Copyright law. This is a big topic. In fact, I’ve already covered this topic in other posts. However, as I keep mentioning, it’s a complex and extensive area of law that bloggers and entrepreneurs need to know about.
This knowledge is especially important when your content is stolen or copied or used on another site without your permission. So this post is going to give you some tips and points on what to do if your website content gets stolen.
As an attorney, I give huge priority to legal compliance, legal protection, and the know-how. For that reason, many of my posts are gonna be on legal issues. Before I start, here is my professional disclaimer.
Disclaimer: Even though I am a licensed and practicing attorney in the United States, I am not your attorney. Nothing on my website should be construed as legal advice. Your presence on my site does not create an attorney-client relationship or privilege. Every piece of content I present to you is for educational and informational purposes only. If you need specific legal advice, please consult with an attorney in your area.
What is a copyright violation
A copyright violation generally refers to the act of infringing on someone’s copyright-protected content. This means that you have content and resource that are protected by copyright. For a refresher to know what’s covered under copyright, read this post here first.
If you read the post I linked to, then you know that Copyright protection is automatic for works that are eligible for it. There are certain works, such as titles, logos, name domain names, etc. that do not get protected under copyright law. However, those can be protected under trademark law if they meet certain criteria. However, today, we’re covering copyright, so let’s focus on that.
If another person used your original image from your site or blog on their platform, without getting your consent, then that is more often than not a copyright infringement unless you either have a Creative Commons License or the use falls under Fair Use.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to go with the assumption that you don’t have a Creative Commons License, and their use does not fall under Fair Use.
Legal consequences for using your website content without permission
When referring to legal compliance or making sure that you’re doing any wrong steps, many people think the chances of something ever happening to them are slim to none.
However, legal compliance is no joke. Trouble always finds you, regardless of the fact whether you’re a big company or a small business, including a blogger. It doesn’t take too much effort to become legally compliant. So it absolutely doesn’t make sense not doing so.
If you’re found to be infringing on someone’s copyright, or if someone is infringing your copyright, aside from paying the actual cost of damages, you will also be subject to paying fines.
The fines can range anywhere from $200 to $250,000. Aside from the fines, you might also be liable to pay all attorney and court fees. Trust me, the amount of money that you’ll be forced to pay is so huge that copyright infringement should not cross anyone’s mind.
Copyright violation & prevention
So what do you do if your website content gets stolen? Can you prevent it?
The answer to this is not a pleasant one. There is no way of preventing copyright infringement. If someone wants to steal your content, they’ll find a way for doing so. Yes, you can use security measures, and plugins to not allow someone to make a copy, save it, or download it. But, if someone is very determined, they’ll find a way.
However, copyright law protection gives you an ability to solve your problem with infringement, get compensation, and punish the infringer. The way I think about copyright is that it’s not necessarily a preventative measure, but it’s an after-effect solution.
Regardless of whether Copyright law prevents theft or unauthorized use of your content, you should still have all the necessary steps for Copyright so that you can actually take action and protect your content later.
Make sure to have a proper copyright notice on your site. For learning how to set up proper copyright notice, read this post before moving forward.
Visit my Legal Shop to get professional legal templates and policies that will guarantee your website is legally compliant and protected.
As discussed in previous posts, you get automatic copyright protection from the first moment your work is fixed in a tangible medium. You can and in some cases, you should register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Read why you should consider registering your copyright.
First step: Find out the identity of the infringing party
When you first discover that another person is using your content (blog post, image, video, etc.) without your consent, and for argument’s sake let’s say that does not fall under Fair Use, what can you do?
Before you can get in touch with anyone, your first logical step would be to find the identity of the infringing party or to whom domain name in question belongs.
The easiest option would be to look on the website itself. See if there is an about section, or contact section which will give you a name and email address (a contact form is just as good because it’s connected to the email).
But, let’s say you can’t find that information on the website. What’s your next step? Well, that would be to do a WHOIS search. You’ll do that by visiting http://whois.icann.org and enter the domain name of the infringer.
The WHOIS system is managed by a group of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). When you conduct a WHOIS search, more often than not it brings about the domain owner’s email address, name, host information, or the name server information.
Once you have this information, it’s time for the next step.
Establish contact with the infringing party
Before you do anything, keep in mind that sometimes people use content without even realizing that they are violating a copyright rule or that they are infringing.
Carefully examine who the infringer is. If it’s an established website with high domain authority and has a relatively positive reputation, don’t take on an aggressive approach from the beginning.
Send them an email, explain the situation politely, and ask them to remove your copyrighted content (If you suffered financial damages, you can also send an invoice).
