It was a lovely Sunday morning and, getting a jump on the week, I decided to clean my inbox. There was a Google alert waiting for me, which isn’t unusual. I receive one anytime GoPetFriendly is mentioned on another website. It’s usually a good thing. Someone has referred to us in an article, or linked to our site from their blog, and I like to send a note thanking the author. This alert lead me to a much less pleasant discovery – copyright infringement.
Discovering You’ve Been Robbed
Clicking the link took me to the post I’d published on Friday … only not on my blog. If you’ve been around a while, you know this isn’t my first rodeo. In 2016 I discovered a publicly-traded company had stolen more than 200 posts from GoPetFriendly.com and republished them on their blog. So, when it looked like another case of infringement, I started poking around.
It turns out the owner of this domain scraped and republished 48 of my posts starting on October 2, 2018. Based on previous experience, I knew that my relaxing Sunday just went down the toilet.
If that’s where you are right now – struggling with the shock and outrage that your work has been stolen – my advice is to take a breath. Before you do anything, it’s important to decide on your next course of action.
Do you just want the infringing content removed? Are you going to demand compensation for the use of your work? Do you want the offender to suffer the consequences of his or her actions? Your answer to those questions will dictate your next steps.
Option 1: Remove the Infringing Content
Simply having the infringing content removed will require the least investment of your time and resources. If you’re able to track down the owner, you can try sending a request or a cease and desist notice. Many sites have a contact page, but if not you can check the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policies for any contact information. With this website, I struck out on all counts, so my next stop was the ICANN WHOIS Search.
Reporting the Infringer
The ICANN search showed that the person or business currently stealing my posts is using a privacy service to keep their personal information concealed. It’s not unexpected – I do it, too. The organizations that collect this information sell the email addresses for marketing purposes, so if you don’t use a privacy service, you get spammed into oblivion.
But not discovering the domain owner’s contact information on ICANN doesn’t mean there’s nothing more you can do. In my case, the registrar provided an email address which gets forwarded directly to the domain owner. Whether the domain owner responds or complies with your request is another matter.
You can also ask the listed registrar to provide you with the domain owner’s contact information. But in my experience, they’re not likely to turn it over. I sent a request to the registrar of the domain infringing on my work, and was told they would not provide the domain owner’s information without a court order.
The System Is Stacked Against Content Creators
The fact that these companies can refuse to provide the contact information for domain owners violating federal law is a huge issue with the system. First, the registrar’s own agreement clearly states that they can disclose the owner’s contact information if the “domain is alleged to violate or infringe a third party’s trademark, trade name, copyright interests or other legal rights of third parties.” I’ve provided more than enough evidence show to that’s the case, and yet they demanded a court order.
Further, the privacy service provided by these registrars is often free, or they may charge a few bucks a month. But getting a court order costs hundreds of dollars. By refusing to provide the requested information, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, they’re protecting content thieves and putting undo burden on content creators.
Despite an uncooperative registrar, we still have options. The ICANN search revealed the Name Servers for the infringing domain were at CloudFlare. That means CloudFlare is hosting the offending website. By filing an abuse report with them, it should be relatively easy to get my posts removed.
Most hosts have a form you can complete to report copyright infringement. Providing your name, contact information, links to the infringing posts, links to the original posts on your blog, and your signature, should result in the posts being removed from the infringing site within a few days. Be sure to keep assemble this information in an easy-to-access document, so if there are additional questions, you don’t have to re-create it all.
If the Host Won’t Cooperate
If you’re not getting a satisfactory response from the website hosting company, filing a complaint using Google’s copyright removal form will usually do the trick. It can take up to a week for the Google techs to respond, but they’re good about pulling down infringing content.
Option 2: Requesting Compensation for the Use of Your Work
In addition to having the infringing content removed, you might want compensation for the use of your work. If you’ve obtained the domain owner’s contact information, you can try including a license agreement in your email to them. This would give them retroactive permission to use your work and specify the amount of compensation they’ll pay you for it. You have the ability to set the expiration date and the deadline for their response for the agreement to be valid. If they agree to your terms, they will no longer be guilty of infringement and you’ll have some monetary settlement in exchange.
In reality, getting someone who was willing to steal your work to voluntarily pay up is rare. On the other hand, you don’t get what you don’t ask for! So hope for the best, but be prepared for rejection.
Option 3: Seeking Damages for Copyright Infringement
If you’re determined to be fairly compensated for the use of your work, it’s time to get to work. Your first step is to collect all the evidence. Capture screenshots of the “entire screen” for each infringing post, including the URL and the date and time the image was collected.
Gathering the Evidence
Screenshots will only show what appears on the screen before scrolling. So next you’ll want to collect an image of the entire post. These images will show the extent of the copyright infringement, including how many photos were stolen, the amount of text, and in my case, the fact that my registered trademark was included. There are probably other options, but I use a free Chrome extension called FireShot that allows me to capture the “entire page.”
The last step is to record all the infringing URLs. Yeah, they’re already in the screenshots you took, but having them in a document makes them easier to access. And it’s a cinch to copy and paste them from the infringing site.
Contact an Attorney
Once you’ve gathered all the evidence, it’s time to contact your attorney. The initial consult is usually free, but be prepared to provide a retainer if you want the attorney to represent you.
Your work is protected under copyright laws as soon as you produce it. But, to sue for damages, it must be registered with the copyright office. And that means you’ll have to pay the filing fees.
Once your work is registered, there are two types of damages available. The first, and more favorable option, is to sue for “statutory damages,” which are set by the court. For these damages to apply, your work must be registered with the copyright office BEFORE the infringement takes place, or within three months of the work’s production.
If you don’t make that deadline, suing for “actual damages” is another alternative. In this scenario, the court will rely on your testimony to determine the value of the infringed works. If you’ve been hired to write similar articles for other websites, or sold your work for publication, the compensation you received could indicate of the value of your posts.
One good piece of news is that, if you win, you should be able to recover your attorney’s fees. Also, the individual responsible for the copyright infringement can be held personally liable for the damages. That being said, litigation is a time-consuming, energy-sucking, money pit. If you’re going that route, steel your nerves, get your ducks in a row, and stand up for your rights!
Disclosure: I am not an attorney. I’m a blogger and website owner who’s had her copyrighted work stolen on many occasions. As a result, I’ve learned a few things about copyright infringement. I’m sharing my experience to help other who are in a similar situation. If you’re in that boat, contact your attorney for legal advice.
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