Blog

06
Jul

What To Do When Your Website Copy is Plagiarized

Whether you’ve invested time and energy into writing your own content or hired a professional copywriter, finding your copy on someone else’s site is infuriating. There are people who believe that if it’s on the Internet, it is fair game. Some don’t bother to change the company name or business-specific information. But you can put a stop to it!

The Internet makes it easy to catch the perpetrator before the infringement hurts your reputation or your search engine rankings (too many sites with the same content can lower all of their rankings or cause them to be removed).

Do you know your copy “rights” for protecting your website content? “One thing people don’t know is when they have copyright rights. You can’t enforce your rights if you don’t know them. People should try to inform themselves. Check the government. Check local sources. Often there are seminars on various areas of the law,” explains Jasmine Abdel-khalik, Associate Professor of Law at University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Of course, the information provided here is not intended to replace the advice of a professional attorney. But it can help you discover whether your site copy is being plagiarized and give suggestions to exercise your copyright rights under the law.

How do I know if someone is plagiarizing my website content?

There are two quick ways to check whether your site content is posted on another site. Type your URL into a plagiarism checker like Copyscape or copy and paste parts of your most unique sentences into Google.

If your site is the only one that shows up, your content is safe for now. But if other sites appear in the search results, click on those displaying your content to see exactly how your copy is being used. Sometimes it may be a matter of linking to yours and it is cited properly. The more links back to your site can improve your site’s search engine rankings, especially if it is a popular site.

What steps can I take if someone is using my site content?

Use the information on the contact page as your starting point. If there is no contact information, look at the footer section for a web master address or hosting company. Send a nice message requesting that the content be removed and where the original copy is located. Some site owners don’t know the content is plagiarized and are the unknowing victim of an unscrupulous copywriter in their own marketing department.

In my experience, this first email usually takes care of the problem. Sometimes an apology email is received and sometimes the content just disappears from the site. Remember to follow up after the first email is sent and even a few months later to make sure your copy does not reappear.

If that doesn’t work, type in the domain name at Whois.com. The owner’s name and phone number should appear in their records. Contact the website owner directly to request immediate removal of the plagiarized content.

If that fails, inform the site’s hosting company of their client’s copyright infringement. Hosting company information is found on the Whois site under the domain registration information or sometimes on the site itself. Once it is confirmed that the content is in violation, some hosting companies will remove the site immediately.

Still no response? You may consider mailing a formal “Cease and Desist” letter. Your attorney can assist you with the appropriate format since the wording may affect your rights if it goes to court or you can search the web for examples. Send it certified mail.

A possible last resort? Exercise your rights under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You can go directly to the major search engines like Google and Yahoo with your copyright infringement complaints.

I didn’t legally register my web site copy. Do I still have copyright protection?

Whether you filed the registration paperwork or not, your site copy is still protected by copyright laws. Copyright protection begins at the moment of creation in a tangible medium and whether it’s published or unpublished.

How do I prove my site content existed first?

You can check the Internet Archive Way Back Machine to see when your site was first indexed with that content compared to the other site in question.

What does the copyright registration process involve?

Registering your web site content can be as simple as filling out an online registration form and paying a fee, as little as $35. You can find all information and forms on the official U.S. Government Copyright Site.

Does each page need to be registered separately or can I register the entire site?

I have had clients do both. For example, a real estate expert copyrighted both his site content and an extensive downloadable relocation guide. Consult a copyright attorney to see which choice best protects your content and interests.

If my copyright protection automatically begins at creation, why bother registering it?

Legal registration is required if you should need to take legal enforcement action by suing in court. Early registration might allow you sue for more statutory damages. Copyright cases can only be filed on the federal level.

According to the U.S. Government Copyright site, “Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section ‘Copyright Registration’ and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.”

Does my site have copyright protection against international infringement?

The U.S. has reciprocal agreements with many countries. But your level of protection depends on what that particular agreement states and who signed it. You can view a full list of the agreements on Circular 38a.

By Brenda Galloway

Please do not misconstrue this as professional legal advice because Write Essentials, Inc. does not provide legal advice or recommendations. Should you have any questions regarding copyright infringement law, consult an attorney. Write Essentials, Inc. is not liable for any actions or decisions taken by clients or readers based on information or results obtained through the links included in this FAQ nor does it endorse any site linked from this article. All information was accurate at time of publication. Laws are subject to change, so consult an attorney for the latest information regarding copyright infringement. 

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