Response To Stolen Web Pages
More content leads to more theft. Become valuable, and you are cloned.
A person commits an act of theft if someone unlawfully obtains or utilizes another's property or resources with the intent to deprive the rightful owner.
In the case of web site theft, the taking of copyrighted materials, altering those materials to look like one's own work, and the placing of those materials onto the internet for commerce, thus competing with the original author, is theft. It is also a copyright violation, but it is still theft and it can and should be prosecuted as such.
The U.S. Library of Congress manages the U.S. Copyright Office. The U.S. Copyright Office considers Internet Web Pages to be software programs, reasonable since they are "programmed." To have a copyright simply requires that the work contain a valid copyright notice as follows: © year, author name.
Registration is not mandatory, but time has proven this to be a reasonable step. To register you should refer to the filing procedures required by the U.S. Copyright Office. Our site registration required a print of all web pages, a print of all web page HTML codes, a form completed, and a check for under $40.00. It was more expensive to copy the source (they require 2 copies) at Kinko's than to register the work.
On an international level, the U.S. Government became a member of the Berne Convention in 1989 and fully supports the Universal Copyright Convention. Under this Convention any work of an author who is a national of a Convention country automatically receives protection in ALL countries that are also members under this Convention provided the work makes use of a proper copyright symbol. The degree of protection may vary, but some minimal protection is defined and guaranteed in that agreement. Specific filing of a registration is not required, although it helps if you seek to prosecute offenders. Simply having the copyright notice on the work makes the copyright valid.
In dealing with copyrights, you receive protection under the auspices of the US Government. Jurisdiction for prosecuting violations is exclusively with the federal government.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that it is trademark infringement to use a competitor's trademark in a web page META tag. The court noted that such terms could be used without violating trademarks if used as root words expressed as lower case.
Copyright or not, the intellectual property (the page as written) is at least yours according to netiquette, and is definitely protected if you display a properly formatted copyright tag. The facts about a suspected theft certainly need to be validated and you need to be sure that any page theft could not have been accidental, assuming that you believe that pages can be stolen by accident. There is no excuse for taking someone else's page intact, adding a little facade, doing top of page cosmetic changes, then their uploading it to their site still containing your displayed text and possibly links. This has happened to to our site many times.
Before you make a major claim against the supposed thief, you must have undisputed evidence that the text is yours. If you have such proof, there are a few things that seem to work to get the problem resolved:
- Allegations of theft are investigated by local law enforcement agencies such as the Police or Sheriff's departments. If the investigation produces evidence of theft it is forwarded from the investigating agency to the appropriate District Attorney's Office for prosecution. If you want the "theft" prosecuted as a criminal matter (perhaps as a preamble to a civil suit), then do not destroy evidence or give warning to the thief or they will remove it before the investigating agency can review your claims.
- Print the offending page as displayed, then print the HTML code for that page so that you have it. Call a friend to have them witness the theft. If your friend agrees that the page appears stolen, then continue, else go straight to the last two steps below. If it was stolen, then consider each of the following steps in the order presented.
- See if their site contains a references or clients page. If so, write down the names and URL of these sites so that you can notify them of the theft a little later.
- Use http://www.linkpopularity.com using the complete URL of the offending page. If there are links, click on the appropriate count field and print the appropriate pages. These are also pages to be notified of the theft, and all are viable links to your site. You should invite them to compare the pages, emphasizing that by linking to the stolen site that they are indirectly supporting the theft and "wouldn't they rather link to the source?".
- Locate their City Police or Sheriff's Office and report the theft. If you have installed a copy of our copyright page (tailored to your own usage), that contains the price of $6000 per page, then the theft of any page is a felony and the appropriate agencies must prosecute under the law. Violation of Copyright laws entitles you to $125,000 in damages under the right circumstances, so simply having the site removed is not going to help as much as pressing charges.
- If you are not going to prosecute, then see if other pages are possibly stolen. For instance, if the site has a strange name, or ends in a number, change the number and see if someone else shows up. Also use a search engine or two to search for their URL and see how many pages show up that look like the titles in your site and check them out. If other sites appear stolen (this is important) email the page addresses of the other violations to those site webmasters asking them if they authorized a simailar page at that URL. I have placed "bruceclay.com" into sections of our page as comments AND displayed text, then I search for my name and catch theft. You would be surprised at how many people steal content and don't bother to read it.
- Send their ISP a notice that their site is hosting stolen materials. Use http://rs.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois to locate the site owners, and send a notice to every person and IP address associated with the site. Visit the IP addresses and use their contact-us links for these postings. If you are unable to get their host address, call the site and ask if they know of a good ISP in their city, or if they are happy with theirs -- they may just tell you their ISP name.
- Find out if the page is indexed by the various search engines (http://www.bruceclay.com/seo/web_add.htm links may help). For every engine where it is indexed, send an email about the theft to the support group of that search engine company and request that the site URL and index be removed permanently. Most will send back a polite note saying it is not their responsibility to judge if your claim is valid, but it is worth the time. I would definitely follow these guidelines and pursue it.
- Depending on how blatant the theft was, and if you wish to pursue copyright theft claims, report the theft via ONLINE COMPLAINT FORM to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internet Fraud Complaint Center.
- After determining the status of the District Attorney prosecution, and only if there is no prosecution or prosecution has finished, then it is time to write to their clients asking if they knew that the content at URL was illegally copied from your URL. Be sure to specify the entire URL so that their clients can easily compare the pages. Note that you might need to scan the URL's in the linkpopularity.com report to find client sites.
- As a last step and only if there is no prosecution, write to them to remove it. Do this last because if this is the first step, they will not have learned anything and will possibly do it again to someone else. (I know, most advise this as a first step out of courtesy). By this time they should understand the consequences of the theft in no uncertain terms so that they will not do it again. They took your page without telling you, so tell them last. And point them to this page (http://www.bruceclay.com/webthief.htm). Do you get a better response with honey than vinegar? Sometimes, but how does that discourage them from doing it again? This methodology is specifically designed to discourage the act for all sites, not just yours. Otherwise they will simply switch to stealing from a different site.
- Immediately place appropriate © Copyright tags on your pages.
- Place your name, or other tag only you will be able to identify, into comment tags within your pages, typically within large paragraphs.
- Register immediately with the U.S. Copyright Office, making sure to archive a full copy for your files.
- We offer to have everyone copy http://www.bruceclay.com/web_legl.htm. This page was designed to be used by anyone needing it, and it is intended to be shared. It is at least a fair starting point for you as a copyright notice. Change it to represent the degree of use that you will allow. Use at your own risk. But the overall effect of a legal page, a copyright tag, the client exposure, the resulting pressure from other web users, and the risk placed upon their ISP for hosting stolen materials, should be to get the stolen pages removed. At least it has worked for us.
- The web needs a "witness" service to compare pages and help encourage violators to withdraw their offending pages. If you agree, perhaps we can provide that service under a separate .org entity. Email us with your comments.
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