A few weeks ago our colleagues over at Artizon Digital wrote a blog article about copyright infringement and how to avoid it. We thought we’d elaborate on author Sue Surdam‘s “Miss Manners'” style article and show you how to protect your website content when someone else steals it.
In the article, Sue gave her audience tips on polite ways to share others’ content on their own blogs. Referencing an article from HubSpot’s own Corey Eridon, Sue advises: “When quoting another author in your post, polite behavior includes listing the author’s name, link to their website or to their source article.”
Sue goes on to advise readers how to cite social media content, and finishes with how to share images: “Images are copyrighted as soon as they are created. Either contact the creator for permission to use the image or limit your image use to Creative Commons images.”
After reading Sue Surdam’s sage advice, we wondered how many of you might want to protect your website content against people who are not as polite as Sue’s audience: people who may steal your articles or photos. Has this ever happened to you?
We were reminded of a Google+ post from Mark Gittelman, master mechanic, online marketer and website developer from Florida. One of his articles, along with the image he owned, was copied and pasted verbatim into a blog for an auto shop in New York. We were prompted to call Mark and ask him about his experience.
Case Study: What to Do If Someone Steals Your Content
Mark Gittelman is an ASE Certified Master Technician. He was an active mechanic for 25 years before turning to the Internet for a new revenue stream. He created blogs showcasing his auto repair expertise and developed a readership that grew into a sustainable business where he sold related advertising to automotive companies. He also branched out and created a site that shares what he’s learned over the years about web development and search engine optimization. This is his story.
All businesses recognize the need to have a website. After launching it they soon realize they need quality content. Some of the more unscrupulous companies might shoot for a shortcut using Google keywords like the above-mentioned New York auto repair shop did. They typed in “common auto repairs” and found Mark’s article. They copied and pasted the complete article onto their website along with his photo and links to other related resources. These links triggered a pingback to Marks WordPress dashboard informing him that another site linked to several of his pages.
This is a feature built into the WordPress platform. When Mark followed the ping to see who it was from he found his article and pictures had been stolen: copied and pasted verbatim onto the New York auto repair shop’s website.
Mark is said to be relentless when someone outranks his original article with copied information; he’ll stop at nothing to take it down. He always starts with directly contacting the people who posted his material and politely asking for removal before taking the next step and contacting the webhost. In this case he called the repair shop during business hours and spoke directly with the owner. The business owner stated the content was theirs and refused to take it down.
Step 2 to Protect Your Website Content: Call the Host Provider
The second step is to call the company that hosts the website that stole your content and report the stolen content. Tracking down the hosting company and the actual owner of a site can be done through various whois database websites like Domaintools.com. This is not always successful in finding the owner because people have the option to pay an extra fee and remain hidden from the public records database. It is, however, required by ICANN (Internet Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers) – the Agency that oversees the use of Internet domains – that the hosting company provide contact information.
In this case Mark moved on to step 2 using the Digital Millennia Copyright Act (DMCA) to notify the web hosting company of the violation. You can get blank DMCA forms on the Internet but Mark recommends checking with the hosting company before you get started. Most major hosting companies have defined procedures to follow in filing a DMCA complaint form. Although the forms may be slightly different in layout, most cover the same important points. These include:
- Where are the infringing materials and the discovery date?
- Where the original content is located and when was it first posted?
- Who owns the copyrighted content?
There is also a comment box so you can provide details about the situation. Mark recommends keeping the comments down to a minimum of no more then 2-3 sentences. He also pointed out that some hosting companies are very helpful and resolve the issue quickly and others do not. Properly completed DMCA forms will require a handwritten signature from the original author, certifying that submitted information is accurate and truthful.
Proving the Content Is Yours
Content can be hard to dispute if there isn’t anything unique about it. In the case referenced above this was not a problem and was a major factor in its quick resolution. The stolen article had pictures of Marks personal automobile with Florida tags sitting in front of well-established palm trees. His full name was mentioned in the article along with some local information. When the hosting company reviewed these unique items it was clear who generated the content.
Mark had some general best practices at the end of the call. He recommends taking action against stolen content as soon as possible. The longer the infringing material is up the harder it can be to get removed. Second be proactive in protecting your copyrighted material and have a plan in place to discover content that has been scraped, copied and posted. Last but not least the more unique and personal the content the easier it is to prove that it is truly yours. When possible include details that are unique to you and your brand. These can be pictures, local information or just insider stories that only you can provide.
Have you had this experience with stolen website content? If so, please tell us your story in the comments below, or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d like to share your story too.