Monday, 3 June 2013

What Should You Do If Someone Steals Your Website Content?

Copyright infringement is a serious problem on the web which is why protecting your copy and your images is extremely important. Unfortunately however, there is little you can do to actually prevent theft of your online material so website owners have to be vigilant and take care to track their work to see if it has been used; if it has, then website owners have the power to do something. There are plenty of useful tools you can use to help you track whether or not any of your work has been stolen. Our preferred option is Copyscape.

Contacting the site owner

If your work has been duplicated on another website, the first and easiest step to deal with it is to contact the site owner particularly if it looks like a genuine mistake or failure to understand the law. If their contact details aren’t available on the site, they should in most instances be available through domain registration details. Consider the outcome you expect to achieve, such as removal of the content, a full citation and link to the original or financial recompense and then send a request to the owner detailing your required action. In some cases, it may even be the case that the site owner is not aware that the content is duplicated as they may have used a third party as a copywriter for example. In such cases, it is usually easy to deal with the problem quickly and painlessly as the offending site owner is likely to be cooperative.  

Lodging a DMCA complaint:  

To the hosting company or domain registrar
The DMCA tries to limit the liability of third parties such as hosting companies and domain registrars by means of the Safe Harbour provision. This only protects them though if they comply quickly with take down notices. Because of this, you are likely to reach a successful outcome if you complain to the hosting company directly which will probably take action hastily; in all instances the accused site will be removed pending a response from the alleged perpetrator. As this is the case, you must be extremely careful about your accusations because if the notice is found to be spurious or inaccurate, the accused can make counter claims for damages as compensation for the time their site was down.  

With the major search engines
Each of the major search engines has their own process regarding how to make a DMCA complaint and usually there is a specific form to complete. For the most part, required details include the sufficient information to find the copyrighted work, the URL of the page with duplicated content, the URL of the page with the original content and the contact details of the perpetrator.  All the major search engines take copyright infringement complaints very seriously so as long as you follow the correct procedure, you should get good results. If a website is removed and therefore no longer comes up in the search results for a certain keyword or keyphrase, the search engine will put a notification at the bottom of the page of results to say that it was violating copyright law and has been taken down.  

Who should you lodge your DMCA complaint with first?

Different approaches are suitable for different situations and both options have their disadvantages. If you choose to contact search engines, you will have to contact each search engine individually and repeat the process in the style required by each one which can be tedious and time consuming. Also, the person who has stolen your material can move their site onto a different URL so the problem is not entirely solved. That being said, the site on a new URL won’t rank so for all intents and purposes you will have won. It is also worth noting that Google and other search engines often keep a record of how many complaints have been lodged against one particular site so even if the matter is not serious but it is serial, you should still get a quick response.

If the perpetrator has copied your material over hundreds of pages, it is easier to file the complaint with the hosting company who will shut it down immediately.  However if the offender is deliberately and maliciously using your content, they could well move hosts and hop from host to host making it a difficult and long game of cat and mouse. It is therefore best to deal with the hosting company in conjunction with the domain registrar; if the thief remounts their site on a new domain, (which is the only thing they can do to continue using your content) it won’t rank so again, you'll have won.

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