Prevent Content Theft and Copyright Infringement
How annoying it is, spending an awful amount of time researching and writing articles for your Blog, only to find out that some people have stolen your articles and reproduced them in their blogs as though they wrote them. Over the weekend, we decided to take action against one of the several “thieves” and we relate our experience here so that you have an idea how you should proceed when you meet someone who steals your website or Blog contents. Our Blog is exactly 5 months old and if such incident can happen to new bloggers like us, it can happen to you too.
You see this legal term often. Basically, what it means is that if you are the author of a piece of work (writing, drama, music score, art, etc.), you own the “copyright” to that work. Under the laws of many countries, your works enjoy copyright protection. You can authorize or prohibit others from reproducing, distributing, publishing, displaying or performing your works.
In U.S. for instance, you need not register your work in order to secure your copyright. Copyright protection is automatic i.e., it starts the moment your work is created. Unlike the previous laws, there is also no longer a need for you to insert any copyright notice in your site reminding people of the copyright protection. You can put a notice, but you don't have to. Essentially, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Theft and Hijacking
These are how the internet thieves steal:-
a. Writing and Images
They block copy your original writing, paste it into their Blog post. They use your images, graphics and artwork as well. Nothing is mentioned about you. Readers will think they wrote these articles. They establish their pool of readers and earn revenue through their AdSense impressions or clicks. Even if there is a mention about you somewhere, all their contents are lifted from you. You put in the efforts but they enjoy the rewards.
These people even went so far as to ask us questions which their own readers asked them. Once we replied to these Anonymous queries, they in turn let their readers know, in the manner that the answers came from them.
b. RSS Feed
You can put other people's Feed headlines into your Blog. Go to Template -> Page Elements -> Add a Page Element and select “Feed”. Type in the RSS or Atom Feed URL of that site and you will have the headlines of their five recent posts displayed in your Blog. Some blogs have no original content, except for these Feed headlines from many different blogs.
Many of us don't mind having these headlines in other blogs. Readers who want to learn more about the article will click these links and be brought to our Blogs. However, these thieves go beyond that. Some of them reproduce the full post based on the Feeds. We saw commercial sites using Feed converters to save our contents and put the articles up for sale to interested parties.
We had therefore changed our Feed settings from Full to Short, so that feed readers will only get an excerpt of the articles. If they want to know more, they will have to visit our site to read the details. If you want to change yours too, go to Settings -> Site Feed and under “Allow Blog Feed”, choose “Short”.
Instead of just a couple of posts, these thieves can steal everything from the layout and design to the contents and links, thus the term “blog hijacking”. Your site is literally duplicated. When we obtained our first Google Page Rank, a PR5, we found this problem to be rather serious. People were trying to pass off their sites as if they were ours or related to ours.
Steps to take when contents are stolen
1. Stay calm
It is natural to be angry at the thief. Let not anger taint our decisions. We must act professionally. If you are tempted to spam the thief's blog with threats and insults, please don't. You may in the process get yourself into unnecessary legal trouble. Not forgetting, a person who has no qualms stealing your contents can probably do you lots of other harm if he/she wants to. In that same spirit, although we shall make references to the thief who stole our content, we shall not be naming him. We shall call the thief Mr X in this article.
2. Identify what has been stolen
Before making any claim, we should be certain as to what has been taken from us. In our incident, it was a clear-cut case of hijacking. Mr X used a Blog title that could mislead the public into thinking that it was related to us, the description of the Blog was exactly the same as ours, the posts and pictures were an exact duplicate, and the post titles, colors and labels were the same.
Excerpt of Mr X's Blog description:-
Excerpt of Mr X's post titled “Add Video Clip to Blog”:-
It is important to save these as evidence of infringement. Go to the offending Blog site, click a “Print Screen” button on your keyboard. If you have a printer, save the printed copies. Otherwise, if you have a Photo software, open a new image file, paste the image and save. Note down the date and time these images were taken. We took only a few samples because there were simply too many; all the 23 articles on Mr X's site were ours.
3. Find the thief
Most of them do not have email addresses or contact particulars in their blogs or profile pages. Even if they do, they are likely to be fake. Nonetheless, there are several ways to ascertain the identity. In this case, Mr X had several other blogs under his profile page. One of them was titled Mahathir bin Mohamad, the contents were an exact replica of the page at Wikipedia relating to the former Prime Minister of Malaysia. There was another blog titled “Kelantan history”. We went to our visitor stats, tracked by Statcounter and Google, zoomed in on the unusual visitor activities, and identified the IP address of one that was from Kota Bharu in the state of Kelantan, Malaysia. We could be wrong. The person could have routed his traffic through Malaysia. He could very well be a U.S. citizen interested in Malaysian politics. Be that as it may, we had a possible lead.
Next, we visited his source page. In Firefox, go to “View” and “Page Source” or press Ctrl+U. In Internet Explorer, go to “View” and “Source”. From the source code, look for “google_ad_client” to find out his Google AdSense publisher number. Most of these thieves steal your content so that they can earn advertising revenue from visitors to their sites. Invariably, they will have some form of advertisements. If it is not AdSense, just look for any other Ad codes. Take note of all these. Better still, save a copy of the source code as evidence.
Read all the blogs by this person. Often, the remarks made in the comments or chatbox may give you an indication as to who the person is.
