It started out as a lovely Sunday morning and, to get a jump on the week, I decided to clean out my inbox while I drank a mug of tea. There was an email from Google waiting for me – an alert I asked to be sent anytime GoPetFriendly is mentioned on another website. It’s usually a good thing … someone has referred to us in an article, or linked back to our site from their blog, and I like to send a note thanking the author for helping spread the word.
This alert lead me to a much less pleasant discovery.
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 I started poking around.
It turns out the owner of this domain has scraped and republished 48 of my posts starting on October 2, 2018. Based on previous experience, I knew my relaxing Sunday just went down the toilet.
If that’s where you are right now – struggling with the shock and outrage that something you’ve poured your heart and soul into has been stolen – my advice is to take a breath. Before you take any action, it’s important to decide what your preferred course of action is going to be. Do you just want the infringing content removed? Do you want to be compensated 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.
The option that will require the least investment of time and resources on your part is to simply have the infringing content removed and move on. If you’re able to track them down, you can try reaching out to the owner of the website directly with either a straightforward request, or a cease and desist notice if you want to be more assertive. A lot of sites have a contact page, but if not you can try perusing the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policies to see if they contain any contact information. With this website, I struck out on all counts, so my next stop was the ICANN WHOIS Search.
The ICANN search showed that the person or business currently stealing my posts is using a privacy service called WhoIsGuard 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 out the wazoo.
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 NameCheap.com, 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.
From my perspective, the fact that these companies refuse to provide the contact information for a domain owner who is in violation of federal law is one of the biggest problems in the system. First, NameCheap’s agreement with all their privacy service clients 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 NameCheap with more than enough evidence show to that’s the case, and yet they’re demanding 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 domain infringing on my work were at CloudFlare. That means CloudFlare is hosting the offending website, and 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 (keep this list in an easy-to-access document, so you don’t have to recreate it if there are any additional questions), 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.
In addition to having the infringing content removed from the offending website, you may want to request 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 you must receive their response by 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 suddenly agree to 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.
If you’re determined to be fairly compensated for the theft of your work, even if that means going to court, your first step should be to collect the evidence. Start by collecting a screenshot of the “entire screen” for each infringing post, capturing the URL and the date and time the image was collected.
These shots will only show what appears on the screen before scrolling, so the next you’ll want to collect an image of the entire post. These files show the extent of the 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, you already have them in the screenshots you took, but it’s also good to put them in a document where they can be easily accessed, and it’s a cinch to do that when you can copy and paste them from the infringing site.
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’s help moving forward.
It’s important to know that, while your work is protected under copyright laws as soon as you produce it, to sue for damages it must be registered with the copyright office. And there are two types of damages that are available. The first, “statutory damages,” are set by the court and don’t require you to provide evidence of the value of your work. For these damages to apply, the work must be registered with the copyright office BEFORE the infringement takes place, or within three months of the work’s production.
The alternative is to sue for “actual damages,” which means 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 if you’ve sold your work to magazines for publication, these may provide an indication 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. It’s also comforting to know that the person responsible for causing the infringement can be held personally liable for the damages. That being said, litigation can be a time-consuming, energy-sucking, money pit … so 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 and has learned a few things along the way. I’m sharing my experience in hopes that it might help someone who’s dealing with a similar situation. If you’re in the same boat, contact your attorney for legal advice.