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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

How to deal with copyright violators
Do you sue, threaten? What works?

 4:42 am on May 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hello everyone,
I realize that webmasters commonly find text and page designs they like, and copy some (or even all) of the content into their own websites. It may not be entirely proper, even a copyright violation, but it seems to be common behavior nonetheless.

But if a particular page contains clearly unique original content, that is clearly marked as copyright, What can be done?

Afterall, duplicate content on the Internet not only steals traffic, isn't it also possible to harm search engine rankings? And if one site steals content, and removes the copyright notice, others will steal it from there, and on it goes.

So, what can be done? Could a search engine be persuaded to ban a site that can be shown to be violating copyright? Is it effective to email all the sites that link to the violator, and ask them to remove their links?

I'd like to hear whatever suggetions and experience other people have had. Thanks.



 12:39 pm on May 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

Call me lucky, but so far I've been able to solve the problem by writing the webmaster, web site owner or person named in the byline.

My experience may, however, have something to do with my judgements about what a copyrigt infringement is and what isn't.

If I'm unable to resolve the issue I'd call in the lawyers and involve the infringers ISP. It's quite simple, really - and would cost some money.


 4:04 pm on May 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

First, you have to understand what can and can't be copyrighted. Ideas aren't subject to copyright; neither are titles, ideas, formulas, and many other things. So many alleged copyright violations aren't violations. For more on this, see:

Of course, there are many blatant copyright violations on the Web. If you find that your text, photos, or other copyrighted material has been used by another Web site, I'd suggest the following sequence of actions:

1) Write to the Webmaster. Be polite but firm; state that such-and-such is copyrighted material, and that you expect it to be removed or paid for (at whatever rate you'd like to set) by such-and-such a date.

2) If that fails, write to the offender's ISP and explain the problem. Supply URLs of the offending pages, refer the ISP to the corresponding pages on your site, and state that you want the offending material removed immediately in accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

3) If that fails, you can check to see if the offending pages are in search engines, and you can then file a complaint with the search engines, demanding that they remove their links to the offending pages in accordance with the DMCA. (See Google's page on DMCA compliance for more on this.)

4) If that fails, your only recourse will be to (a) live with the infringement or (b) hire a lawyer.

Other things to consider:

1) Copyright doesn't have to be registered to be valid, but registration will entitle you to statutory damages (which can be much higher than real damages) if it's done early enough.

2) It may be hard to justify the cost of suing the owner of a "hobby site" or a small-time commercial site that gets very little traffic (especially if you aren't entitled to statutory damages). Large commercial Web sites are another story. Along with other infringement victims, I'm currently suing a "Media Metrix Top 10" Web site for violations that include copyright infringement, and the collective damages (both statutory and real) could run into the millions of dollars.


 6:17 pm on May 5, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thank you both (above) for your replies. That was a good lead you gave, to the copyrightwebsite.com

Two followup questions have come to mind.

- If you can't sue for statutory damages, only actual damages, can you at least also sue for an amount that includes legal fees?

- To find the hosting company of the violating website and the ISP of the webmaster, what resources do you recommend?


 1:44 am on May 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

To find the hosting company of the violating website and the ISP of the webmaster, what resources do you recommend?

It depends on the domain in question. Some ccTLDs have a very structured and high quality registry, most TLDs don't.

After checking the domain registry I usually check get the IP address and look up the owner of that address using the appropriate RIR (Regional Internet Registry). That would either be the hosting ISP or they're able to identify the hosting ISP renting that IP address from them (if there is a hosting ISP, sometimes there isn't).


 2:17 am on May 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Welcome to Webmaster World stevenha and thanks for posting.

I just wanted to thank you hstyri and europeforvisitors for your feedback and input. I’m grateful you took the time to respond.

Here are a few discussions that may merit your attention. I hope you find something useful in these.

- PageRank of 8 from stolen content [webmasterworld.com]
Someone’s ripped off my site! [webmasterworld.com]
World copyright treaty to be enforced by March [webmasterworld.com]
US Supreme Court says e-copyright still belongs to the author [webmasterworld.com]
Online Plagiarism [webmasterworld.com]
Copyright issues [webmasterworld.com]
Copyright Protests [webmasterworld.com]

These are just a few highlights of the site search on the top of the page. This is a subject we talk about and so it’s ok to know that there’s a lot there and feel free to revisit any topic we’ve been there with already.


 3:29 am on May 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Thanks paynt, for taking the time to find those previous threads on the topic of copyright infringement. That was mighty kindly of you..

Here were some of the tips from those threads:
- A screenshot of a Google cache of the violating site, can be good evidence that infringment occurred and harm resulted.
- Taking screenshots of your own material is useful also.
- Several good letters were given as examples, to send to hosting companies and search engines.
- If your own emails to the offending webmaster don't immediately succeed, a stern letter from a lawyer usually seems to do the trick.


 3:46 am on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

I am the webmaster at url snipped I have found that the web site url snipped has stolen alot of my content from my site. I have asked the webmaster to please remove the content. He said he was sorry for taking the content and that he was only 15 and didnt know any better. I told him to have the content off his site within 48 hours. At this point he is now refusing to take the content down. I informed his hosting company. I have not heard anything back. Any ideas would be great.

