What can I do about Internet copyright infringement or trademark infringement by another Webmaster? Can plagiarism by another website hurt my rankings?
Copyright Violations and Search Engines
Yes, if there is duplicate or near-duplicate copy of your content on the Internet, your site could be at risk of falling in the search engine rankings, or even being removed completely. Your site could fall in the rankings if another Webmaster is using your content but does a better job at optimizing his or her site. At the least, the copy dilutes the search results for phrases included in the copy. In such a case, the Webmaster who copies your content is using your hard work to drive traffic to his or her site. A copy also puts your site at risk for receiving a duplicate content penalty from Google, AltaVista, and others. In theory, search engines will eliminate any pages that they see as copies in an effort to block search engine spam. Unfortunately, search engines are not very good at determining which site is the original.
- I have two websites that mirror each other in content but utilize different keywords and meta tags. Will this help my chances for ranking or hurt them?
Finding Copyright or Trademark Violations
We know your frustration. We scour the web monthly for sites that may be copying content or images we own, and never fail to find at least one copyright violation. We also regularly search for websites which are illegally using our clients’ trademarks or content. We consider removing violators to be part of our job in helping our clients to improve their search engine ranking. To find examples of copyright infringement or trademark violations for your site, try copying random snippets of text from your site and searching for the snippets using Google and Yahoo!. If you find a match, take a careful look at the site. They may be copying you. There are now several automated solutions to scanning and identifying copyright violations online. Read New Software Detects Plagiarized Passages by Amy Wong to learn about recent developments in copyright detection. If you find a copyright violation, take a deep breath and relax. You have options.
Filing Notices of Alleged Infringement: Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
When you find a copyright or trademark infringement, it is important that you keep your anger in check. Going on the hunt just isn’t professional, and won’t help. Do not contact the owner or Webmaster of the site that is illegally using your content. If you do that, you will just be tipping them off, and they are likely to quickly edit the copied material just enough so that the copyright violation becomes very hard to prove. It is best if you make your claims while the blatant copy is still online. If you want to punish the Webmaster for copying your content, and have their site removed from the search engines, or even from the Internet entirely, then you should take the following steps:
- Make screen shots of all relevant pages, including search results pages on the major search engines, and screen shots from the offending website. You can download free software for making screen shots at Download.com by searching for “screen shot” or “print screen.” View and save the source code from the offending website. Put these in a file along with any notes you have from when you originally created the material which was copied. This is your proof that you created the work, and may be needed by your attorney at a later time if you choose to sue the offender.
- File notices of alleged infringement that comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) with each search engine or directory where the infringing site is listed. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act empowers you to send a notice to any directory or search engine that lists the offending site and demand that they remove any links to the offending site. Yes, you can make Google, Yahoo!, and all the others take the site out of their search results.
- File notices of alleged infringement (DMCA) with the Webmaster’s hosting company or ISP. You can have the site removed from the server where it is hosted. But first, you have to find out where the site is hosted.Perform a WHOIS search on the domain name at NetworkSolutions. You are likely to find the host listed as either the technical contact or listed in the domain servers section. Another method for tracking down the ISP of the infringing website is to determine the IP address of the site which is violating your copyright. You can find the IP address by either pinging the site or by using an NS Lookup tool, such as the one offered at Webmaster-Toolkit.com. After you know the IP address of the infringing site, go to the American Registry for Internet Numbers (Arin.net) and perform a WHOIS search using the IP address. Arin.net will tell you who owns the IP address where the site is hosted, thus telling you who to contact with your notice of alleged infringement of copyright or trademark.
- Contact your attorney and send them copies of all the materials, and ask them to send a Cease and Desist letter to to the owner or Webmaster of the offending site. If you have filed for copyright protection for your website, you may sue the offending owner or Webmaster for damages, including attorney’s fees. If you have not filed for copyright protection, you will not be able to sue for damages. Just putting a copyright claim on your site does not complete the process. To learn more about how to copyright your website and protect your intellectual property online, visit Benedict.org, the Copyright Website.
Results of Filing: Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
Approximately 2-10 days after you send the DMCA requests, the offending site should be removed from each of the directories and search engines.UPDATE JUNE 28, 2005: At this point, it is taking Google more than 7 months to process DMCA requests. We last filed DMCA complaints with Google in November, 2004, and the offending sites were not removed until June, 2005.Here is an example of what happens when Google removes a site:
Example from SEOLogic.com:
Google search: “analyze your competition to determine what search engine battles”
Notice at the bottom of the page:“In response to a complaint we received under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint for these removed results.”
If you sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act request to the site host, it should be taken down. Then, the Webmaster who thought it would be easier to get ahead by stealing your work will learn a valuable lesson in life. We are pleased to have helped you to teach him or her that lesson.