What do you do if content is stolen from your website? The 5 Step Guide to get Your Copy Back

Having something stolen from you is gutting with a sense of total disbelief. When I was about eight years old I was given a Casio digital watch; in northern Britain in the 80’s a digital watch was a big deal and just about the most exciting thing I had ever been given. I wore my watch with pride and during our sports lesson I dutifully left the watch on the teachers desk, as was required, and went off into the sunshine to get pulverised at sport! When I came back to collect my watch had gone. Considering there were only about 20 other children with access to this room it was a bold move to steal from someone you knew; I couldn’t believe that someone I knew could do this. A harsh lesson to learn.

So, one day you are conducting a routine check on your site to see if a page has been indexed and blam: you may not be but somebody else is. They have lifted the entire page images and all! You know that you spent hours researching and writing that page from scratch and in as long as it takes to cut, copy and paste someone else is filling their talentless splog site with your own information gold. Gutted.

I tackled this in this best way possible and moved quickly; without wasting time I contacted the site owners requesting that they remove the content immediately. I also filed a DMCA with google for the offending page. A few days later I received an email from the plagiarising site apologising profusely and claiming that they had no idea the content was stolen, they had paid a developer to write the page for them etc etc. The result was they removed the page there and then. Score first time! I was over the moon that just one email had rectified the problem. This prompted me to quickly and randomly check a variety of other pages and articles submitted to ezine. I discovered more blatant theft this time the spam sites had no content details so I went straight for the DMCA with google, in one instance it was a blogger site so I got the satisfying result of having the whole blog shut down.

This experience has led me to realise that plagiarism and copyright theft is a major problem on the internet, with the advance and prevalence of sites such as ezine your unique crafted articles are vulnerable and exposed to anyone lacking integrity to swoop in and add them to their own site. It’s an ongoing battle of tracking your content and going through the process of trying to get it removed. I have researched and collated the best steps to take in order to have your content removed from other peoples websites if it has been stolen infringing copyright:

1: Find the site owners details:
Look for contact us details on the site
Use whois on the domain name to obtain the registrants details including the hosting company

2: contact site owners politely requesting content removal
resist from going in all guns blazing using every expletive under the sun! remember dignity has much more strength than name calling, remain professional at all times. Consider what action you want taken:

  • Financial recompense?
  • Instant removal of the page?
  • Full citation with a link to the original article?

When I contacted the company above they claimed to have no idea the content was stolen and informed me they would take this up with the web company they had paid to write the content. This may have been a lie to cover up their embarrassment, it doesn’t matter, the page was removed and I achieved my result. In the majority of cases the perpetrator probably has no idea they have crossed the line and will take action to rectify the situation quickly with a shame face. A small percentage will be a tougher nut to crack as you may be dealing with professional sploggers (spam bloggers) and pirates with no integrity; for these band of hoodlums we pull out the big guns of copyright exertion:

3: Contact the hosting company
Since the introduction of the DMCA online plagiarism is taken very seriously. If you contact the hosting company outlining the infringement you may get a direct result with the offenders account being suspended.

4: File a DMCA complaint:
google has a great step by step process here and they take any copyright infringement very seriously. They have the power to remove offending sites from the search engines and if a site can’t be found it’s not really a major problem. I had a blogger site taken down within 48 hours after my file of complaint. If the theft site contains adsense then you have even more power to hit them where it hurts as google will suspend their account meaning no more cash booty from content they have stolen.

A list of search engine contacts for DMCA

Google DMCA policy

Yahoo copyright policy

5: Send a formal cease and desist letter
You can progress to a formal legal stage but I think this is unnecessary except in extreme cases. No need to spend money on a lawyer as there is so much resource on the web to help combat plagiarism and copyright infringement. Search for a cease and desist template letter and send this to the registered owner of the site. This is the final stage preceding formal legal proceedings and in most cases will get a result.

DMCA explained
The Digital Millenium Copyright Act was voted and signed by Bill Clinton on 28 October 1998. The DMCA Title II which refers to online copyright infringement is stated as follows:

“DMCA Title II, the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (“OCILLA”), creates a safe harbor for online service providers (OSPs, including ISPs) against copyright liability if they adhere to and qualify for certain prescribed safe harbor guidelines and promptly block access to allegedly infringing material (or remove such material from their systems) if they receive a notification claiming infringement from a copyright holder or the copyright holder’s agent.”

The Google DMCA statement is as follows:

“It is our policy to respond to clear notices of alleged copyright infringement. This page describes the information that should be present in these notices. It is designed to make submitting notices of alleged infringement to Google as straightforward as possible while reducing the number of notices that we receive that are fraudulent or difficult to understand or verify. The form of notice specified below is consistent with the form suggested by the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the text of which can be found at the U.S. Copyright Office Web Site, http://www.copyright.gov) but we will respond to notices of this form from other jurisdictions as well.”

Use DMCA’s with integrity
A DMCA takedown notice filed with a search engine such as Yahoo or Google should not be considered or undertaken lightly. The consequence of the notice means that a website can be permanently removed from search engine listings therefore damaging the site reputation and visibility, most likely irreversibly. Notice to contest a DMCA complaint is not usually extended to the accused and as such you must use proper judgement that you are within the right to issue such a notice. A DMCA takedown issue should never be issued as a malicious attack or as black hat SEO technique against a competitor.

Cease and Desist explained

  1. Cease: is an order/request to halt a specific activity
  2. Desist: is a block to the activity being recommenced at a later date

A cease and desist can be issued against an individual or a company and is a formal notice to stop and not later take up a specific activity which infringes on anothers rights. In relation to copyright infringement this would apply to content theft from a website and block the accused from reinstating the content on his site at a later date or else be liable to legal action.

A cease and desist letter can be issued by anyone although usually they are drafted by a lawyer. The cease and desist letter would demand that content is removed from a website and not allow the site to publish the content at any future date. A Google search for a cease and desist letter template will bring up plenty of links to enable you to construct your own formal letter without any legal fees.

How not to deal with copyright infringement
When you first discover your content has been stolen it is very tempting to seek revenge: your blood is boiling, you are seeing red. But stop! Take a deep breath and remain composed throughout the process. A good guideline to follow is to not write or do anything that would look unfavorable on yourself if read out in court or printed in a newspaper.

  • Do not be aggressive in any of your correspondence
  • Do not make public slurs or personal defamatory comments through social media or a a blog
  • Do not make any attacks against the other website through means of hacking of website hijacking
  • Always be truthful and factual in anything you do write about the experience
  • Set emotion aside, always maintain the moral high-ground through dignified professionalism

How to defend your content against plagiarism

  1. Add a copyright notice to the footer of your site eg: Shellshock UKĀ©2011
  2. Use a Copyscape service to inform you of any content theft
  3. Or try the Ian Lurie genius method of booby trapping your page

Just incase you are wondering a few days after my watch had been stolen my best friend tried to slip the contraband back to me with a nonchalant ‘oh I forgot to tell you I collected your watch for you’. The poor girl had obviously taken it in jealousy and in a moral fit of concern had tried to make matters right by giving it back. Unfortunately it caused a bit of a stink with my parents and the teachers but the good news is I got the watch back, no harm done.

Useful resources for copyright

Tools for protecting your content

Intellectual property office

10 myths about copyright explained

Creative commons

World intellectual property organisation

Notes on fair use for copyright

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