It can be easy to forget that every single piece of online content has been paid for in one way or another. From new business owners creating HTML code in their spare time to freelance copywriters assembling blogs and e-brochures, web content is always traceable to a specific individual. Indeed, it legally belongs to the person who produced it or paid for it. Any reuse or republication is effectively a form of internet piracy, potentially incurring the full weight of civil law.
However, copyright infringement may do more than simply breach intellectual property law. Duplicated content can damage a website’s search engine optimisation score in various ways, from sites being marked down because of plagiarism through to potential drops in visitor numbers if the same material is available elsewhere. Customers aren’t going to understand which web page originally hosted the content – they’ll just visit whichever one appears first in Google or Bing results.
These are UK2’s recommendations for dealing with copyright infringement, whether it involves text or graphics, video, and audio, databases or web code:
Protecting your content
1. Use a web archiving utility such as the Way Back Machine to confirm your site hosted the content first. WBM has archives of web pages going back to the 1990s.
2. If the content has been reproduced without permission, send a written letter to that company (or an email if the company doesn’t have a postal address). Include the following details:
(i) Your name, your website address and the nature of any complaint
(ii) The date when the content was first published on your website
(iii) Side-by-side copies of your work and the plagiarised content, highlighting replicated spelling errors or identical Google Analytics code snippets
(iv) The date you noticed plagiarised material had been reproduced
(v) Your legal rights under the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988 or the Universal Copyright Convention (for domestic or overseas cases respectively)
(vi) A calm explanation of what you want to happen next – a written apology, or all plagiarised content to be removed from the offender’s site within 28 days.
(vii) A clear warning that further steps will be taken if this deadline is ignored.
3. If the deadline passes without any action being taken, it’s time to engage a local solicitor. You could also notify the plagiarist’s ISP of an intention to prosecute.
4. If the solicitor is unable to resolve the issue in writing, it’s time to lodge an action with the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, or your local small claims court.
5. You could also notify Google and Bing that copyrighted work is appearing in search results for unauthorised third parties. This could see those sites blacklisted in future results.
Getting in first
The following tips should also help you to pre-emptively protect content from plagiarism or unauthorised reuse, demonstrating that copyright infringement has definitely occurred:
- Run occasional plagiarism checks using a platform like Copyscape, or simply paste part-sentences into Google. If your website is unique, no other results will appear.
- Add a copyright notice to each page of your site. It doesn’t enhance your legal protection, but it’s likely to deter spontaneous or opportunist copyright infringement.
- Register material with the UK Copyright Service for pre-emptive and independent proof you uploaded it prior to anyone else attempting to lay claim to it.
- Apply a watermark to online images and graphics; ensure they appear in search results as under copyright; add meta descriptions mentioning your name/brand.
- Keep detailed notes of the dates when each stage of a copyright infringement case occurred. This will be useful if legal proceedings ever get underway.