the name will bear some similarity to the content of the original blog. So if, for instance, your blog shows recipes for healthy family meals, the cloner might replace your original blog name with something like ‘FamilyEatsHealthy’.

The cloned blog might look remarkably similar to your own, just with a logo that’s tweaked to reflect the new name. And they might change your details and give you a new name on the blog. Cathy, Gretta and I were all given fake names.

Why clone a blog?

My first question was, why on earth would someone do this? Why set up a system to steal people’s copyrighted work, and risk being caught in this illegal activitity?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is to make money. My own cloned blog had a sidebar ad. Although this ad alone was unlikely to make much money, if each of the hundreds of other sites cloned by this person made a small bit of money, the total would mount up. The person who cloned our blogs used different methods to dupe advertisers into giving them money, including affiliate links.

If your blog is cloned, it can have a harmful effect on your blog’s SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Put simply, Google doesn’t like duplicate content. So if it spots that words and images on your blog are replicated elsewhere on the internet, your own blog pages may, over time, show up less and less in search results. There have even been cases of a clone’s page ranking above the original, when someone did a Google search for the topic in question.

How to spot a cloned blog

Cathy, Gretta I were lucky. The blogging community is very communicative, and we were told about our cloned blogs by other bloggers who’d spotted them, or by scouring through lists of cloned blogs obtained through detective work, and posted in online forums that we belong to. If you notice that your blog is consistently getting traffic from a website you don’t recognise, it’s worth checking that website. It might be a clone of your own, with the internal links still pointing to the original – ie, yours. That wasn’t the case with my own clone, though. All my links had been completely removed, including the links to my social media accounts.

What to do next

If you find out that your blog has been cloned, there are several steps you can take. They’re not fool-proof, but they can be effective in helping to address the problem.

  • File a takedown notice with Google at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/dmca-dashboard. This is a quick and easy step, but you need to do it straight away, as it’s likely Google will take a long time to respond. We waited a week before they got back to us with the results of their investigation. If you’re not sure whether Google has received your takedown notice, it will show up at some stage on the Copyright Removal Dashboard: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/dmca-dashboard
  • Change all your website’s passwords.
  • Take screenshots of the cloned blog: the home page, and any relevant pages, like the ‘about me’ page. The ‘about me’ page on my cloned site had a picture of me and my family, with a fake name next to it. This was identity theft, clear and simple. You should also type the name of your cloned blog into Google, and take screenshots of the results. You might need all these screenshots as evidence later on. When Google came back to us, after a week of waiting, they said they couldn’t find the content in question. We checked, and our cloned blogs were down. But the next morning, presumably after Google had closed the investigation, Cathy and Gretta’s clones were back up. The perpetrator might have got wind of the Google investigation, and temporarily hidden the content. If you find yourself in a similar situation, a message back to Google with screenshots of the illegally copied material, and the search results, might prompt them into investigating further.
  • Run a WHOis search to find out where the clone’s domain is hosted: https://www.whois.net/. If you type in the URL, you will see a results box. The host is the ‘Registrar’, and you should see their website listed. Cloudflare
  • Report the clone to their host. There should be an online form somewhere on the host’s website for abuse claims, or a contact email address.
  • Contact your own host, to let them know that your blog has been cloned.
  • We were advised to email the cloned website, using the  contact details they provided on the site. I did this, saying they had illegally copied my copyrighted work, and telling them to take it down. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t reply.
  • If you are based in the UK, you can contact the UK ActionFraud and Cyber Crime unit, to report the theft of your copyrighted material, and any identity theft that has happened as a result of the cloning. They can be found at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud. It’s likely that the fraudster is living in a different country, but it’s important that the police are alerted to these crimes.
  • Try to find out the ISP (Internet Service Provider) address of your cloned blog. This might be difficult if – as was the case with us – the cloned blog is concealed behind a cloaking server like Cloudflare, which hides ISP addresses. There are ways around this. Typing ‘how to find the ISP of a website hosted through Cloudflare’ into Google came up with a website called Crimeflare. This site claimed to be able to source the ISP addresses of sites hiding behind Cloudflare. I did manage to find an ISP address for my clone this way, although I had no guarantee that it was correct. **UPDATE FOR 2019**: another blogging friend, Kirstie, was able to successfully contact Cloudflare via a Cloudflare abuse form. They gave her the name of the host of her own cloned blog, along with a link to that host’s abuse form.
  • Block access to your RSS feed for websites with the ISP address of your clone. You can do this through security plugins like Wordfence, and/or directly via the .htaccess file in your site’s control panel. If you choose to do the latter, you just need to put ‘deny from XXXXXX (ie the ISP address)’ into the .htaccess file. Your host should be able to give you some help with locating the .htaccess file – if in doubt, just ask them. I blocked access to the ISP that I found via Crimeflare, both through Wordfence and my .htaccess file. I still don’t know if this was effective, as the cloned blog was taken down before I had a chance to test whether it was picking up new posts.
  • Contact any advertisers that you spot on the cloned site. I sent several messages to the company advertised on the sidebar of the clone of my blog, telling them they were advertising on an illegally cloned site. Unfortunately, they never replied. Cathy had a better response from Skimlinks. They replied promptly to say that they had suspended the account of the person using her cloned site to make money. Even though her cloned site was still up and running, it was gratifying to know they couldn’t make any money from her stolen work.

