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Sound familiar? In the Content Forum, by far the most common type of post is of the stolen site variety. There are some steps one take when this happens, and I'm hopeful that we can bring the collective wisdom of WebmasterWorld to bear on this all-too-frequent complaint.
I'll throw out a few ideas - feel free to chime in with your suggestions and descriptions of what has worked for you. One ground rule - let's focus on the post-theft phase, i.e., lets cover things you can do to prevent or prepare for content theft in a separate thread. CAUTION - we don't offer legal advice here at WebmasterWorld. Everyone's situation is different (particularly with our diverse geography here), and you should rely on your attorney, preferably an intellectual property attorney, for appropriate advice.
So, let's start with this unfortunate scenario: you are doing a search related to your site in your favorite search engine, and you spot a listing that looks like yours... but it's a different domain. You visit the site, and find your content has been ported to an unrelated domain. What do you do first? Here are some conversation-starters - feel free to add to them, disagree, etc. Note that the extent of research you do will depend on the nature of the violator - if you'll end up in court, you need far more complete documentation than if the violator is out of reach legally.
Learn about the perpetrators. At a minimum, check and document the following:
- WHOIS info for their domain - owner, contacts, nameservers, date registered.
- Determine the domain's IP address, and do a reverse IP lookup to find out who the IP address is registered to and hence who is hosting the domain.
- Make a copy of the offending site in its current condition using a site copy tool.
- Print dated page dumps or screenshots illustrating samples of the stolen content.
- If the site owners are identifiable, research them to find company contacts, etc.
- Identify the business partners of the ripoff site, i.e., if they are running affiliate ads, determine their affiliate partner(s) and their affiliate IDs.
- Check the Wayback Machine or other archive to see if they have a copy of the offending site; document the earliest date it appears. (Or, note that it doesn't appear at all.)
Assemble documentation for your site. In an ideal world, you'd already have all this ... but get what you can now.
- Print dated page dumps or screenshots of your site.
- Print WHOIS info showing when you registered your domain.
- Document when you first published your content. You may have written records of this, or perhaps your file creation dates are the original dates. Your host may have backup tapes that show early dates for your content. Check the Wayback Machine or other archive.
- Pull together any documents supporting your claim to the content - publication in written form with the author's byline, copyright documents, letters of transmittal from a content author, etc.
- In the U.S., one free or inexpensive method for dating documents is using a notary public (found in most banks and other locations). Check with your attorney to see if this is appropriate in your situation.
Identify any other proof. Sometimes the content may be altered to make it appear original - if you have anything unique in your content (e.g., a typographic error) that appears in the stolen version, document it as additional proof.
E-mail Notice. In a few cases, the offending content will be removed as soon as you let them know you have discovered it. For example, it may have been included in error or without the knowledge of management. In other cases, the perpetrator may not want to call attention to their site and may agree to remove the copied content. Therefore, many webmasters suggest an initial, non-threatening contact with the offending site. Unfortunately, an e-mail is a low-impact means of communication and this will probably fail in most cases. Its sole advantage is its immediacy: you can spot a problem and put the site owner on notice in a matter of minutes.
Written Notice. Written notice of copyright infringement is superior to e-mail, both from an impact and documentation standpoint. Let the owner of the offending site know that you have discovered your copyrighted content on his site, and provide a brief time-frame for its removal prior to your taking additional steps. You can decide whether to adopt a friendly or threatening tone for this communication. To increase the impact and to document receipt of your complaint, consider sending it via Certified Mail (U.S.), Federal Express, etc., and require a signature upon delivery. Having to sign for the document will add to the impression that you are serious. It will also provide documentation that your complaint was delivered.
Of course, maximum impact will come from a letter on lawyer's letterhead. Business owners hate to see attorneys get involved as they know that even if they win it will be expensive, and will often head off any perceived legal problems before they get into serious billable hours. Your lawyer should be able to write an appropriate letter at low cost, particularly if you do the up-front research and all the lawyer has to do is put the threatening words on paper.
Web Host/ISP Contact. If you are not making progress with the site owner, can't find the site owner, etc., the offending web site's host or connectivity provider may be convinced to step in. Success will depend on the firm and your documentation. Free hosts can often be convinced to take down copyright violations quickly; a site hosted on a private server connected to the Internet by a major pipe may be tougher to impact. Reference the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in your communications. Written notice is probably better, but many hosts/ISPs are set up with abuse coordinators that will process e-mail complaints.
Search Engine Contact. It's not really solving the problem, but search engines can sometimes be convinced to remove copyright-violating material from their index. Particularly if your stolen content is showing up in searches (or even outranking your original content), this is a good parallel track to pursue. Since content is often stolen to boost search rankings or referral volume, getting the thief de-indexed will remove a major motivation for his leaving the content in place. Search engines aren't always very good at handling individual complaints, but some members have reported success with this approach.
Business Partner Contact. If the site has identifiable business partners, e.g., affiliate links to individual firms or affilate aggregators, brand name merchandise, etc., consider putting these parties on notice that your copyrighted content is being used to market their products without authorization.
