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COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT REVISITED


I wrote an article a few years back after our website had experienced copyright infringement violations by several new consulting, accounting and legal businesses that sold business services. It was surprising that people and companies touting themselves as professionals would commit copyright infringement by copying business, product, and even personal information and using it on their websites. These were not businesses in India, China, or Africa where you see a lot of this; these were Canadian and American businesses where the owners took it upon themselves to take shortcuts and not spend the time to create consulting engagements or a business around themselves, but decided to take information from another business and market as their own.


New Infringement Case

It has been a while since I had chosen to check this, so I went to the product we use that scans websites for information identical to your site's pages. There are several out there, but we use Copyscape, a cost-effective tool that a web developer friend told me about over ten years ago.


I ran a new scan recently and found a business in North York in Toronto that had copied a large consulting firm's business name and used our website to create their own. They copied our services verbatim and used our tagline, mission statement, and business values as their own.

It blows your mind as a business owner that after you have spent thousands of dollars, time, effort, and reputation building a business, someone would come by and steal your information and try to develop their business based on the work you have accomplished.


I emailed the business and gave them two weeks to take the information down, or I would report them to Google and their Registrar/ ISP. This warning went on deaf ears, and I do not think they thought I would follow through.


I followed through 2 weeks to the day, contacted their ISP, and filled in the paperwork from Google. Within 2 hours of contacting their ISP, the ISP took the website down and received a 404 error if you typed in the site.

My goal is not to put someone out of business. Still, if they are arrogant enough to take information from another business and use it as their own and even after being contacted, they ignore the warning and plan to continue; they deserve what they get.


How to Protect Yourself

Don't be like me and think this can't happen to you. After my friend told me I should check my website, I had two different businesses copying content on the first pass. One was using personal information about myself and marketing it as them. They had no experience or education and were using my credentials as their own.


Here are the steps you can follow

  1. Use a product like CopyScape and check individual pages on your website. Focus on product and service information and any pages about your business.

  2. Once you have a list of websites that have copied information, send them a cease and desist letter outlining the areas they have copied and give them time to make the appropriate changes. A lawyer that I used for the first infringement violation gave the business two weeks, which is plenty of time to rewrite web pages or take them offline until they have time to rewrite.

  3. In the meantime, go to Domain.com and determine who is the registrar for the domain; this can also be who is hosting the domain in most cases. Domain registrars also have rules around copyright infringement, so you don't need to find out who is hosting.

  4. While giving the business two weeks, use this time to go to Wayback Machine website. This website records changes to websites so you can go back and prove that you had the information prior.

  5. Once the 2 weeks has passed, and in most cases, it will, because most of those individuals who do this believe you cannot do anything, you will send your findings to their domain registrar / ISP. You can find the information on the website. Most have forms to fill in on their website that are sent to their legal department. Attach screen captures of both your site, the offender, and the Wayback Machine files proving you wrote and posted your content first. Most act very quickly and, in most cases, will take the website down.

  6. In addition, you will want to contact Google and have their website deranked. The following article by Redpoints.com provides the information you require to do this. Google takes this seriously. In the case above, I was contacted by Google 2 days later, saying they could not find the content reported. In this case, the registrar/ISP had already taken down the website, so it was not there.


Summary

Running and marketing a business and your products and services is challenging enough without other companies trying to make money from your hard work and content. You spent a lot of time developing your business and your products and services to have this happen. Don't think this cannot happen to you; it absolutely can. In one case, a business had paid an outside web company to write its content, and the web company stole the content. It doesn't matter as the copyright is with the company and website, not the web company. It is up to the business to make sure what is written about their business is true and is not taken from another business.


If you are someone that is starting out as a business owner, think about the repercussions of using other's content that is copyright protected instead of taking the time to develop your business and your messaging yourself. You could end up having your business name ruined very quickly. If the business gets a lawyer, you could find yourself in bankruptcy court before you begin with a civil litigation against you.

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