These are just some of the steps that you can take. If you have any more tips for people whose blogs or websites have been cloned, please leave them in the comments below.

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34 Comments

  • Gretta Schifano
    May 16, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Thanks for writing this Nell – I’m sure that it will be really helpful to others in the same situation. Thanks for your support while this has all been going on. Having you and Cathy to swap clone notes with made everything less horrible.

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 19, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      And thank you too, Gretta! I’m glad it finally seems to be coming to an end. x

      Reply
  • Sarah MumofThree World
    May 16, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Oh my goodness! What a terrible thing to happen and what a hassle to sort it all out! This is really helpful advice, though for anyone who gets hit in the future.

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 19, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Thanks Sarah. I hope it’s something they get better at clamping down on.

      Reply
  • Tanja
    May 16, 2017 at 11:11 am

    how awful! so how can you actually find out about it if you someone doesn’t stumble upon it?

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 19, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      To be honest, I’m not sure how, apart from following up any strange looking referrals in your stats.

      Reply
  • Plutonium Sox
    May 16, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    What an absolute flipping nightmare for you, I’m so sorry this happened to you. Such a helpful post if it happens to anyone else, I’m sharing it everywhere!
    Nat.x

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 19, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      Thank you Nat! Here’s hoping you never have to use the advice.

      Reply
  • Christine @afamilyday
    May 16, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    Oh wow, that’s something I’ve never heard of before! So glad you’ve got this sorted, I’ve read your post and hope I don’t need to read it again! Glad it’s sorted though.

    Reply
  • tots2travel
    May 19, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks for writing this. Sounds like a major headache.

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 21, 2017 at 6:46 pm

      It was! Not something I’d wish on anyone….

      Reply
  • John Adams
    May 20, 2017 at 5:52 am

    Well Nell, as you know I recently experienced similar. I can relate to this in a big way and I feel for you.

    I didn’t appreciate quite how valuable my intellectual property was until I saw huge amounts of my my blog replicated elsewhere without my permission.

    Luckily I managed to get it sorted very quickly….but isn’t it an absolute pain? Had me tied up in knots for the best of a day dealing with the fall out and I dread to think of the impact on my SEO. Here’s hoping you don’t experience this again.

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 21, 2017 at 6:49 pm

      John it had a big impact on me too, emotionally. I found it upsetting to see all my years of work, just snatched in that way…not to mention all the hours it took to sort it out. I lost days! Like you I really hope it hasn’t messed up my SEO. I guess there’s no way of being able to tell what the effect’s been. I hope yours hadn’t been impacted too much.

      Reply
  • Tania
    May 22, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    Scary stuff but such a useful post that I hope I will never have to refer to. Thanks so much for this, Nell.

    Reply
    • Nell
      May 25, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      Yes I hope it doesn’t happen to you. Such a horrible experience!

