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Website Theft - Part 2 of 3 ~ How do I know if my website material has been stolen and what do I do if it has?

By Janice Byer, CCVA, MVA
Posted Tuesday, July 27, 2004

(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.)

In the first instalment in our series on Website Theft, we looked at the definition of Copyright and what Copyright Law covers. In this instalment, we will look at how to find out if someone else is using your material and how it can be damaging.

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 other’s 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.

In our next and final instalment in our series on Website Theft, we will look at more ways to handle the problem of someone stealing your material and some ideas for preventing it from occurring again.

About The Author
Janice Byer is the founder of Docu-Type Administrative & Web Design Services (http://www.docutype.net), a professional Virtual Assistance and Website Design company, specializing in helping small business owners get ahead. She is a certified Canadian Virtual Assistant and Master Virtual Assistant and winner of the Most Successful Start Up 2000 and Home Based Business of the Year 2000 Awards
jbyer@docutype.net