Search the net for other links to this person's identity. The blog may be registered in some blog directories. Start with Technorati, and move on to social networking sites. All you want is to gather as much information as possible regarding this person or his internet activities. If the matter becomes contentious, a court action may have to be filed and notice served on the offending party.
4. Contact the thief
After you have done sufficient homework, write your first note to the person. If there is no email address, leave a message in one of the posts. Our first message to Mr X was polite and non-confrontational. This was what we wrote:-
While I am honored that you have found my guides useful, copying them wholesale and reproducing them as if they are yours is an outright breach of copyright. Please remove the articles immediately.
We waited for a day and checked back. There was no response and the blog was still what it was. That was when we adopted a stern tone, and our second message was this:-
I have written to you yesterday informing you that you have illegally copied and reproduced my articles from my blog. These are original content of which I, as the author of the articles, own the copyright. Your act in reproducing them without my permission is clearly illegal under the laws.
If you do not take immediate action to remove all the 23 offending articles, I shall proceed to inform all the relevant parties, including but not limited to Google, search engines, advertisers and the authorities. I reserve as well my rights to claim for any damages and costs as a result of your illegal action.
Mr X responded and said in our chatbox, “hello bro..sorry.i still new blogger.i delete all that article already...sorry again.” [No, he is not our brother. As I understand, it is their form of greeting.] His excuse was that he was new to blogging. Our response was simple - “I don't think copying or plagiarizing has to do with new or not new blogger. And from the way you copied, I think you know enough about coding, maybe more so than us.” There is no excuse for committing illegal acts and we are not going to feel bad just because they call themselves new bloggers.
With that, we let the matter rest. However, we want to let you know what we had prepared in the meantime while we awaited his response.
5. Contact directories
The first place we searched was one of our favorites - Technorati. We saw Mr X's blog and contacted the staff. We highlighted the infringement and requested for a temporary suspension of the offending blog while we proceeded to take the necessary actions. The staff was very prompt in their response and upon their review, they temporarily suspended the blog. Note that in this instance, every one of the 23 articles he had were ours. If it had been just one or two articles copied, the staff may not readily agree to a suspension of the listing. Since the articles have now been removed, we had written to the staff updating them on the matter.
Locate all the listings in the various directories and keep them handy. Often, if it were a genuine case, the administrators will take action or advise you on the cause of action. This is a damage control step. We want to minimize the exposure of these stolen content to other net users.
6. Contact advertisers
We were prepared to contact the Google AdSense staff since we had on hand the publisher number of Mr X. Under the AdSense policies, there is a term that reads:-
Website publishers may not display Google ads on web pages with content protected by copyright law unless they have the necessary legal rights to display that content. Please see our DMCA policy for more information.”
You can report the incident to them, although in order for them to act, they are likely to request that you file the official notice of infringement.
The details can be found at the Google page on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We prepared a draft of the notice which we would have used if Mr X did not respond. You have permission to adapt from this draft if you have to serve a similar notice to Google AdSense in future:-
Attn: Google Legal Support, AdSense DMCA Complaints
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
[or Via Fax: (650) 618-8507, Attn: Google AdSense Support, DMCA complaints]
Copyright Infringement Notification for AdSense
I am the author and copyright holder of the original articles at [blog address]. Among the copyright protected material are these articles at:-
[Titles and URLs of original articles]
I found out that another site at [thief's blog address] bearing the AdSense publisher ID [number] had used the abovementioned material without my permission, namely by reproducing them in their site as follows:-
[Titles and URLs of offending articles]
I have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials as described above is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information in the notification is accurate and that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
[Address and contact particulars]
If there are other advertisers, contact them too. No advertiser will want to be embroiled in a copyright infringement battle. Chances are that they will withdraw the advertisements, temporarily or otherwise. Without advertisement revenue, the theft of the content becomes worthless for the thief.
7. Ban from Search Engines
The offending blog can be removed from search engine listings too. You can find out what you have to do for search engines like Yahoo, Google, and MSN when you come across sites that have stolen your Blog contents.
Update: Thanks to all our readers for the support. Jonathan Bailey and The Beading Gem, who shared their comments below, had correctly pointed out 2 major areas which we have not included in this article. Here are the updates.
8. Contact Blog Host
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act Title II “creates a safe harbor for online service providers (OSPs, including ISPs) against copyright liability if they adhere to and qualify for certain prescribed safe harbor guidelines and promptly block access to allegedly infringing material (or remove such material from their systems) if they receive a notification claiming infringement from a copyright holder or the copyright holder's agent.” Although worded differently, a quick check on the Copyright Acts of Commonwealth and other jurisdictions suggest that the spirit of their laws are similar. Under the terms of service, most blog hosts and service providers, like Blogger.com, will act on notice of copyright infringement and take actions which may include “removing or disabling access to material claimed to be the subject of infringing activity and/or terminating subscribers.”
We have talked about contacting Google AdSense and Google search engine. Although Blogger.com is owned by Google, being a big company, there are certainly different sets of people handling complaints like this. If the person's blog is registered with Blogger.com, you may use the above draft letter but change the addressee to:-
Attn: Google Legal Support, Blogger DMCA Complaints
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
[or Via Fax: (650) 618-2680, Attn: Blogger Legal Support, DMCA Complaints]
These are the links to the detailed copyright protection policies of some of the popular blog hosts:-
9. Creative Commons License
Let us as Blog owners be united in protecting our legal rights. If we come across any infringing sites, keep each other informed. In that way, we can protect our works and justify the blood, sweat and tears that we have put into them.
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