Protecting Your Website From Online Thieves – Part 3

Act now for your copyright

In the previous design article Prevention Cures Copyright, we covered how to protect your web site files and gather evidence of your copyright ownership. Now we will look at how you can take all of your preparation and use it to find your online thieves.

Use the major search engines

To tell if someone has stolen your web site or your web graphic images, you can use the major search engines.

Start by searching for words or phrases unique to your site, such as your company name. This is where we catch many online thieves. They steal our web content without remembering to take out every instance of our name.

For further quality searches, we recommend typing the article titles and headlines from your most popular web pages into the search box.

For each search, go through the first three results pages. If the content looks familiar, check the web address (URL). If it shows a link to a page you are not familiar with, click on it and review the page.

Make sure you are given full credit for your work that another site displays – especially if another web author has used your work without your permission. If there is no reference on the page to the original author or to your web site, you might have a case for copyright infringement.

Some search engines allow you to do searches for graphic images. You can also search for unique graphic images that you use on your site, particularly if you named your graphic image an unusual name. It can even be a 1 pixel x 1 pixel transparent GIF with an unusual name in an unusual place. Most online thieves are usually not savvy enough to find that image within your HTML documents.

Review your log files

Your log files can be helpful in finding online thieves. These statistical reports are carried by most web hosts and include updated records of who links directly to your web site.

Generally, your web host will provide you with password-protected access to these stats, which you can view online and print out. We recommend that at the end of every month, you print out your stats for that month and look through the list of web sites linking to yours. See which sites look unfamiliar and review those pages individually.

Before contacting anyone – alleged thief, web host, ISP, their partner sites, anyone – gather all evidence of theft first.

Make hard and digital copies of the stolen web page content and the source code. Print the web pages that were stolen and make sure the date is contained on every page you print. Include URL’s and titles. You must have a date on the printed pages and the URL’s in the event the host or the webmaster takes down the site.

Next, view the source code, that is, the HTML code, and print that. You can do this by going to the Menu command and View/Source in your web browser. Compare the code of the offender’s site with your own to see how closely they match. Many online thieves will take HTML code without making any changes — same font settings, same graphic bullet points, same table formats.

Then make a list of all web pages that have the stolen items and write down what was stolen on each page. List the content and the names of any graphic images which were stolen.

Research the Offender

Conduct a WHOIS search to see who hosts the site and who the administrative contact is.

See if the web host has an Acceptable Use Policy that speaks to copyright infringement. This is more evidence you can use against online thieves. Print the Acceptable Use Policy web page and source code.

Before you contact the offender, notify the following people regarding the theft of your copyrighted material:

1. A solicitor (optional).

2. The offender’s web host.

3. Major newsgroups – in your industry and your offender’s industry. This can be particularly useful if you are a regular contributor and 3rd parties recognize your original work.

4. Major search engines and directories.

It is usually not required to bring in a solicitor to handle the initial stages of a copyright dispute, as most claims are settled early on. However, if the alleged thief’s web site appears to have a substantial business presence, you might wish to consult with a solicitor, preferably one specializing in intellectual property and/or Internet law.

Then request that the stolen web pages and graphic images be removed from the thief’s server.

Once you’ve done all this, speak with the company owner or the manager of the offending web site. If you can’t reach one of them, speak to the webmaster. It is better to make a phone call before sending an email message so you will be more likely to catch them in a lie.

Once online thieves have been discovered, they might try to avoid responsibility, pass blame, and claim that they were merely “testing” their site, or say they were really doing this to help you. Keep them talking but never let them off the hook.

Document and demand removal of copyrighted materials

Immediately after ending your conversation, send a carefully worded email message or a certified, registered letter to the offender explaining the copyright infringement.

Order the removal of all offending material. All you need is a few pages of evidence to send, but you will have to list every graphic image they have used or stolen without your permission before you contact them.

Demand that you receive at least the following:

Agreement to have the copyrighted materials removed. 24 to 48 hours is a reasonable time frame.

A signed notice – or at least an email message – from the offending parties stating they acted with impropriety; that the files have been removed and will stay removed; that no copyrighted materials from your web site will ever be copied by them again under any circumstances (or, at least, without your expressed written consent); and that you will pursue a lawsuit against them if they do not comply with your order or if at any time they are found to be responsible for any damages.

Why is this important? Because now you have acknowledgement of wrongdoing. If these pages ever appear again without your permission, you have the email, letter, and signed notice as evidence.

Pull the Legal Trigger

If the online thieves do not take down the stolen pages and/or graphic images, remove the disputed material to your satisfaction, or agree to your terms within 48 hours, hire a solicitor to send them a registered, certified letter. Make sure the letter is printed on the lawyer’s letterhead.

It is always best to avoid a lawsuit – better to come to some settlement, especially if you’ve suffered no significant losses. Lawsuits can prove costly and time-consuming.

It is not up to you to fight online thieves everywhere. The important thing is to keep you and others informed about what legitimate web site owners can do to protect themselves so they can spend more time running their businesses and less time worrying about who’s stealing their business

See also Why People Steal and Prevention Cures Copyright.

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