Anyone who knows me knows I am absolutely militant about my company website. Over the past five years or so, I’ve encountered literally 400-something companies around the world who have stolen my original text. I’ve heard every excuse in the book from these sleazeball plagiarists:
“You can’t copyright text, only pictures…” (not true)
“You don’t own the English language…” (not relevant)
“We don’t even operate in the same market, so what does it matter?” (SO beside the point)
“How do I know you didn’t steal it from me?” (are you freaking kidding me?)
’m diligent about defending my copyright for a variety of reasons. For one thing, identical text across multiple websites is damaging to each of the sites’ search engine rankings. That’s a real, tangible harm to my company. Secondly, I feel that having my carefully crafted, original written work spread all over the Internet dilutes my brand — I take my writing very seriously, and every word on my site was written by my partner and me, which is something I’m proud of. Finally, I’m just a stickler for ethics. Screw the thieves who want to treat someone’s website like some kind of buffet from which to grab philosophies and FAQs and testimonials. Those things should be the true reflection of a business’ values and experience, and using someone else’s hits a low far beneath just petty laziness.
I’d love to help you defend your own copyright. First, though, let me make clear that this (obviously) isn’t legal advice — I’m not an attorney, just a business owner who has done a lot of research on the topic and has successfully defended her website from the aforementioned hundreds of thieves. Now that that’s out of the way…
Did you know that you own the copyright to the words you write from the second they come off your pen (or your keyboard)? Applying to register your copyright through the United States Copyright Office can afford you additional protection, in terms of both official documentation and increased penalties for copyright violators, but by no means is this required. Also, anyone who tells you that you need a trademark or a patent doesn’t know what they’re talking about — these things have nothing to do with text on a website.
There are several ways to find sites that are violating your copyright. One is to use a free site like Copyscape or its paid sister site, Copysentry, a subscription service that monitors your website and sends weekly reports of duplicate text on the Web. Another is to just enter phrases from your text, surrounded by question marks, directly into Google. (Over time, you’ll get an idea of which of your text is most appealing to thieves — for me, it’s my homepage text, philosophy, FAQs and assorted advice articles.) When some kind of third party, like a search engine or a monitoring site, detects duplication, that’s a pretty clear indicator that there’s a problem.
So you’ve found someone who’s stolen your website text — what do you do next? Sometimes I try a friendly approach (in which case I start with step #1 below), other times I’ll go straight to step #2 when I want to play hardball. I usually save that for truly egregious offenders.
Here’s my simple 3-step plan for going after website thieves:
1. Send a quick, to-the-point email:
It has come to my attention that your site is using my original, copyrighted material to promise your business. Specifically at issue is the following text <enter URL and text>. This text originally appears on my site at <enter your URL> and was written by me, and as such is protected by federal copyright law. Please remove this material from your site by <enter a deadline; I usually give 72 hours> to avoid further action. Thank you for your cooperation.”
3. Send a DMCA notification, in accordance with the instructions on the hosting company’s site. This usually consists of a simple outline, in which you provide your electronic signature, your contact information, the offending site’s info and your site’s info, and a statement that the information in the request is truthful, et cetera. If, after 72 hours or so, you haven’t received confirmation the the DMCA notification was received and processed (and the offending site has not removed your material), you can email the DMCA agent again to check on the status. When a DMCA notification is processed, the hosting company will either suspend the offending website until your material is removed, or in rare cases, will remove the material themselves.
It isn’t always that simple — sometimes foreign hosting companies have more convoluted processes for removing copyrighted material, since U.S. copyright law and the DMCA don’t apply — but generally speaking, I’d say 95% of the website thieves I have encountered have removed the material either voluntarily or under orders from their hosting company. It’s a great feeling taking a stand against being stolen from, and I encourage you to keep an eye on your website content to ensure the credit remains where it belongs: with you.