How to Deal With Pirated Copies of Your Online Course

Back in 2019, I was truly devastated when I found out for the first time that someone pirated my online course 😔

I made lots of mistakes and put in thousands of hours to know what I know today.

And it took me a huge amount of time to outline, film, and edit the course.

(which I did all myself- I don’t have a huge team or something)

Then, someone comes along, downloads every lesson of the course.

And put a download online that everyone can grab for $6.

Seriously, what’s wrong with people? 😡

Downloading and distributing is one thing, but then asking for money for someone else’s very hard work?

That’s just low.

.

*Breathe in, breathe out*

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As an online course creator, you might come across this issue at some point.

I hope it didn’t happen to you yet, so you can be prepared.

But chances are, if you found this article, it might have happened to you already.

So I just want to share how to deal with it mentally, and what kind of simple actions you can take so it doesn’t damage your business.

Let’s go. Let’s grab those bastards 💪

Note: I’m not a copyright lawyer, do everything on this page at your own risk.

Get your mind straight

Like I said, it was really devastated when I found out someone pirated my online course.

It really hurts me to know that while I’m trying so hard to help people, that there’s then these few people that intentionally try to hurt others.

For a few days, all kinds of questions went through my mind;

  • Will anyone still buy my course if they can find it for (almost) free?
  • What will I do when my business fails because of this?
  • Should I stop making courses?
  • Why am I making content like this at all?
  • What kind of other business could I start where people can’t pirate my courses?
  • Shall I go back to just offering services since those can’t be copied?
  • Should I just give up now?

But I realised later that I was just making myself crazy.

Sure, these illegal downloads can have a bit of an impact on your sales, but you probably won’t go bankrupt overnight.

And I think that’s good to keep in mind:

Even if you nothing, if you just ignore the fact that these online course pirates are there, you’ll be totally okay.

Plus, people that download courses illegally, they’re probably not your target group anyway.

And it’s also good to keep in mind that those downloaders will never get the same amount of value out of your course compared to the people who purchase it;

  • They don’t have access to you.
  • They don’t have access to any extra materials.
  • They paid less, so are less motivated to complete your course.
  • They don’t have access to a community of like-minded students.
  • They don’t get updates whenever you update your course.

It’s obviously okay to feel bad for a bit.

But there’s no reason to hang in it as it won’t destroy your business, and you can take some simple steps to minimise it’s impact 👇

Simple actions to take

Getting your content off these websites is hard, and often requires legal action.

But there’s a few simple things you can do to minimise the impact of these illegal copies.

Send an email

It’s always worth sending an email or letter to the website where’s it’s hosted, but you have to keep in mind that it’s also a certain kind of shitty people that runs these websites.

But it’s worth a try 💪

It’s best if you can include their name and physical address, but those details are usually hard to find since they’re often good at hiding.

Some tips to find their contact details;

  • Go to the contact page (if they have one).
  • Go to the privacy page, companies are legally required to have details there.
  • Enter their domain name into a WHOIS tool to get registrar data. It’s often redacted for privacy, but sometimes you’re lucky.
  • Email the host or domain registrar to get contact details.
  • Google the website. You’re probably not the first one who’s trying to contact them.

Then, after you’ve found some contact details, here’s a friendly email you could send:

Hi there,

I noticed that an illegal copy of my online course ended up on your website:
- [url to download page] 

I kindly remind you that this is copyrighted material, and that's it's unlawfully displayed on your website.

If you remove the infringed material before [date], I will not take any further legal action.

Kind regards,

[Your name]

I know it’s tempting to tell them what kind of assholes they are, but it’s probably more effective to stay friendly.

After you’ve sent that, wait until the date you mentioned 📅

If your pirated online course is still online, ask a lawyer to send a letter like the one below for you:

Dear [website name],

We are writing to you to notify you that our client's copyrighted material is being unlawfully displayed on your website.

Our client is the owner of the [course name] online course, and the copyright holder of all the material included in the course. The course is being offered for sale on your website without our client's permission, and this constitutes copyright infringement.

We demand that you immediately remove all infringing material from your website and cease and desist from any further infringement of our client's rights.

If you fail to comply with this notice, we will take appropriate legal action to protect our client's rights and enforce their copyright.

Sincerely,

[Lawyer's name]
[Firm name]

Attachment: [screenshot website with timestamp]

Sending such a letter often doesn’t cost much, and in some cases it will scare the website owner enough to take the pirated copy of your online course offline.

It might be hard to get the pirated online course entirely off the website.

However, getting the search result removed from Google is pretty easy.

And if it’s not on Google, it’s much harder for people to find 🙃

To clarify: Google can’t remove the content from the website, but it can remove the webpage or images from search results.

