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Someone Stole Your Website Content. Now What?

How to Respond to Website Plagiarism


When a competitor steals the copy on your website, it’s difficult not to be furious. After all, it’s your hard work and ideas that are now benefiting someone else. There are, however, some inexpensive actions you can take that might resolve the issue. Read on to learn my recommendations to a business owner who became the victim of plagiarism. — Susan Greene

Hi Susan,

I was hoping I could pick your brain about copyright stuff, since it is not my area of expertise. About two months ago, I discovered a business copied my website word for word. Not to mention they pretty much copied my business name and website URL, changing them only slightly from mine.

My company does education evaluations and career counseling in Atlanta, Georgia, and so does the company that copied me. 

I contacted a lawyer and he wrote a strongly worded letter to them. The result was that they did “rewrite” their website; however, I feel like the content is still very similar to my website. It’s clear they took my ideas and just changed a few words here and there in the copy.

My question is, how much “changing” of the content is required to avoid being sued for copyright infringement? I’m wondering if I still can and should go after them?

Also, I never went through a formal copyright procedure, so is my copy even protected? My website is {deleted} and their website is {deleted}.  Note the similarities with the design, copy and url domain! Any help or advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

Regards,

Karen

Hello Karen,

It’s nice to meet you. Congratulations on operating your own successful business. You’re clearly a standout in your industry, which is why you’ve become a target of your competitors. Everyone wants to be like the market leader.

First, let me explain that the work I do is as a copywriter, which is unrelated to copyright law. Having said that, I have frequently been the victim of copyright infringement, in which, much like your case, another business has stolen my web copy and ideas. So I do know a thing or two about the subject.

Even if you haven’t paid an attorney to copyright your works, your written works are protected by copyright law. And just because they’re published on the internet, free for public viewing, doesn’t give another person or business the right to steal your work.

That said, it is best to have a copyright symbol on your website to basically warn potential plagiarists that you take copyright infringement seriously. It should include the following elements:

  1. The symbol © (letter C in a circle); the word “Copyright”; or the abbreviation “Copr.”
  2. The year of first publication.
  3. The name of the copyright owner.

Regarding how much “changing” the plagiarist has to do to not infringe on your copyright is difficult to say. The truth is that unless you can prove significant monetary losses/damages to your company by virtue of their stealing your copy, it’s not worth suing them.

Despite all the lawsuits you hear about in the media, courtroom battles are expensive and time consuming, rarely worth the effort, especially for a small business with limited resources.

What you can do is try to scare the thieves, as you already did with your lawyer letter. It might be time to send another such letter in which you point out specific pages/paragraphs/sentences that you demand they change because of their similarity to your copy.

In the letter, you can also threaten to report them to Google. Google allows you to file a complaint under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and can remove or penalize a website using stolen copy. And you can mention in your letter the fact that Google knows when your website was launched and when the plagiarist’s site was launched, (it’s part of their algorithm for determining where to rank sites), so there’s no question who stole from whom, and therefore who to punish.

If you threaten to report the plagiarist to Google, it may be enough to scare them to change their copy so you ultimately don’t need to go through with reporting them to Google.

Also, as Google does know whose website was first, Google usually ranks the original higher than the copied version. So see where your website ranks for your main keywords. What words do prospective clients use to search for a service provider like you? See how your ranking compares with the plagiarists. Hopefully, you are ahead of them. And, if their copy is too similar, Google may very well not rank their site at all as Google doesn’t want to provide searchers with two websites that say the exact same thing.

To summarize, if I were in your shoes, here are the steps I’d take:

1) Quantify the offense. Identify the specific places that your competitor has plagiarized your copy. Evaluate if there are enough of them and they’re flagrant enough to merit further action.

2) Send a legal letter. If the plagiarized copy is truly too similar to yours, have your lawyer send them another nasty letter pointing out the specific instances of plagiarism. The letter should also threaten to pursue a copyright infringement lawsuit as well as reporting them to Google through the DMCA mentioned above.

Even if you don’t plan to follow through, the strongly worded letter from an attorney may be enough for them to back down. They’ve already demonstrated their fear by reacting to your first letter. And most people are afraid of the behemoth Google and how it can banish their site to Siberia, so don’t hesitate to leverage that power.

If you want to save on the lawyer’s fees, you can craft your own copyright infringement letter. I have one that I created that’s been surprisingly effective, considering I have no legal capacity. I’ve used versions of it probably maybe 30-40 times. Yes, that’s how often my copy has been plagiarized over the years!

In the letter, I make sure to sound businesslike and factual as I explain how I plan to report them to Google and pursue copyright infringement charges. I even include the link to the DMCA page on Google so they can see for themselves that “it’s a thing.”

Since the offending parties usually know what they did was wrong, my threats scare them into action and they remove the stolen copy, and I don’t need to take further action. Again, it’s a cheap alternative to paying an attorney to write a threatening letter for you, which can cost $300-$1,000. Ouch!

3) Improve your own website. Add to your content. Enhance each of your pages. Make your site different and better than theirs. Most likely, they won’t even notice that you’ve improved your site now that their site is up, so they’re unlikely to copy you.

Also, look for ways to target niches. So, for example, if you do education evaluations for students from K-12, create separate pages for evaluating elementary students, evaluating middle school students, and evaluating high school students. By having tightly focused pages targeting very specific niches and continually improving and adding to your website, you will out-rank your competitors.

There’s nothing you can do about the competition having a similar URL, so instead focus on getting your site to rank higher than theirs.

4) Consider your damages. Ask yourself if it really matters that a competitor has copied your site. How do you get your business? If it’s all referral-based or through schools and organizations that already have identified you as a preferred vendor, then stop worrying about being copied and focus only on doing a good job. Your clients will continue to hire your and refer you to others.

5) Keep leading. Probably the most important action you can take is to keep leading and ignore those who are following. Keep innovating. Keep creating. Keep challenging the status quo. That’s how you’ll continue to shine while your competitors are stuck playing catch-up.

Karen, I hope that helps. Good luck taking on the competition. And keep up the good work!

Susan Greene
Website Copywriter
Orlando, Florida

Hi Susan,

Thank you so much! I will definitely be looking into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and following through on your other suggestions. Thank you!

Your points 3, 4 and 5 really struck a chord with me. You are right–I am a preferred vendor and a market leader–and I shouldn’t worry about what some other company is doing. I think what bothers me most is having someone come into the field and just take everything I worked so hard to build.

I realize now I need to get past my feelings of anger and continue to focus on continually improving my website, doing good work and growing my business.  

Thank you! 

Karen

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