(edited by: engine at 7:40 am (utc) on May 15, 2002)


 8:05 am on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

AtomicMatix, welcome to wmw.

I am sorry to hear you are suffering with this situation. It is always best to try to deal with this without resort to other action, however, you'll find some useful information in the post by Paynt a couple of posts above this one.


 1:38 pm on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have found many of my mental health related articles copied in full and posted on other sites.

A great way to find violators is to grab 10-15 words at random from your page and pop them into Google.

When I find a violator, I look at their site. If they suck, I send a letter to them and their isp demanding that their site be removed immediately. The law states that the ISP must immediately remove the site until the owner can prove that they did not copy the content.

If they are cool, I send them an email stating that while I appreciate that they found my article/content helpful, I do require full credit for my work. I request that they either (1) put a link to my web page and completely reference the content or (2) remove the content and put a link to my site so that their visitors still get the benefit of our content.

If they decide to just delete the content, I send a letter to their ISP notifying them of the violation and asking that the site be removed. I attach a copy of the violator's html code with the copied content.

This even worked when an About.com editor had taken several of my articles and completely copied them for her page. She also put them on her personal page.

We all need to be vigilant about copying on the web.


 2:48 pm on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

I had an article published in Web Developer's Journal about a year and a half ago. Then later, when I was doing research for a follow-up article on the same topic, I came across an online article by a guy writing for a Web development company in India.

My office mate and I were laughing at it because the writing style differed drastically from paragraph to paragraph. It was obvious that he had copied content from many different places.

I stopped laughing when I found part of my WDJ article included without attribution. I did a little more research and found that the paragraphs immediately before my stuff had been lifted from the spider-food site.

So I contacted the Marketing and Sales manager and the CEO of the Web company, explained that their author had copied content from at least two other sites - without even changing the wording! - and passed that work off as his own. I sent them links to the other sites and particularly noted the copyright notices on each page.

The did take down the article, but I subsequently got an email from the so-called author. His excuse: "I never read your article. Perhaps somebody else copied your article and I read it on their site."

So if he stole stolen work, then it's ok? I couldn't believe it. I ended our little exchange with a link to the dictionary definition of plaragarism.

And I "Google" him every month or so so make sure he's not stealing anything else - at least from me.


 6:18 pm on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>I never read your article. Perhaps somebody else copied your article and I read it on their site.<<

Funny, I've had people tell me the exact same thing, and it has turned out to be true at times - that means you can take down the site that copied you and the site that copied the site that copied you!


 6:20 pm on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

One should be pragmatic about this. Unless you have a few lawyers on retainer sitting around waiting for something to do it is often not worth spending the time and money.
Focus on going forward rather than stumbling over straws. Intellectual property can be much like fresh bread that soon gets cold and even stale after being exposed to the elements.


 8:06 pm on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Oh what a great topic!

Lets start with this… I now use a website called www.turnitin.com or iParadigms.com, which is used by educators to track down plagiarism.

I have been using this since it was brought to my attention a while ago that a UK site was using my site content.

How to handle this?
Based on my past experience.

A while ago I confronted the UK company website about the fact they are using my web textual content on their site. I made them away of the copyright issue and their use of my content on their site. I got a reply within a few days - They up front and boldly denied it! What shocked me was the comment – “Prove to us it is your worlds.”

Gulp.. How would I prove it was all my work?

So needless to say I was frustrated and very much, and at loss of words. I contacted a few publishing companies, and checked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and I could not find anything to support myself in this situation.

It came down to this from what I found…
The fact that we put “Copyright 2002 Some Company, Inc. All rights reserved.” does not totally protect us. If we truly want something copyright we have to submit it in and get it officially copyright in order to establish that content as novel in its own right. So how does one protect their content from theft? If we have to submit our content for official copyright then it can get darn expensive!

Back to the Company.
I tried to explain to the UK Company that their developer took my words from my website verbatim. I convinced the owner with a snapshot of my ftp of my file creation date. I knew theirs was older then mine…

The owner was bitter, but said he would have to confirm it all with their developer. Finally – no apology made, I got a reply “We made the changes, we hope we satisfy your company complaint.”

In all… within a week they had altered the same text, making changes so that it was more theirs. I was still upset, but hey.. they had to make the changes.. they were busted, and a complement to me that my work (which my English is not the best) was good enough to be taken!

The Question is… How does one prove their content against someone who has lifted it?

Potential Solution?
Giving it more through – could FTP Snapshots – affordably provide the protection we need? I don’t think server file creation dates can be altered, but then I have never tried?



 8:15 pm on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

Countrycat wrote:
So if he stole stolen work, then it's ok? I couldn't believe it. I ended our little exchange with a link to the dictionary definition of plaragarism.

Back when I was teaching, I had a student whose paper committed both plagiarism and fraud in the same paper (Never cite page 230 of a book that only has 140 pages--your prof might actually know the book or check it at the library. :).)

