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Received letter re: content copying

10:19 pm on Dec 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I own a website which I hired a freelancer to write about 60 different real estate related articles for me. These articles have been up for over two years.

Today I got a letter from an attorney representing a competing site claiming that some of the content on his site is on mine. No URLs were provided as to which content he claims he owns and where it is on my site.

I did some digging and found a couple paragrpahs here and there on my site that were the same. However, when I put his page into copyscape.com, I also found the same content, many times word for word on about 10 other websites.

I have no idea who owns what. 99% of the articles on my site appear to be unique, as I could not find anything with copyscape. However a couple were simply reworded. But did the other site reword my content or with all of these sites running various versions of the same stuff...I don't know that there is any way to prove who owns what...archive.org is inclonclusive.

Anyways, given the scope of the content which everyone seems to have, and given that duplicate content regardless of who wrote it is bad for the search engines, and given that real estate articles become dated in a couple years anyway, I hired a writer and rewrote all 60 articles in the last couple weeks.

Now I have unique content, and am hunky dory. the weird thing is that the attorney, in his letter, wanted $2400 to drop all claims against me. That seems a bit off, there was no request to remove the content...just "pay me $2000 or I will take you to court"...

Since he could very well have copied my content and reworded it or both our writers (he hired out freelancers too) could have basically reworded someone else' content...who's really to know?

I thought about just paying the $2000 to get rid of him..it's not much in the scheme of things...I'm not convinced from his letter, that he owns the content either..I think he is banking on the situation that there appears to be 10-20 or more sites with the same or variations of the same content and he is sending letters to all of them, tricking them into paying the $2400...even though he may very well not be the original author (I could be!)

anyways, since I rewrote the content from scratch, I told him I wasn't paying the $2000...how in the hell would a webhost ever decipher who owns what content? or better yet what if the website owner who thinks the content is his (trusting his freelancer) and it turns out the site he is going after has a better claim to the content than him?

These things are not always cut and dry. I don't want to litigate nor do I want to litigate against anyone..I just want unique content. It needs to be kept fresh anyways. But now I appear guilty because I rewrote the articles...

Can you file a copyright claim in small claims court, when the defendant lives in another state? if he files against me, I think I'll file against him as we both seem to have valid claims against each other. Maybe it will all go away now that our sites are different. I am documenting the articles creation date this time around...and I checked them on copyscpae and on a plagiarism checker...so at this point and time they appear to be unique.

10:39 pm on Dec 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

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1. Ask him which content is in violation. Ask him what proof he has that his client owns it. He might never answer you.

2. If he does answer you, get a lawyer. For less than $2,000 he'll be able to tell you if it's a valid claim or not.

10:32 pm on Dec 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I wouldn't pay a dime, seems bogus, unless he provides names, details, urls, it may be a starving lawyer scam.
12:32 am on Dec 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Are there no clues in the content itself as to who wrote it? I'm sure that if you look carefully enough there will be some evidence.

Every writer has a style which you can detect if you look closely enough: sentence length, misspellings, favourite phrases, reading levels, tone of voice. This might be enough to satisfy you that your freelancer is the true author.

But even if it isn't, are there any facts in the copy that only your writer would be in a position to have known? If that's the case, this might lead you to some questions you could ask that would prove authorship one way or the other.

7:43 am on Dec 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

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However a couple were simply reworded.

The reworded copies are a violation of the US Copyright Act. See derivative works.

If you can not prove your copyright, you are in the worse possible position. This is one of the problems with hiring non-professional writers (professional meaning they have written on a pro level such as known newspapers, magazines, etc).

At any rate, your contract with your writer should clearly spell out what you expect (IE original works) and who has the burden of proof.

Can you file a copyright claim in small claims court, when the defendant lives in another state? if he files against me, I think I'll file against him as we both seem to have valid claims against each other.

Yes you can file. If he files first, you can counter sue. The bottom line is you have no evidence. If he sues you first, the burden of proof is on you, not him. Additionally, if he has even a shred of proof, you will be liable for all legal fees. Even though they are not much in small claims, it does add to the monetary damages. If he has a registered copyright, he can take you to a district court and sue for "copyright infringement" should he choose to do so.

Furthermore, if he can prove his copy was written first, you lose.

Additionally, if you file against him and have no concrete proof yourself, there was no cause for action and the judge will look down on you.

