What action can you take when you find someone has stolen your copyrighted works and used them online without your permission?
In an earlier column on plagiarism checking, I shared several tools you can use to find out if your content has been republished on the web. If you have given your permission (such as by publishing your articles in an article directory), those tools can help you track your success in making your content go viral.
But what if you discover that some of your work is being used without permission? Perhaps without crediting you, or in ways or places that you do not want your content used?
In this article, we will take a look at some of the actions you can take when you find that your work is being put to unauthorized use.
The first step is to contact the site owner. Sometimes the infringement is innocent. Some people do not understand copyright, or they believe that they are doing you a favor by republishing your work. Or perhaps the content was plagiarized by a site designer, employee or contractor who does not understand copyright or was too lazy to create original content. Send an email telling them that they are using your content in an unauthorized way, and tell them what you want them to do. You may want them to remove it, or you may just want them to properly credit you and link to you or you may demand payment for the use of your work. It is your property, so you get to decide how it is used.
If the site owner does not comply, there are several possible remedies. Before pursuing them, though, it is a good idea to register your copyright if you have not already done so. You can learn about copyrighting website content in this PDF article.
Send a Cease and Desist letter (C&D) to anyone and everyone connected with the website. This could include the site owner, the web hosting company and advertisers. You can find a sample Cease and Desist letter here.
Most reputable hosting companies will shut down a site that is found to be using stolen content. Be prepared for them to pop up again on another host, though, so the process may have to be repeated.
In some cases you may not be able to readily identify the site owner or web hosting company. If they are monetizing the site in any way, though, they have advertisers. Contact those advertisers and advise them that the site is violating your copyright by using your work without permission. With the money supply turned off, stealing people’s content will no longer be profitable.
You can also file a complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This Act specifically addresses online content theft, and when you file a complaint the parties you notify (such as search engines, hosting companies and ISPs) are required to block access to the offending content.
Your DMCA complaint will be public, and it is possible that a bad guy would attempt to get retribution by filing a complaint against you. This should not be your first course of action, but instead a last resort. You can get information about filing a DMCA complaint at http://www.google.com/dmca.html
Accept that sometimes you can not stop thieves from using your content. Although it is worthwhile to be vigilant and protect your intellectual property rights, there is a point where it is not a good use of your time to track down every splogger (spam blogger) using an article of yours or to try to get every unauthorized site shut down.
Choose your battles wisely.