Did Somebody ‘Borrow’ Your Website Content? Fight Back!

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Stealing from the WebOne of the most challenging tasks in building a website for a customer can be getting content. It is the item that sometimes holds up the entire process. Admittedly, getting content written can be a painstaking process if you are unwilling to hire someone to do the task.

Sometimes, when I ask for content for a new site, I’m asked to just “find some on the web” and use it. Or sometimes I’m told, “Just copy it from this site and change up the words”. When I tell the client that I won’t do that, I get a puzzled look and the question “Why not”? When I explain that it’s illegal and is a copyright infringement, there is often surprise as though this is commonly done. I’ve even had clients cancel a project when I won’t do that. I don’t mind losing that type of client.

Quite a few years back, it was a pretty common occurrence. You could write copy, put it on your website, only to have it stolen by a competitor and used as their own. There also wasn’t much you could do about it. No one wanted to hire an attorney to remedy the situation due to the cost. But today, there is a way you can fight back.

If you find your photos, images, logos or any of your content appearing somewhere on the web where you didn’t give permission, you can take steps to have it removed.

The first method is to find out where the website is being hosted. Contact the hosting company, in writing, with a DMCA Take Down Notice. You’ll need to provide all of the information to prove your case, but they are usually very helpful in getting it removed. There are many samples on the web. Just search for “sample dmca takedown notice” and you’ll have no trouble finding examples.

If that doesn’t work, you can go to dmca.com and pay them to remove the offending material. They have a couple of different payment options, but it’s much cheaper than hiring an attorney. They can usually have the material removed within 48 hours. (DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act and is a US law enacted by Congress in 1998 that made quite a few modifications to the US Copyright Act.)

In short, if you need photographs or images for your website, purchase a license for their use or use some that are granted under Creative Commons. The usual requirement is that you give attribution to the original artist. You’ll have to find works that are licensed under Creative Commons. You can search for some here. Be sure to read the requirements if you use them.

If you need content for your website, write it yourself or hire a copywriter that has experience in writing for the web in your particular industry.

Occasionally, you may not be sure if something is legal to use or not. I take the position that if I didn’t actually take the picture myself or didn’t write it myself, then it’s probably copyrighted material. When in doubt, get a legal opinion. It’s far less costly than someone deciding to pursue you for copyright infringement.