The same applies to him if he sues first.

In closing, I can tell you that I did a test and found many freelance writers (the low level $5-$30 an article writers) using existing text. They simply reworded here and there thinking it is legal.

4:51 pm on Dec 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I wouldn't pay a dime, seems bogus, unless he provides names, details, urls, it may be a starving lawyer scam.

I agree. This "seems" to be a scam. I am not a lawyer but from what I know - first a lawyer would send a cease and desist notification letter (via registered mail) which would outline in specific detail the copyright violations and the exact content in question.

7:02 pm on Dec 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Get legal advice PDQ, tell you the truth I wouldnt pay the $2000 - give it to me and ill go away.

But seriously Id be be on auto pilot when a letter from a solicitor turns up threatening me then offers a way out with out some form of neogotiation

12:24 pm on Dec 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

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I'm probably one of the most-copied real estate authors on the web, and occasionally I get irritated when I come across another site that has copied my stuff, because I earn my living writing those articles, and licensing them out.

So, wnen I visit another site that has copied my articles, I send them a polite letter asking them to remove the copied material.

Then you get the question, "which pages, which articles?" -- like you guys suggest.

That's doubly irritating and insulting.

The web site owner or his web site developer (or somebody) has stolen my material, and now I have to spend my time going through the web site, listing all 150 pages or so that have MY material on them? That is wasted time, wasted effort, and no one is paying for that wasted time.

So I don't do that anymore. Instead, I just merged my company into some big huge mega-corporation with staff attorneys, and they send out letters...

...I think the penalties for copyright violation are quite expensive.

Something to think about.

12:51 pm on Dec 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Then you get the question, "which pages, which articles?"

Agree with you, loosing time listed copyright infringment is not what webmasters want to spend time on.

May be SEO could create another tools that we will compare pages of two pages and output pages with same content or even catch copyright infringment. I am sure many of us would be ready to pay a fees for such services. Is there any currently on the Web?


2:40 pm on Dec 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

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HomeSurfer, I don't think the OP's situation fits that well with your reaction. He didn't copy someone else's site wholesale.

There may be some copied content on a few pages, or there may not. The site that sent the letter might actually have done the copying. Murky waters, if his post was on the up-and-up. And I see no reason to assume that it's not.

If you think you have been infringed, you have to be ready to provide proof. And that includes saying, "this page copies that page," as many times as necessary. Vague claims of possible copying are impossible for a webmaster to deal with -- and will be thrown out of court, if it gets that far.

5:09 pm on Dec 16, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Do you expect the website owner in question to just take down his entire site based on an e-mail from a stranger?

Maybe only one of his 1000 pages of content is infringing, maybe his site isn't infringing at all. He has no way of knowing until you show him.

1:10 pm on Dec 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

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Of course I don't expect someone to pull down an entire web site because I say that their site contains some of my copyrighted content. They aren't copying my site, just my real estate articles.

What I do is tell them the section of my site where the copied articles originated from and ask them to remove their copies. Since the site-owner is the one doing the illegal copying (or their webmasters or whoever), and they have been accused of copyright violation, one would expect that they show a little initiative and check it out.

After all, the National Association of Realtors boasts of their "Code of Ethics" which they say is guided by "The Golden Rule." If they are copying my content, that is income I don't earn and it makes others think they can copy my content -- further depriving me of an income.

So yes, I think they should take a little responsibility and do a little research, hopefully removing the content on their own.

But if they don't, now I have a legal staff to handle it.

There are 1.2 million NAR members and almost all are good people. Approximately 50,000 sites display my content legally.

My only complaint is with those that display the content illegally -- and most of those don't even realize it is copied content -- because they get it from someone they hire to create their web site or develop content for them.

1:43 pm on Dec 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

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You can check who wrote it frist through the Internet Way Back Machine (archive dot org).
10:16 pm on Dec 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

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If you are in the US, the letter you received sounds bogus. A "take down" notice, if you are regarded as a ISP requires a number of specific points, none of which appear to be covered.

Also, no copyright claims are allowed to be done in small claims court. They are Federal Court issues and cost a good bit of money to go after. Does this lawyer claim to be the author of the work and thus holds the copyright?

If he doesn't the copyright holder must be prepared to spend a good $5000-$15,000 to start a claim against you. If you refuse to pay he or she will have to make a cost/benefit decision. Sounds like it is extortion.



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