Anyway, I had a meeting with the student, the department chair, the head of the writing program, and his academic advisor. After preliminaries, the student begins his defense by passing out a two-page statement that begins, "This paper can not commit fraud, because I paid good money for it." The document rambled onwards from this auspicious start, but essentially, he portrayed himself as an aggrieved consumer. He was upset that the person who had sold him the paper had conducted sloppy research.

Apparently, he didn't stop to think that someone who would sell a paper might also cut other corners :)


 10:31 pm on May 15, 2002 (gmt 0)

During my recent troubles with copyright violators, I discovered the value of www.archive.org

Its the WayBackMachine, which had taken enough snapshots of my pages to reasonably prove that my content preceeded the stuff on the other sites. This was more valuable than the creation dates of my files on the web server, which change whenever you change hosts.

If you get into a situation where the violator says "prove you're the original author", thats a nightmare. I've been so annoyed by this recurring problem, that I did use the services of the copyrightwebsite.com.


 2:28 am on May 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

Over the years, there have been many times we have discovered sections or large portions of material from our site on other sites. Each time we have been able to resolve the issue by contacting the webmaster of the infringing site.

We send an email which clearly states that we have recently discovered the offending material, what the material is, where it is located on both their web site and our web site, our copyright statement to the material "ie - (C)Copyright 1998 XYZ Inc.", how unauthorized use of the material infringes copyright laws and finally your request for immediate removal of the material.

There are of course varying levels of strength you may wish to write such an email. Some emails may require a more forceful approach (ie - when a blatant copy of your site is made), while others a more kindly, "please remove" email (ie - a paragraph of writing, icon or something they may not have known would come from someone elses site). Typically I find they are completely aware of what they have done, and are figuring they will not be discovered by the original author, so when you do email them, they are usually quite taken back - and remove the material quickly and cooperatively. Less cooperative people require follow-up emails that demonstrate your determination to resolve the issue.

In summary, you are bringing the issue to their attention clearly and consisely, informing them as to why you stake claim to the material, and use decisive wording to obtain a critical importance to the issue and for its immediate correction.


 6:25 am on May 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

>During my recent troubles with copyright violators, I discovered the value of www.archive.org

The WayBackMachine in itself may possibly be a copyright infringement!


 6:49 am on May 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

The WayBackMachine in itself may possibly be a copyright infringement!

Intellectual and creative property has been going through a paryoxysm of transformation, as the barriers to replication continue to fall.

The web has just accelerated the already-existing trend.


 11:49 am on May 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

Just for the record, my dispute:


ended last night when Tripod sent me an email apologising and taking down the site in question.

It did take a week and 3 emails to Tripod but they took it down eventually. :)


Thanks to all that helped ;)


 12:55 pm on May 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

Just a suggestion, but if the infriging site is on a similar topic(s), you could try asking the site to instead link to your content (the original) and in return provide a reciprocol link at the bottom of the page or something.

This way you would both benefit - both sites would probably see increased traffic and, AFAICS, nobody loses.

This probably wouldn't work well for commercial sites, but I can see it working for hobbyist sites.



 1:04 pm on May 16, 2002 (gmt 0)

Surely the best answer to all this is....that people ASK PERMISSION before they use the copyrighted information !

We wouldn't need this thread if people just displayed a bit of common decency.

When you work on a project every waking moment for the best part of a year and someone just decides they will copy your site (without even removing internal links or changing any text) is, AFAIAC theft and lack of any morals.

just my .02 pence worth :)



 4:09 am on May 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

May i be allowed to add my 2 cents.

>> The WayBackMachine in itself may possibly be a copyright infringement

Add to that google cache, aol web caching and proxy server caching. In a differnt time period add the time the transmitter send a radio signal and the time it was played.

When does it become a method of transmission vs a infringement. Maybe a old question but a new media. Add to that some old radio buffs thinking that maybe radio waves could travel through the ionesphere for many years ... does the ionesphere violate our copyright laws?

Maybe it is an easy question! the ionesphere does not add advertisement. Then maybe not so easy considering if the method to pick up those old signals added ads.


 4:14 am on May 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

On the other side of the coin i have had certain content taken from my web site on such a regular bases that i have imbeded links in it for the extra pagerank.


 2:58 pm on May 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi wasmith,
Can you describe the method you use to put imbedded links into your pages? Are you referring to simple visible underlined link text, or to link text with style attributes that resemble normal text? Does the URL pointing to your own site, point to the actual page being copied, or to another page on your site? How successful is your technique.. do most page copiers fail to notice it? An example would be appreciated.


 6:20 pm on May 17, 2002 (gmt 0)

>When does it [WayBackMachine] become a method of transmission vs a infringement.

When they use an unathorized screenshot of my website as a feature to generate income on theirs.


 12:25 am on May 19, 2002 (gmt 0)

You can request that they remove your site if you want.

Regarding protecting your content, I have a feeling that many people who would steal your content are not bright enough to get beyond a basic "no right click" script. Stick a few of those in your site. It won't block everyone, but it'll stop the really dumb ones.

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