Traverse Legal attorneys represent clients whose web content, web pages, on-line articles, white papers and blog posts have been stolen of simply 'cut and paste' from their web sites. Often enough, the content thief is attempting to create website content and is not well versed in copyright law. Sometimes, the content thief is by a domainer or web developer who is intentionally stealing otherwise copyright protected content in order to trick Google into better search engine results. In other cases, a direct competitor steals you web content in order to unfairly compete or divert your customers to their domain name.
Website developers and content providers know all too well the extent of this problem on the internet. Traverse legal attorneys often suggest the following issues be addressed when stolen content becomes endemic.
You need to learn as much about the copyright infringers as possible. You should do the following research:
• “WHOIS” is a database of domain owners, contacts, name servers and dates of registration. Do a “whois” search on the domain.
• Identify the domain’s IP address and do a reverse IP lookup to found out who the IP address is registered to. You also need to determine who is hosting the domain as ISP’s have potential liability for republishing materials which are in violation of copyright law. However, the ISP must be on notice of the copyright violation before they have liabilities. All too often, your greatest leverage is with the ISP, which does not want to buy itself into a lawsuit. However, you must provide fairly definitive information which would allow them to conclude that, in fact, there is infringement going through their servers.
• Make an immediate copy of the offending site, as well as your own site. Check the “wayback” machine or other archive to see if they still have a copy of the offending site and document the earliest date upon which it appears.
• Print “whois” information from your domain and establish registration and ownership. Document when you first published your content by checking the “wayback” machine or other archive. Put together any other evidence which will establish that you are the original author of the content or source code.
After you have your documentation together, you need to start putting people on notice. This assumes that you have protected your copyright in the original authorship of the work. Contact a qualified attorney to review your copyright notice if necessary.
• Email notice: In certain instances, the offending content will be removed as soon as you place the infringer on notice and demand that they cease and desist using your copyright protected content. More often than not, they do not anticipate getting in trouble or getting caught. It may be that the copyright infringer has to answer to their boss. By contacting the boss, you will not only obtain access to the decision maker, but avoid having to deal with the person who has a vested interest in keeping the content up. Even if the email notice does not work, you need to take steps to protect your intellectual property. You should also consider written copyright notice by certified mail. This will help you make the point that you are serious about protecting your copyrights.
• Contact the web host and ISP: As noted above, the web host and ISP are potentially responsible for republishing material which is in violation of copyright law. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act often controls the issue of ISP or web host liability. However, you must put them on notice and establish your rights to the material before their liability will arise. If you are getting nowhere with the content violator, you may have better luck with the ISP or host. Those entities are typically not looking for legal action against them. While your own efforts to convince copyright infringer and ISP that they should take down content are good initial steps, it is often true that you will need an attorney to bring the point home. An attorney will also be able to provide case and statute citations which will remove any ambiguity from both liability and the damages allowed under intellectual property law. Too often, the ISP and infringer are ignorant concerning laws in this area and simply take the stand that they are doing nothing wrong. You need to educate them so they understand their liability and serious damages they may be required to pay if they do not abide by your request.
Contact Search Engines: Search engines may offer you relief, as well, if, again, you can prove to them that you are the copyright owner of the material or code. Search engines may block or remove stolen content from their servers. Typically, you have to contact the correct department at the search engine in order to get any response on this type of request.
Find Other Avenues Of Leverage: If the website is owned by a company or it lists affiliate partners, you can also assert leverage by nicely contacting those companies/individuals. You have to be careful here not to do anything which could result in counterclaims against you. I typically do not recommend that you engage third parties above and beyond the ones mentioned about without the advice and help of any attorney.
Here is some contact information for search engines and their policies concerning copyright infringement.
MSN Search Engine:
Google feeds Yahoo!, AOL, Netscape, Alexa, iWon.com, Earthlink and Compuserve.
LookSmart Directory and Search Results:
Many ISP’s and web hosts have similar policies which they make their customers agree to prior to offering their services. You should research the web host’s policies and use them in your negotiation with those companies. And of course, contact an attorney for free consultation to better understand your rights.