Part 1 of 3 – What exactly is Copyright?
(Please note that some of the information included in this article has been quoted from various locations while other information is simply my personal opinion and you will probably feel my passion in my words.)
The hot topic on many business related email discussion lists for the past little while has been website theft, both content & graphics. Either there seems to be a rash of this dishonest and unethical behaviour or website owners are just finding out that their treasured works have caught the eye of others who feel it is okay to use it as their own.
They say that imitation is supposed to be the greatest form of flattery but, take it from someone who has found their website content appear on someone else’s site many, many times, it darn well ticks you off to see your hard work being used by some one else as their own. You work hard to come up with what you include on your website and are probably more than willing to allow some of it to be paraphrased by others but when the culprit doesn’t even ask permission, you get that ‘heads will roll’ feeling inside.
What can be considered copyright material?
The World Intellectual Property Organization (http://www.wipo.org/), which is “an international organization dedicated to promoting the use and protection of works of the human spirit”, includes the definition of copyright on their website which reads, “Copyright is a legal term describing rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works.”
With regard to copyright in relation to the Internet, WIPO has established two treaties, which outline, among other things, that each country “provide a framework of basic rights, allowing creators to control and/or be compensated for the various ways in which their creations are used and enjoyed by others.” More information on WIPO and its mandate can be found at http://www.wipo.org/copyright/en/index.html
For a complete definition of copyright visit the Department of Justice Canada and read the Copyright Act in Canada.
For a complete definition of copyright law in the US, visit the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/copyright/
Oh, and the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary lists the definition of copyright as:
Noun: the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form (as of a literary, musical, or artistic work)
What is theft?
Speaking of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/), they define THEFT as:
Noun: 1 a : the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it b : an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property
Theft of website content and/or graphics can be considered copyright infringement.
The MW dictionary also defines infringement as:
Noun: 1 : the act of infringing : VIOLATION; 2 : an encroachment or trespass on a right or privilege.
Part 2 of 3 – How do I know if my website material has been stolen and what do I do if it has?
How do you know if your material is being used?
The first way is by word of mouth from others. Hopefully they will inform you if they have seen or suspect your content is being used by someone else. You can then investigate further to be sure before you go any further.
However, if you want to check yourself, try plugging in some of your unique content into the search field of Google. Be sure to use quotation marks around the text and don’t make the search too long. Use one sentence or part of a sentence because those who do use others’ content sometimes change a little of the wording to suit their needs. Of course, there are those that have copied information word for word.
If you have unique graphics on your website and want to find out if anyone else is using them, enter the file name of your graphic into http://images.google.com/.
What are the downfalls of having your content on too many sites?
Not only does it tick you off when someone else uses your material, it can also be damaging to both parties’ standings in search engines. Search engines take a dim view of content that is used in numerous websites. They can consider is spamming so they tend to drop the placement of such websites or completely eliminate them from the search engine.
Your reputation can also be damaged if the duplicate material is spotted on more than one website. Although you know that the material is yours, others that see it do not.
What should you do when you find out your material has been the victim of copyright theft?
This is usually a personal choice but no matter what you do, remember to project your professionalism and not let the culprit get the better of you.
The first thing you need to do is to investigate as deep as possible and keep records of what you find. Keep a record of which pages you found your content on and take a screenshot or print the page, if possible. Also, you may want to consider printing the HTML code as well. Call upon the trust of others and ask them to take a look at the offending pages and how it is a duplicate of yours and see if they agree with your perception of the situation.
Also, check throughout the website to be sure that there isn’t a reference somewhere about where the owner used the material from.
Then you need to find the owner of the site. Most websites will have a contact page or will have contact info at the bottom of each page. Record this information for future reference as this will be the person you will contact about and to rectify the situation.
You can also find out who owns the website by searching a WhoIs directory. All WhoIs search functions pull their information from a main database of all domain registrations. If you simply type ‘whois’ into Google’s search engine, you will find a list of various WhoIs directories that you can try. Each will pull up the administrative and technical contact for the domain in question. The administrative contact is usually the owner of the website. Again, record this information, including the date the domain was registered.