If they don’t respond to your polite and nice approach, or if you discover that the site is not a trustworthy site and looks to be a habitual offender, go ahead and send a firm letter, asking them to stop all infringing activities, to remove your content immediately (and if you suffered monetary damages-to pay your invoice). This letter is called Cease and Desist letter. Cease and Desist is a legal document letter and must include You can download a free copy of Cease and desist letter template below.
Use very clear and concise language in your letter. Tell the infringing party who you are, what your claim to the content is, include a copy of the Registration Certificate if you registered it, give them a short time frame to comply-for example, remove all my content from your website immediately. You have 48 hours to comply with this request.
Make sure to tell them that you have legal rights to the content and that you will pursue legal action if necessary if they don’t comply with your cease and desist letter and take down your content immediately. Again, if you evaluated that determined that you suffered financial loss, or if you can determine the value for the use of your content, you can send an invoice along with your cease and desist letter.
Now, what do you do if the infringing party does not comply with your demands, and still proudly showcases your content on their website? Well, your next step is to take them down!
Digital Millennium copyright act (DMCA)
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a piece of law that signaled Congress is entering the modern era of the digital world. DMCA is essentially Congress’ s and government’s way of showing that digital commerce and intellectual property can now be protected in its digitized forms. There is a lot more to this law that I am not going to cover here.
What I want you to pay attention to in relation to DMCA is when it concerns Copyright infringement issues and how you can use it.
What is DMCA?
DMCA is a part of Copyright law that gives the original owner of the copyright the ability to contact the hosting service of the infringing domain, file what is called a Takedown notice, present proof of holding the copyright, and ask the host to remove the content or take down the site.
You should be able to differentiate between Cease and Desist letter and a DMCA Takedown. Cease and Desist is sent to the infringer, while the DMCA takedown is filed with the hosting service for that infringer’s domain.
It’s important to note that you do NOT need to have your copyright registered before filing DMCA Takedown Notice. There is a lot of misinformation about this out there, where people hear incorrect data, and repeat it to others. Once again, you don’t have to have a registered copyright before you can file DMCA Takedown.
Filing DMCA Takedown notice
Before you send your DMCA Takedown Notice, you should establish the following things:
- That you either own the copyright to the infringed work or you’re authorized to assert a claim for copyright infringement;
- That the alleged infringement does not fall under an exception like the Fair Use exception or the Free Speech; and lastly
- Show that the content in question is capable of being infringed upon online-this means it’s either a text, photo, image, video, etc.
After you determine that you meet these bare-bones guidelines for filing a DMCA Takedown notice, you can start the actual process.
You need to be able to identify the correct person (or company) you’re sending your Takedown notice to. To find this information, you would again do a WHOIS lookup, and search for the section that gives information about hosts.
However, you can’t just send a Takedown notice to a random person at that company. You need the designated DMCA agent or department for that. This information is usually listed on the host’s website. You can search for under contact, inside legal policies, or do a search on the website to find the DMCA email or agent.
If you can’t find this information on the host’s website, try searching it on U.S. Copyright Office’s website where they have a directory for registered DMCA agents. This database is supposed to be updated on a regular basis. So you will most likely find what you’re looking for here.
Here is a quick video showing you how to access the directory, and how to find what you need:
Once you have the information you need, you need to file the Takedown notice. Some hosts and providers will have specific forms on their sites that you’re supposed to fill out for the Takedown. While others don’t have a form, which means you’re supposed to send them a letter in an email.
However, read the instructions on the host’s site carefully as sometimes they will specify how they want you to send the information to them. Follow the directions to the letter.
More often than not the hosting websites will review your request and either remove your content from the infringing domain’s site, or they will take down the entire website.
Next steps if dmca takedown doesn’t work
Sometimes, especially when the hosting website is outside of the United States, they will not comply or take down the website. In these situations, your next steps are gonna involve court action.
Going through the court to get a solution to this problem can be costly and time-consuming. However, if what you have is worth fighting for and protecting it, then, by all means, go for it.
However, keep in mind that for any court action, your copyright will need to be registered before you do anything. Once you register it (or if it’s already registered), then your first step should be to file an injunction in court. This means you’re asking the court to order the infringing party to stop using your content until the case is resolved and decided on.
When someone infringes your copyright, it’s almost like a personal attack. You spend all that time thinking, strategizing and creating content that will bring you traffic, subscribers, build your authority, and much more. Then someone comes along and copies all of that. If you ever wondered what you can do if your website content gets stolen, then I hope this post answered your questions.
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