One final reminder - your approach should be suited to the value of your content, the scope of the copyright violation, and the nature/location of the violating site. In some cases, a full-court press involving IP attorneys is well-justified, while in others it may be overkill or simply unlikely to yield results.
Let's hear from some members now! What's worked? What hasn't?
For the initial email I have asked for a link to the site in the content if it was just one page that was taken. I have only done it 3 times but each time I got a link and the offending site knew I was watching. After they agreed to the link I made them agree that no further content would be allowed on the site until they got my approval.
Maybe not a great solution for many, but I still enjoy those links from ontopic sites.
People don't think you're going to bust them ... and an e-mail is easy to delete, and a letter is easy to throw out. But if you can get them on the phone, it is a very, very powerful thing.
I highly recommend the phone call - just do the research Rogerd suggests first, and you'll have everything you need to nicely but firmly confront the offending site officials on the phone.
We have found that the tone of the initial contact is important. We start with the "Letís keep the attorney out of this" approach and it seems to pay off in the long run.
BUT we always notify the attorneys about it. Keep them in the loop. You donít need to find out that youíve given something away or given the wrong impression.
What a shame we have to discuss this.........
I'd add that it would be a good idea to document such a call - date, name(s) of person(s) you spoke with, and brief notes of what you said and they said. I'd also follow up with a letter confirming the conversation and noting any commitments they made to rectify the situation. Not only will it be a reminder to them, but it will add to your written documentation if you end up taking legal action.
In all cases, a phone call to the owner of the site resolved the problem (once I got past the secretary.)
Interestingly, the image "thieves" run stores that do more business in a week than I do in two or three months - it's pretty pathetic that they can't come up with their own original artwork.
One case was on a site run under the Yahoo Stores thing - fortunately, Yahoo has a *very* strict interpretation of copyright violation, and provides contact information on their web site for making complaints against their merchants.
I've taken the step recently of buying digital watermarking software and all images on my site are now embedded with a watermark - if they show up on another site, it'll be even easier to demonstrate that there's been a copyright violation.
When it comes to stolen content other than images though, it has to be a lot harder to get any resolution, especially if the stolen content is just words. Never had any problems with that, so far...
I understand there's a reference to my web site in the text, since it was there on the original, but the link is gone.
So I asked the webmaster to reinstate the link and make sure quotes are applied.
Why such a hard-ass? Well, we are an informational site, and those descriptions are about our only original content- it is the essense of our site. So it must be protected, and quickly.
I think if you "pussy-foot" around, people may think they can take advantage. So no more- hard ass all the way on this sort of thing.
I already have DMCA letters drafted and ready to go to the upstream ISP, search engines, etc.
BTW, in the 24 hours so far, no response and no change in their site.
2. In your letter or email quote the statutory penalties that can apply even without proof of actual damages: Range up to $100,000. for willful violations.
3. If this happens to you repeatedly it may be the best long-term strategy to go ahead and file a lawsuit, take your case to judgment and post notice of the case and award on your website as a reference point for future violators. Then, when you make your demand for removal demand at least a minimal payment while refering to the case where you took the matter to judgment. It's your time. It has value as do your written materials.
Sue locally, make service where the offender lives, the offender will not file an answer to the complaint, take your statutory damages judgment for $50,000.00 and then SEND IT TO A COLLECTIONS LAWYER or COLLECTION AGENCY where the offender lives. Collection lawyers have great skills at locating assets and generally making people's lives miserable.
Identify the offender's domain names. Domain names are property. Docket your judgment and begin proceedings to levy/seize every domain name associated with the offender. (I haven't tried this one yet but I am mentally working out the details since some day I believe this is exactly what I will do if the offender's domain name(s) are worth going after. Sneak up by filing a Writ of Attachment to keep the domains from being transferred and have at it.)
If the offender is using your information to support an affiliate program then serve your writ of execution on the affiliate program operator. That way any proceeds will be used to satisfy the judgment.
If this all seems a bit....nasty....well, don't you just love people who steal from you?
Covers AlltheWeb and Lycos
Covers AskJeeves and Teoma
Google feeds Yahoo!, AOL, Netscape, Alexa, iWon.com, Earthlink (when you select "The Web" as a search option), and Compuserve.
LookSmart Directory and Search Results:
MSN Search Engine:
Hope that helps.
I've had an entire site robbed. It was an exact copy of my site even down to the meta tags.
I normally contact the site owner first but this was so blatant (an entire 20 page web site) we went straight to his host. We linked to web archive that showed our site had been running since 1996 and demanded very swift action. His host took his site down 30 minutes after initial contact and the following day we got an email from the site owner pleading not to sue.
The hosts of these web sites will act very swift in most cases as they have to take it very seriously.
Now a question:
Would it hurt to carbon copy the initial email to the site owner and the host so they are both aware of the impending problem?
