Online plagiarism is a tough and frustrating problem; each plagiarism situation is different and the overall problem isn't going away. The content in need of protection could be copy, images, sounds, videos or other varied types of content. It becomes a little easier to address when you know where to start.
In our industry, we most often see content theft in e-commerce, blogging and publisher websites but it can happen to any website. This isn't intended to scare you, just to let you know that it's a common issue and there are a few routes available to protect your investment in online content. In addition to qualified legal advice, other web publishers are a great source for ideas on how to protect your content by learning about their methods.
We've also observed that, in our business, the issue of plagiarism is best handled by providing our clients with options so they can find a method that works best for them. Recommending a specific solution would expose us to certain undesirable liabilities. Ergo...
Our Important Legal Disclaimer
We can't give legal advice; we're not attorneys, laws change and each situation differs. You should consult a qualified attorney and the US Copyright Office if you have questions about copyright protection and to review any process created for plagiarism or copyright infringement protection. We are providing information about common industry practices and not information about applying the law to a specific set of facts.
Now, let's discuss the issue at hand.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act
There is a law on the books that helps you protect your online content. It's called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, signed into US Federal law in 1998. In Subsection 512(c)of the Copyright Act, this law limits the liability of hosting service providers by requiring a process to respond to copyright infringement claims.
This subsection works in favor of publishers, as well as service providers, by requiring each service provider to implement a process to handle copyright infringement along with a designated internal agent to respond to infringement notices. A directory of agents is available on the US Copyright Office website so you can locate the contact information for a specific service provider.
Here's the relevant part of the act in regards to our topic:
Upon receipt of a compliant notification of claimed infringement, a service provider must respond expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of the infringing activity, if the service provider seeks to receive the benefits of the limitations of liability contained in § 512(c). A service provider is not required by law to remove the allegedly infringing material, but upon receipt of a compliant notification will deemed to have been placed on notice of the allegedly infringing activity, and without the benefit of the limitations on liability contained in § 512, may face secondary liability for continuing to host the allegedly infringing material.
What are my options for protecting content?
There are a couple of options that we're aware of to proactively protect online content. You can create and display a license with your content. Large publishers tend to create their own and have attorneys on staff. The rest of us are far more fortunate, in that we don't need to have attorneys on staff. There are licenses freely available online, like the Creative Commons License, for the rest of us.
Creative Commons License
The Creative Commons License provides variations of stated protection. There's a handy 'License Chooser' on the website to help you pick the most appropriate license. Once you have the license, place it on your website. For instance, you can create a license page and link it in the footer of your website so it shows on every page.
One of the most common variations of the Creative Commons license is called "Attribution-NoDerivs", which states that others can redistribute your content commercially or non-commercially as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
Register with US copyright office
You can also register your content with the US Copyright Office. Although your work is somewhat protected even without registering, case history suggests the US court favors registered copyrighters, so it is probably in your best interest to register.
Put a copyright notice on every page and make sure it's up-to-date. We typically put the current year in the footer. Some believe you should have a range of years.
How do I know if it's been stolen?
Monitor your content online using services like CopyScape and Google Alerts. CopyScape offers free and premium products and the premium products aren't very expensive. We use a service of theirs called Copysentry, which scans the web weekly and emails a report. The report tells me if our content is present on another website.
You can also use a script called Tynt to tag copied content with a link back to your website. This tool has a few purposes, including SEO and sending people back to your site when content is copied. This is great for scripted content scrapers and when people copy into emails.
It looks like this...
What do I do if my content is stolen?
Before moving forward, decide if it's worth your time. If it is, then you want to ensure your content qualifies for copyright protection.
The first step is to contact the blog or website owner. Usually, just asking them to remove prompts positive action. If they don't respond, you can send a Cease & desist email to them.
After contacting the website owner, you may decide to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint with Google, asking them to remove the content from search results. You need to be able to prove you published the content first. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use the Way Back Machine, an internet archive tool.
Once you have a DMCA, you can send it to the hosting provider and ask them to discontinue hosting the website with the stolen content. You can usually find the Copyright Infringement Agent's email via the US Copyright Office. They will either contact the website owner on your behalf or disable the account temporarily.
What strategies have you used with content thieves?
Diona is a senior Internet marketing consultant at Knowmad. Her areas of expertise include digital marketing strategy, project management, brand management, search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising, inbound marketing, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, social media marketing and website design.