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Monday, July 19, 2010

So Your Content Got Stolen, Now What?

Earlier today I published a post about the proper ways to reuse the content of another blog. Unfortunately, not everyone will read and or agree with that post and will continue to improperly reuse other people's content. If you find yourself in the position of seeing your content improperly reused, this post has some steps you can take to remedy the problem.

First, if you are at all concerned about people reusing your content you need to monitor your digital content. Google Alerts provides a very easy way to discover the unauthorized reuse of your content. Simply create a Google Alerts account and create alerts using keywords and phrases common to your blog. For example, I have alerts set up for many variations of my blog's title and for my name. My friend Sue Waters has some great advice about monitoring the use of your content and name online. In that same post Sue also explains how to use some other services to monitor your content and name online.

When you find your content reused by someone else here is a progression of steps you can take to remedy the problem.

Step 1: Try to determine if the person is doing it maliciously or innocently. This is important because it influences how I take my next steps. Determining this can be tricky, but generally if the blog reusing your content doesn't allow comments, doesn't have a contact email or form, uses a lot of inappropriate advertising, and or is reusing the content of many other blogs in the same way they're using your content they are intentionally stealing your content. In some cases though I've had teachers/ principals reuse my content innocently because they didn't understand fair use.

Step 2a: If there is a contact form or contact email available and if you think the person is improperly reusing your content because he/she doesn't understand fair use, send a strong, but polite (I left out polite once and I later wished I hadn't) email explaining the person that what he/she is doing is improper practice. Be sure to include some suggestions for properly reusing your content such as using truncated feed widgets. Feel free to share the info in this post with them.

Step 2b: If the offending blog doesn't have a contact form or email address posted, run a WHOIS search using Go Daddy, Whois.net, or Whois-Search to see who has registered the domain. When there isn't a proxy in place it's easy to locate the contact information (email, phone, fax, mail) for the person who registered the domain. Use that information to contact the offending site or blog's owner. In some cases the person who registered the domain might have used a proxy to hide their contact information. If that is the case it can be hard to find the contact information. Likewise, a Whois search will not work for subdomains. An example of a blog on a subdomain is contentthief.blogspot.com.

Before going any further I need to remind you that although I did well on the LSAT I am not a lawyer and do not pretend to be an expert on copyright and intellectual property law. Consult your lawyer if you think you need legal advice.

Step 2c: Provided you've found the contact information for the person improperly reusing your content and you think he/she is doing that maliciously go ahead and use the phrase copyright violation in the email you send. Sternly tell the person that they are violating your copyright rights, provide an example for the person, and give a clear deadline (48 hours is more than sufficient) by which they must remove your content from their site. Be sure to include wording indicating that you will pursue legal action if they don't take down your content. Usually, this takes care of the problem. Sometimes I hear back from the offending party and other times I do not hear back from the offender, but they do remove the stolen content.

Step 3: If you cannot get in touch with the offending party and or they do not remove your content, you can try to contact their hosting service. Inform the hosting service of the problem and be sure to give specific examples of plagiarism. I've done this only twice. Once I got a response and the other time I didn't get a response.

Step 4: The public option. If you cannot get anywhere using steps 1-3 above go ahead and publicly "out" the offender. Post it on your blog that someone is stealing your content, post it on Twitter, and generally try to embarrass the offending party into taking down your content.

If all of the above fails, then you have gone beyond any steps I've had to take and suggest that you consult a lawyer if you want to pursue the matter. But take solace in the fact that most splogs don't last very long.

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