Be sure you can prove that your content is original and that you have owned it for a longer period of time than the timeframe that the offending website has been using it. You need to have undisputed evidence that the material is yours. If you visit http://www.archive.org/, you can input your website address and see the evolution of your site over many years and thus prove you have been the owner of material in question and the time period since you produced it.
Once you have the contact information, it is then recommended that you send a professional ‘cease & desist’ email to the owner. Be stern yet nice and point out where the infringed material can be found on their website and how it is duplicate of yours. As mentioned above, show that you can prove ownership. Ask the culprit to remove your material and point out how duplicates on various websites can hurt your overall standing in search engines, not to mention everyone’s reputation.
From my own personal experience, the above will generally work and the offending site owner will apologize for the unintentional (usually) plagiarism of your information. Most really didn’t mean to blatantly steal your material.
Part 3 of 3 – More ways to tackle website theft and how to try to prevent it from happening again.
Unfortunately, you may run across someone who refuses to respond to your initial email request to take your material off their website . In such a case, let an appropriate amount of time from your previous correspondence to go by before sending a secondary email. You may even want to do another check of contact information for the offending website to be sure you have tried every email address for the owner of the website.
Another step would be to send a snail mail letter to the website owner. If that still fails to generate any action, you can consider sending the letter by some form of delivery that requires a signature of receipt.
Once all efforts to contact the website owner have been exhausted, it is time to go to other sources. Your next step would be to contact the hosting company of the website and advise them of the offense and what you would like done about the situation. Again, portray your professionalism. Generally, after the hosting company has thoroughly checked out your claims, they will approach their client and request that the offending material be omitted. If the website owner does not heed the warnings of the hosting company, they will usually end up with their website being removed from the web server and thus, from the Internet.
The next (or alternative) step for some may be to slander the offender. This can involve telling others who are linked on their page about how the offender stole your material, or telling the organizations that the owner is a member of about their plagiarism. Spreading the word. You can find out who these people or companies are by delving a little further into their sites (unless, of course, they stole your entire site… word for word). Personally, I don’t think anything good can come out of slander so I don’t recommend it.
That brings us to your last option, prosecution. As each situation will be unique, the best person to get advice from is an attorney. If possible, get a referral from any of your local associates.
How can your prevent copyright infringement?
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a sure-fire way to stop the theft of copyright material. If someone is determined to get your text or graphics, they will somehow accomplish it.
There are a few things you can try to deter would-be thieves. Give them the impression that you are not going to go down without a fight.
The first thing you should do is to include a copyright notice on all of your work. At the bottom of each page, put the © symbol, the year (ie, 2010 or 1998-2010), and who owns the material, whether it is your company or yourself. You can also include, “All Rights Reserved” or something similar to show your copyright ownership.
You can also try putting a transparent graphic over your entire page. The drawback to this is that it can cause your page to load slower and it is also only one of those bandage solutions that thieves can get around.
Some have tried putting their entire website in Flash format. This can have a negative affect on your search engine ranking as there is no body text for the search engines to read and use for indexing. Also, if your Flash is not compressed and optimized, you will run into the problem of your site taking a long time to load which can turn people away. And, if your visitor does not have the latest Flash viewer installed, some aspects of your presentation could cause problems.
Another means of proving the ownership of the content is to include your copyright information in comment tags in the HTML coding of your website. If a thief decides to steal your entire page, they may not realize that you have inserted your own information in inconspicuous places in the code and you will have a way of proving your ownership. For search engine purposes, you should have your contact information in the meta tags of your coding anyway but you should also include the comment tags deep within the coding.
Part of the freedom of having an Internet presence is that there may be others who think that everything on the Internet is free for the taking. We know this is not true but there really isn’t too much we can do to dissuade theft. You can try some of the suggestions in this article but, as was mentioned, nothing is sure-fire and if someone is determined to use your material, they will find a way to get it.
About the author
Janice Byer, owner of Docu-Type Administrative & Web Design Services (http://www.docutype.net) provides professional, creative and affordable virtual office assistance and small business website design. She is a Certified Canadian Virtual Assistant (CCVA) and Master Virtual Assistant (MVA). She is also a co-author of How to Build a Successful Virtual Assistant Business and author of a library of Business Building Ebooks. She is also the owner of Equine Web Design, specializing in websites for horse lovers around the world.
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