I am a member of several Facebook groups for web designers and developers which have helped me keep on top of news and updates in the world of WordPress. From time to time, folks sign on during a crisis (when a website unexpectedly goes down or a plugin or theme update goes awry).
Several weeks ago, I saw a post that read: “Grrr – Just found someone who’s copied my website word for word!!!!!”
It quickly became apparent that this British web designer was not the only one whose business site had been duplicated word for word. Another designer announced that he had “found 2 people copying (his) site using http://www.copyscape.com.
I clicked the link and to my surprise and dismay, I was soon looking at a website of a Chinese-Canadian web designer who had copy-and-pasted my bio, services page, FAQs, and several blog posts and posted it all as her own.
For example: here’s a screenshot of my bio:
And here is hers. The words highlighted in yellow are identical to my bio. I covered up her picture and words that would identify her:
I spent a lot of time on my website content and perhaps even more working on my site’s SEO, which has seen a slight drop lately (I’ll speak more to duplicate content penalties in a bit).
Before I contacted this individual, I wanted to understate exactly what I could do in light of this plagiarism.
What is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) is a U.S. Copyright Law that was ratified in 1998 and has heightened the penalties for internet copyright infringement, such as the duplication of published material on another website without permission. The Act narrows the liability to the party who has actually duplicated the content, rather than the website host. However, in some cases, deliberately linking to material that has been copied in violation of DMCA may also be deemed a violation.
Is My Material Copyrighted?
The short answer: Yes!
According to the US copyright office, which is a division of the Library of Congress (copyright.gov), your work is copyrighted and protected as soon as you create it in a tangible, recorded form. That means that you don’t have to go through a formal process of copyrighting your written material. However, you will have to undertake such a registration if you pursue a lawsuit in response to a copyright violation.
Copyright.gov provides specific instructions pertaining to websites. Website content is considered to be “work transmitted online.” Original authorship protects your “text, artwork, music, audiovisual material (including any sounds), and sound recording,” but does not protect “ideas, procedures, systems, or other methods of operation.”
You can officially register your online work for copyright by filling out a paper or online application through the US Copyright office.
How will duplicate information on another domain affect my website?
There is a lot of misinformation out there about duplicate content penalties.
Since 2011, Google has been penalizing websites for posting duplicate content. This means that if you post a guest blog post anywhere, you should link to it but not repost the content on your own site. In the scenario of another website duplicating your content, you will want them to remove it so that you are not penalized.
How can I respond?
Option 1– You can contact the owner and explain your knowledge of the situation and your ability to pursue legal action due to their violation of US Copyright Law.
Option 2– You can file a DMCA complaint with the hosting provider of the website that has duplicated your website. For example, Hostgator has an online form for complaints here.
Option 3– You can file a complaint with Google to penalize the website that has duplicated your website. Google’s inquiry form is here.
Option 4– You can hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit against the owner of the website which has duplicated your website.
How I handled it
After much careful contemplation and knowledge of what I could do to penalize the woman who copied my website content, I decided to write her an email explaining that I was aware of the duplicated content and asking why she copied it. I had this nagging thought that kept popping into my head– that perhaps she didn’t speak English very well and/or was unaware of basic copyright laws.
I received a REALLY nice, apologetic email the next day from the woman. She explained that English was not her native language and that she had asked her young daughter to help her create the content for her website. She had suggested that her daughter look at my content as inspiration but she copied, pasted, and never updated it.
I decided to ask if she would like my help editing a new bio for her. She took me up on it and I helped by revising the new bio, FAQs, and service copy that she created for her own website. I told her that if I had tried to write similar content in Chinese it wouldn’t have been nearly as good as hers! I hope that the new content will bring her some more business 🙂
I’m so thankful that I started by contacting her directly instead of filing a DCMA complaint with either her host or Google. She was quick to resolve the situation and I think many others would be as well. If they aren’t, then you can proceed to the other measures.
(If you haven’t checked to see if your content is duplicated elsewhere, I would take a moment to check at http://www.copyscape.com).
The moral of the story: Protect your online content– it is copyrighted under DMCA and it’s duplication will negatively affect your SEO. Also, it never hurts to assume the best. You might just make a new Canadian-Chinese friend!