If you have a blog or a website, you probably put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into writing your content, or paid a professional copywriter to do it for you. Either way, when you’ve made the effort to publish something that’s uniquely yours, it can be beyond frustrating to discover that someone has adopted it as their own.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your website content, and it doesn’t involve paying expensive legal fees. If you’ve spent a lot of time exploring this site, you may have noticed a small banner at the bottom which says PAGE PROTECTED BY COPYSCAPE DO NOT COPY. Today I’m going to explain what Copyscape is, how it works, and how you can use it to protect your intellectual property.
Copyscape is a plagiarism detection solution. You simply enter a URL into their search box, and it will quickly bring up a list of any other web pages using the same content.
I tried it a few years ago, but it didn’t identify any problems, so it slipped off my radar until a client asked me to do a write-up for her last summer. In order to refresh my memory as to how the site worked, I entered my home page URL into their search box, and was shocked to discover that not one but two other virtual assistants were using my content on their websites, with only minor modifications. By following Copyscape’s Guide to Responding To Plagiarism, I was able to deal with the problem myself.
Step 1: I sent the following email to the website owners:
It has come to my attention that you have taken verbiage directly from my website. Perhaps you are not aware that this is a violation of copyright.
I respectfully request that you remove such text from your website immediately.
Janet Barclay, MVA
Step 2: Two weeks later, I sent the following follow-up email:
I am very surprised that you have not removed my content from your website as requested in my previous email (see below).
If said content is not removed by [two weeks later], I shall be forced to pursue legal action.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation.
Janet Barclay, MVA
One person did not respond to either email. The other responded with an apology, an explanation that she was not aware that the person who created her website had done this, and a promise to look after it (a promise she did not keep).
Step 3: On the deadline mentioned in my email, I checked Whois to identify the hosting company for the websites in question.
Step 4: I visited the hosting company’s websites to find their requirements for filing a complaint.
Step 5: I filed complaints with the hosting companies according to the instructions outlined on their websites.
Once the hosting company reviewed my complaint, the offending sites were taken down, and I have to admit that it felt really good!
I’ve gone through the process several times since then, after finding my content in other locations. In some cases, there was no content information provided on the site, so I went right to Step 3.
Your copyright is not restricted to your website content. If you submit articles to article directories which allow others to republish your articles along with a link back to your website, and someone uses your article but doesn’t include your link, they are in violation of copyright too. (Disclaimer: I am not a legal expert. This worked for me, but your situation may be different.)
Of course, the little graphic at the bottom of my page doesn’t have any special powers to prevent plagiarism, but it does let would-be thieves know that I am committed to protecting my intellectual property and that if they steal it, they will get caught.
I’m using the free version of Copyscape, but premium services are also available that offer automatic monitoring.
Between blog scrapers and new website owners who aren’t aware that everything on the Internet isn’t free for the taking, copyright infringement is a problem that’s not going to go away. It is well worth the effort of making sure you’re not a victim!
Photo Credit: Horia Varlan