If you put a note at the top of the email like "This email has also been carbon copied to your host to make them aware that legal action will soon follow if this matter isn't resolved swiftly "
I also got a few friends to view the infringing pages independently and sent screen dumps in my fax and later in an email when Google replied.
Use a reverse-IP tool to discover additional domains that might be mirroring the copied content. This happened in my case, but as the mirrored domain was not in the Google index, I could not lodge a complaint. Perhaps a spam complaint might work.
Would it hurt to carbon copy the initial email to the site owner and the host...
Not at all... in the case of a serious infringement, there's no reason why you can't do everything in parallel - contact the site owner, host, affiliates, search engines, etc.
Perhaps the only downside is that your opening gambit is a declaration of war. You won't be working out any friendly content-for-linkage deals! But, as carfac and others have noted, sometimes it's best to mount a strong offense at the outset.
Handy collection of links, Shaadi!
I honestly would have preferred a link back and attribution more than this. Now they're all stone silent waiting to see what I'm going to do next and neither of us benefits. Any suggestions?
(EXCELLENT post btw!)
**Update** Actually the poll they used to replace the copied poll is a modified copy of the next one in my series. So they basically took down the offending copy and put up a reworded copy of ANOTHER of my polls.
Anyone out there who is thinking of ripping someones site, I think you will see from reading some of these posts that if you want to use someones content, to just ask.
I know that when I see an article or some information that I want to discuss on one of my sites on someone else's site. I just ask the owner of the site if I may use their content, I also offer to link their site and to give them 'props' for the content.
You will find that offering to link someones site and to give them the credit they have earned, that they will be willing to allow it.
If I think that the site is operated by a staunchy company I try to sweeten the pot by asking for a corparate logo to display with the link. This gets their promotional juices flowing.
Havent had a no yet.
Then again I've never wanted to copy someones entire site. That is just plain lazy.
Update on my dispute- tonight the guy removed some of the content taken from my site, but not all. Possibly about 1/2. As I was organizing things today, I documented 243 exact copies of descriptions... six had no descriptions (neither did I!) and the remainder had original (near as I can tell) content. I would say well over 100 still have my words in total describing them.
Not good enough, baby.
Tomorrow morning, I start shotgunning DMCA letters!
He has made some very big mistakes, and pretty soon, I will be the smallest of his problems!
Treading lightly on ToS, this is an analogy, NOT reflective of my site.
Let's suppose my site catalogues magazines, and as part of that, I show an image of the magazine cover. I do not OWN that cover, so I cannot copyright my image of that cover. But do I have any rights to my version of the image of that cover based on doing the scanning, image manipulation and what not? If I can prove (via watermarking) the image was taken directly from my site? Do have any rights to my version of that otherwise copyrighted image? (I am thinking no, but can't hurt to ask!)
Complete, total, absolute victory!
He removed all my decsriptions, all my images (I admit, I bluffed him a bit on those!)
Could have been my VERY tersely worded demand letters...
Could be that I really was ready to send out a ton of DMCA letters and shutting him down...
Could be he really knew he was wrong...
But I think what really scared him was I was back-charging him a liscencing fee for the materials he took. Seems I had a pretty good person write my sites ToS, and materials taken from our site and used for commercial purposes is pretty dang expensive...
But whatever the reason, not only did it all come down today, but now he is pleading with me to not sue.
PS Thanks to the members who helped me off the boards!
Let's suppose my site catalogues magazines, and as part of that, I show an image of the magazine cover. I do not OWN that cover, so I cannot copyright my image of that cover.
Purely hypothetical example, I realize... but without permission of the original copyright holder (e.g., the magazine owner), you don't have the right to make your image in the first place... and without that permission, no, your new image cannot be copyrighted.
But why would anyone worry about protecting their own derivative work if they're not worried about stealing from the magazine in the first place? Obviously, theft is not an issue for this person.
How did you find out? Did someone send you an email or did you do a search on google?
I use AXS, a simple log analyser to see the search strings my visitors use. As AXS preserves the search string in the SE name in the report, it is easy to click the link and see the SERP as seen by the searcher.
When I see an unusual search string, I look at the SERP to see where I rank. In my case, the copier's page was directly below mine. He had also copied the symbol in my Title bar, so they stood out like <Aussie expression self-censored>.
When I checked out the copier's site, I found more stolen content and I emailed the original owner.
Correction: IN MOST CASES, you don't have the right to make your image in the first place...
There are instances in which making a copy of that cover is acceptible, even without the original copyright holders permission. Again, an example not directly related to my case, but similar: a TV movie reviewer MAY use small portions of a movie being reviewed in their review w/o the expressed permission of the copyright holder. A book reviewer may quote small passages of a book w/o fear of copyright infringement.
In my specific case, I fit into one of these exclusions for my "reproduction of the magazine cover". If I was not DAMN SURE I was clean, I would be awfully hypoctricical in this situation. I probably would not be making a stand like I did. I have spoken with attorneys for a few of the "magazines" represented on my site, and they have told me they feel it is an acceptible use. Beleive me, they are quite aware of the site and what I do- they use my site all the time!