Dealing with Plagiarism

It is going to happen to every author. It's just a fact of modern life. Your content is "borrowed" by someone who has no qualms about violating your copyright and engaging in plagiarism. Here are the steps you take in order to track down who this person is.

Do Not Panic
When it first happens, it can be upsetting to have your personal content used by someone else without your permission. I realize it is challenging, but look on it as a compliment. They think your content is so great that they wanted to use it themselves! People rarely steal "bad" content :) So this is a good thing! You're being found, you're being read, you're being appreciated!

Sometimes editors get upset because they disagree with the content the website offers (i.e. adult content). Again, life is too short to get upset by this. There are many other things in life far more deserving of your energy. Content theft happens. It's a common problem on the web. The key is to be calm, professional, and diligent about following up.

Here are the steps to get it stopped.

Search Their Site for a Contact Link
Most websites have a contact link somewhere on the site. Look around for one. Usually the link is in the footer area. See if you can track one down. If not, usually if you put "webmaster" at the front of their URL, that works. So for example, for BellaOnline.com the email address would be webmaster@bellaonline.com.

Use Netsol's WHOIS for More Information
By law, every website is required to publish a contact link publicly with the WHOIS database. So to begin with, go here -

NetSol WHOIS Search

Put in the URL you are interested in.

The results look confusing, but you want two things.

First: the registrant email. This is the email address of the owner of the site. This is the main person you want to start writing.

Second: The Sponsoring Registrar. This is usually the company the registrant bought their website through. So for example the person who owns the site might be Joe Smith in Iowa, but the registrar would be GoDaddy.com. This is important to get too. If you can't get Joe Smith to respond to you, you can certainly get GoDaddy.com to respond to you - and they will probably quite happily shut down the person's entire website if you can't resolve the issue quickly. Registrars do NOT want to be hosting illegal content in their system.

So now you know who to write. It's time to write them.

Be Professional

It's tempting to rant about all sorts of things when writing to a "thief". It can cause GREAT harm to do this - because they can become defensive and refuse to do anything at all. The key is to be professional. Keep your email short, sweet, and to the point. Something along the lines of:

----------------------------------

To: Mr. Thief.
From: Lisa Shea

It has come to my attention that my copyrighted material, found here:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

has been illegally duplicated at your website, at this URL:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Take down your illegal copy of the content immediately, and respond back to confirm that this has been done.

Lisa Shea

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Save any more nasty language for future messages. For now, you want to be short, sweet, and to the point. Copy in the registrar on the message so that they know what's going on.

Give them seven days to respond and comply.

If they haven't responded in seven days, then write them again with stronger language. This is message round #2. Keep track of all of these steps in a spreadsheet so it becomes a normal part of your routine. Again, this is going to happen. It is simply a part of running a web business.

Perhaps half of websites will have taken action by now. They have millions of other sites to steal from and it's not worth it to them to deal with this. However, the other half might ignore you or might not be reading their email. Time to move on to the next step.

Now, directly contacting the registrar by email or phone. Again start with a basic polite message. They are simply a hosting company, and they need to know you are a valid professional writer and not someone who just hates this website in question. Again, give them a week. If they do not respond, write your more strongly worded message and follow up with a phone call. Pretty much all ISPs should have phone numbers listed if only for technical support and sales reasons.

In the end once the registrar sees proof that the content is stolen they will in most cases simply shut down the person's website, so that is going to be your best bet. In a very rare few cases - and usually if the registrar is feeling defensive - will they refuse to take the content down.

If you're really gung-ho to take this site down, then it's time to make sure you have the basics covered. Did you file for copyright protection? That's an easy, cheap thing to do and will greatly help your legal standing. Do that now. Once it's registered, send proof of that registration to the registrar. Again don't be nasty - that only causes them to become even more defensive. Be simple and straightforward. Now they know they're facing serious $25,000+ penalties if they keep the content up.

So if they directly refuse to take the content down, knowing you have a case worth at least $25,000 plus other damages, it's well worth it to talk to a lawyer. A lawyer would probably take this case on for fees paid after you win, since they know the check will be substantial. But really, once you're at the point of having filed and informed them of that, it usually stops there.

Good luck!

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