What to Do When Someone Plagiarizes Your Content


500px-Red_copyright.svg_-150x150You’ve been diligent and invested the time and resources to create original copy promoting your products and/or services. Your team has put together a blog that speaks specifically to how they have resolved pains particular to your industry. Then wham – you find it all on someone else’s website.

Plagiarism Today offers a thorough list of steps to detecting plagiarism and how to then deal with it. Plagiarism Today Editor, Jonathan Bailey, a copyright and plagiarism consultant, notes that business content is increasingly being pilfered.

“In nearly all cases where a business is the victim, it’s another business doing the plagiarizing,” notes Bailey.

Cease & Desist

First, contact the plagiarist via a cease and desist letter. Tell them to remove the content, give them a deadline and lay out the consequences for not complying. Your level of success can vary depending on where the offending party is.

I once worked for a business that had its professionally-shot product photographs reused by a competitor both on and offline. Both companies were in the same city. My boss and I crafted a letter using our collective copyright knowledge. The company quit using the photos shortly after that.

You can gather copyright information by visiting the US Copyright Office or the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

DMCA Notice

If they don’t act, file a notice to have the infringing material removed from the web. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protects online service providers from being found liable for copyright infringement – in return, they must remove infringing material fast when notified.

If the same offender has repeated complaints against them, they may have their website blocked completely.

Be forewarned, filing a DMCA notice is a very detail-oriented (and some say painful) procedure, so prepare yourself accordingly.

Take Legal Action

You may also opt to go to court, though this can be tricky, not to mention costly, if the offending party is in a different country.

If you have already sent the cease and desist letter, ramp it up a notch and have it sent on a lawyer’s letterhead. If you happen to have a lawyer friend who will pass on his letterhead gratis, all the better. Often a threat that seems viable, regardless of whether following through actually is viable, will do the trick.

If you’re looking for a good starting point, Plagiarism Today provides free Cease & Desist and DCMA (to host and search engine) stock letters.

An Ounce of Prevention

If you haven’t been burned and want to avoid it, there some steps you can take to better safeguard your content, says Bailey.

Though with text, there is little you can do to prevent it from being copied, you can carefully track it. Bailey suggests using Google Alerts for static content and FairShare for a dynamic website such as a blog “or anything else in an RSS feed.” Both of these tools are free.

For images or videos, “the only sure-fire technique is to place visible watermarks on your image to ensure that, if they are taken, they will be attributed to you,” Bailey says. With images, you could register your works with an automatic monitoring service like ImageRights – Bailey has put together a step-by-step guide to doing this.

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