Here’s a short video from Google about how to do it:

These are the steps to take:

Step #1: create request

Go to g.co/legal and create a new request.

report content to google make new request

Step #2: select the related Google product

To remove the webpage from Google Search, you have to select Google Search.

But be sure to check if there’s maybe some images on Google Search too, since these pirates often include a screenshot or logo of your online course.

(if they’re in both page search & image search, you have to report the content separately)

select related google product to report content

Step #3: select issue

Someone infringed your copyright, so you select ‘Intellectual property issue.’

legal help select issue takedown request

Step #4: follow-up questions

Google will then ask a few more questions, here’s how I answered them:

report content give more details about copyright takedown

I wasn’t sure if I should select Image/Video. The online course definitely has videos, but because those aren’t on the page I choose ‘Other’.

After you’ve done that, you can finally start creating your request:

click the submit request button to start your request

Step #5: fill out Copyright Removal

You then get to the Copyright Removal request which you have to fill out.

Be sure to read every word on this page, and to follow the instructions carefully.

fill out copyright removal request

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Now it’s time to wait ⏰

It can take a few days, sometimes a few weeks 🤷‍♂️

They’ll notify you when they made a decision about your removal request.

Block referrer traffic

On the page where they share the illegal copy of your online course, they often link back to the sales page:

example of how online course pirates link to your sales page

(so that the downloaders can decide if the course is right for them, I guess 🤦‍♂️)

When someone visits your website through a link on their website, you can see the address of the website that they were on before they came to your website.

They call this a HTTP referrer.

And we can use that to do two things;

  1. Block traffic from that referrer so they can’t visit your website.
  2. Redirect traffic from that referrer to something funny 👹

To do that, we need to add some text to the .htaccess file.

This file is always in the main folder of your website which you can access through the file manager of your host, or through an FTP program.

Warning: the .htaccess file of your website is very important, and can break your whole website. Be sure to make a backup before you make any changes.

Block traffic

To block traffic, add this to the very bottom of your .htaccess file:

# START BLOCK REFERRERS
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} domainname\.com [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} anotherdomainname\.com [NC]
RewriteRule .* - [F]
# END BLOCK REFERRERS

Be sure to include all three rules, and to replace the domain name & domain extension.

If you want to include more referrers, duplicate the line with [NC,OR] in it.

Redirect traffic

To redirect traffic to something funny or confronting, use this:

# START REDIRECT REFERRERS
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} domainname\.com [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} anotherdomainname\.com
RewriteRule .* https://www.website.com/article-on-that-website [R=301,L]
# END REDIRECT REFERRERS

Maybe redirecting to this article about reasons why people justify pirating will teach them something 🐒

Or write a short article on your website about how such downloads hurt you & your business.

Be creative, but don’t waste too much energy.

Prevent online course piracy

There are definitely some tools you can use that make it harder to download the videos of your online course.

But you can never completely prevent it. If they really want, they’ll find a way.

So instead, I like to provide things that can’t be copied;

  • My help when they get stuck.
  • A community of like-minded people.
  • Constant updates.
  • Feedback on worksheets.
  • Motivational emails as students progress.

That way, the course isn’t as valuable as a download on it’s own.

And people who did illegally download it, will realise they only got half the goods.

Other resources

I’m no legal expert or anything that can advice you on what kind of legal action to take.

But here’s some helpful articles/videos that might go more in-depth;

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve other handy resources.

Conclusion

Having your online course pirated totally sucks 👎

Really, it’s still beyond me that there’s such big assholes who think it’s okay to pirate someone’s life work & put it online for sale.

It’s important not to let these people make you feel bad.

Those course pirates, ánd the people downloading, should feel bad for stealing from you.

F*ck them.

Keep helping people, provide value, take the simple steps I mentioned in this article, and everything will be okay.

Good luck! 🤗

And if you have any questions or other recommendations, feel free to leave a comment below.

Avatar of Max van Collenburg
Max van Collenburg

I'm addicted to travel, love a good cappuccino, have two cute cats, and craft actionable content for online business owners that want to grow their business with non-sleazy marketing & automation. More weird facts about me here.

2 thoughts on “How to Deal With Pirated Copies of Your Online Course”

  1. Avatar of Dr. Heike Franz

    Thank you very much for this helpful article. I was a bit annoyed, when this happened to me. But some not so intelligent people (to avoid bad language) might be able to copy my material. But they lack all the background knowledge to answer any questions on a complex topic. Still, it makes you feel better, if there is anything that you can do. Thank you

    • Avatar of Max van Collenburg

      Yes, exactly! They can try stealing whatever they want, but they can never steal your knowledge & experience 💪

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