      Reply
  • Donna vallance
    June 6, 2017 at 7:50 am

    Thank you for this! Wait a nightmare. Great information that hopefully I won’t have to use xx

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 6, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      It was awful, Donna! The worst thing was the way it sucked up all my time…

      Reply
  • Lauren James
    June 6, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    I came across this on BritMums. Thanks for sharing – it sounds like an awful thing to go through! I’ve bookmarked the post in case this happens to anyone I know. X

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 6, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      Well I hope it may prove useful – but then again, I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through this. A nasty affair.

      Reply
  • Jenny @thebrickcastle
    June 6, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    It’s such a nightmare – and something that must have been hellish for you guys. It’s awful that it’s so hard to get any help – I honestly believe that hosts should have a legal duty to take them down as soon as it becomes apparent. Fingers crossed it’s not something that any of you three have to deal with again. Probably will though. I had someone use my ‘about page and some other content and I was lucky. An email to them and their hosts made them remove it. There are probably umpteen more out there we dont know about :/

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 6, 2017 at 3:16 pm

      I know – it seems that we only find out these things by chance. We’re so vulnerable as bloggers, aren’t we. Sorry to hear someone nicked your own work. x

      Reply
  • Simone Castello
    June 21, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I shared this on my social media. I have a question, I have a blogger blog, has anyone had the same experience with a blog hosted on blogger? I wonder if it’s less easy to steal

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 21, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks for sharing the post. I don’t know 100%, but I suspect it’s less likely to happen with a blogger blog. Part of the incentive for cloning a blog is to make money, and as far as I understand, a blog needs to be self-hosted to gain advertising revenue. I’m not sure that blogger templates would work on a self-hosted clone.

      Reply
  • Lauren James
    June 26, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    I’m glad I bookmarked this post – my old blog (long deleted) has been cloned. Thing is, no ad, no social links, no contact details. Who is doing this and why? Is it some troll? Maybe they didn’t put the link up yet?

    There are photos of my kids and my ex in the header and some of the posts are posts I’d written after being made homeless etc. Very personal stuff and no clear motivation. They must have found it on archive and they’ve even got my old URL!

    Reply
    • Nell
      June 29, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      No! That’s terrible. So they’ve taken your URL?? Have you reported it to the UK fraud police? It’s identity theft if they’re passing themselves off as you (ie using old photos). I really hope you get it sorted out.

      Reply
  • Sam B
    September 21, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    This has been an absolute diamond of a post for me going through the same problem.

    Thank you so much for the helpful advise and bookmarked for others that have the same issue too.

    Reply
    • Nell
      September 21, 2017 at 7:18 pm

      I was so sorry to hear that you’re going through the same thing. It really is an awful thing. I’m glad the article’s been helpful, and I hope you get it sorted soon.

      Reply
  • Lauren Victoria
    April 21, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    This is happening to me right now and this article is honestly so helpful! Thank you so much x

    Lauren | itslaurenvictoria.blogspot.co.uk

    Reply
    • Nell
      April 23, 2018 at 10:10 am

      Sorry to hear that. I’m glad it helps.

      Reply
  • Samu
    September 6, 2018 at 3:27 am

    Thank you for sharing .
    Using deny from XXXXXX via htaccess or firewall still interesting , especially if the clone detected quickly.

    Reply
  • Astrid
    March 15, 2019 at 8:05 pm

    I just discovered that my blog has been cloned. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    • Nell
      March 15, 2019 at 8:08 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope that you manage to get it sorted out quickly. I’m glad this post was a bit helpful.

      Reply
  • Matt
    July 31, 2019 at 11:48 pm

    Hey Nell,

    Same here! I followed your guidance and also reported the cloned page to cloudfare, asking for contacts of the owner. I also filled out this form at Google: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreportform?hl=en

    I read they took fast action here!

    Thanks a lot, Nell! If anything is different in our case, I will let you know so you can update this ninja-guide!

    Reply
    • Nell
      August 5, 2019 at 7:20 am

      Thank you – I’d be interested to know if you have any wisdom to add. Sorry this happened to you, but I’m glad this article was helpful.

      Reply

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