Suppose one day you discover that another site has stolen your website content and you don’t know what can be done about it? There is a legal process to follow which we’ll attempt to outline here. We’ll provide some background and suggest a few resources to make it simpler for you to fight content theft.
Unfortunately, scraper sites that pirate the content of others are relatively common and most are rarely punished in any form. The goal of this tutorial is to provide tools and guidance to help you through the process of what is known as a “Takedown Request.”
As content creators and publishers, many website owners have heard of the DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act – which was designed to provide legal recourse to copyright owners against content theft. Digital content is infinitely reproducible and quite simple to steal from most websites. So a process was created to address the problem of content theft.
Of course it is probably confusing for small business owners to attempt the process for the first time, but this article provides links to tools and information that will make it more straightforward and less complex.
First the content must be yours, it must be copyright protected (relax, that just means you created it or paid to have it created for business use). If the content is yours and if others have posted it to their site – you have a right to request that they remove it. First, ask directly via any published contact methods on the offending site. If that doesn’t solve the problem, your legal recourse is to file a claim against the host of that content. That is done via filing a DMCA takedown request with the hosting company.
If you’ve used published emails or contact forms on the offending site and there has been no response, while your content remains on their site. Then it’s time to file the DMCA takedown. An awkward part of this process is the need to determine where the offending site is hosted. This is a technical step that sounds complex, but it is fairly simple as you’ll see once you’ve done it. There are freely available tools that can answer the hosting question for you simply by entering the address of the offending site into a form.
There are a list of questions that must be answered fully and completely to meet requirements for a DMCA request to be considered. Those are as follows:
- Name, address, phone, email of copyright owner
- Location of the unauthorized material (URL of Offender)
- Description of the copyrighted work
- Location of copyrighted work (your URL)
- You have a good faith belief that use of the copyrighted materials described as allegedly infringing are not authorized
- You swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information provided is accurate and that you are the copyright owner
- You acknowledge that a copy of this infringement notice and any correspondence related to it, including any contact information provided (your address, telephone number, and email address), will be forwarded to the user who uploaded the content at issue
- Your full name entered will serve as legal, digital signature
What happens next can be slow and a bit opaque, but the best outcome is that the pirate removes your content from their site and you are done. You hope that it doesn’t happen again (here or elsewhere) but now you are a bit concerned – don’t worry, there are tools to help monitor your content for you going forward. The best known is called Copyscape and for a few bucks a month, their software will keep an eye out for new offenders and notify you of unapproved uses of your work.
Sometimes however, even after you’ve filed a takedown request, the offending sites may not remove your content. The next step is to ask Google to remove links to the pirate pages from their search results. Google makes that possible and has created a help section on their site to walk you through the process. Google Search Console allows you to ask them to Remove Stolen Content from Google Index (You must have a Google Account and sign in). Below is a video from Google that explains the process you can expect with Google, and they make it appear to be a bit daunting, but doable.
What if you have multiple (or many) instances to deal with and you need to make the process simpler? DMCA Notice Generator Tool to help you address all requirements and a paid service to file and submit your claims for you.
Some companies are aggressive in pursuing content theft if it more directly and measurably impacts their income. Two well-known cases are the music and movie industries. There however, they have gone entirely overboard and are sending automated DMCA takedown notices using robots and software that are causing recent spikes in takedown requests to Google at the reported rate of 100,000 per hour or 21 Million per month. That is clear abuse of the process. Here is documented abuse from the Electronic Frontier Foundation titled, Absurd Automated Notices Illustrate Abuse of DMCA Takedown Process.
The abuse will have to be reined in if the DMCA is to remain viable and the process is expected to reasonably address the copyright claims of small publishers who might file just a handful of requests over a few years. Visual artists, who want to protect their photography and artwork still need to be able to file legitimate claims against those who threaten their income and possibly their livelihoods. Independent musicians and writers still need the ability to stop content theft when their creative work is stolen and used for profit by others.
One of the worst offenders of content theft are those that simply don’t know that it is illegal to take and publish the content of others. Many of those are bloggers who take an image or sometimes an entire page from another site and republish it on their own – without realizing they are breaking the law. Because ignorance of the law is no excuse, sometimes you will have to file a claim against bloggers who host their site at WordPress.com. The parent company of WordPress is a company called “Automattic” (yes that is the correct spelling). Here is the Automattic DMCA Claims for WordPress sites hosted by WordPress.com. You’ll find similar forms on many web hosting sites such as YouTube or Google Plus or posts or pages at Facebook or even to remove pirated software that you authored at Github.
Content theft leads to other issues if not effectively policed – one is duplicate content. When your text content is stolen and used on other web sites, it is no longer unique to you and other sites can begin to outrank you in search results. If you depend on search engine referrals to monetize your content through advertising, you may find that income begins to decline when other sites begin to appear first in search results for your content and click-through rates drop.
It’s worth keeping a lid on copyright issues and is possible to monitor and control your content. There is also one note of fairness that may make it just a little bit more worthwhile to spend the energy to file a takedown with Google after the pirate has refused to do so – that is – Google has said that sites with multiple takedown requests are very likely to rank lower in search results over time.