It’s simple to copy someone else’s hard work online. All you do is right click and save to your desktop and then insert where you feel appropriate. It’s a growing trend that niggles many business owners. It’s not just passing minnows that steal your valuable content – some of the larger organisations are pretty good at it too!
Earlier this year we produced an infographic to highlight the demographics of UK Social Media Users. Not only is the article and accompanying infographic copyright protected, the graphic also contains our trademarked logo. To date this graphic has been stolen by no less than two higher education establishments who thought it was fine to take the image and use it on their sites. Of course it doesn’t matter to them, that to create this content took me a considerable amount of time researching the data and composing the content, it took our graphic designer a sizable amount of hours to create the graphic, which as his employer, the company pays for his time.
One organisation, a college ‘up North’, apologised profusely when we contacted them to complain. The college staff were contrite and rather shamefaced, we did in fact give permission, with correct accreditation, for this institute of higher education to use the image. The other, a university on the south coast, simply moved the infographic onto a page only accessible via login for their students to view privately. The fact that these institutions are teaching social media and digital marketing is a little worrying as they appear also to be encouraging their students to steal what they want, when they want.
Very recently a relatively local competitor took the entire article and image, posted it to their social media page with no accreditation other than to mention me personally by name. We are a limited company which is a separate legal entity with rights of its own and it is the company that owns all of the website content. The attitude of this competitor when I asked him to remove our property was almost – it’s your loss – really?!?! I hardly think so!
It is, of course, a perennial problem for businesses who produce good content. There’s always the chance that someone might just like to take the easy route and ‘borrow’ your content – after all it’s not like there’s a lock on your web pages.
Personally I don’t have a problem granting permission to use a portion of our content if the site includes an appropriate accreditation, there are limitations and restrictions we place on these requests. Permission MUST be sought you can’t just take the entire content of an article or webpage, credit the owner and presume everything is legitimate. If someone is stealing large amounts of hypertext from your site and reproducing it on theirs, then it can have an effect on search engine ranking as well as your online credibility. You must defend your property!
Website Content Theft – What Can You Do?
First of all, check that your content is not being duplicated elsewhere and do it on a regular basis. Assuming what you have written is original, you can use a tool like copyscape.com for written work but there are also similar sites for images and infographics.
If you discover someone has copied your content without permission then try to find the right person to contact directly. If it is a big organisation then they should have a readily available list of higher staff members you can browse. Most businesses should have contact numbers, email addresses or postal address, if they are reputable.
Your initial response should be to contact them and ask them to immediately remove the content they have taken. If they are a well-known site then they will generally take down the item and apologise. The problem is often with smaller, lesser known sites, where nothing happens when you complain. Then things become a lot more complicated.
When the person or organisation who has taken your content refuses to remove it or even reply to your request, then it may be time to threaten legal action. I now have a standard process of writing to the culprits and at my discretion either demand the content is removed within 24 hours and a full apology made or (and this usually depends on the site, their reputation and the attitude of the respondent) grant permission with appropriate and full accreditations.
You can of course contact the host of the infringing site and ask them to block the content or you could contact any advertisers that the site displays, all of which takes time and effort and which can have varying effects depending on where the site is hosted and how much the advertisers value their reputation. There’s no doubt that when it gets down to this level the copyright issue for businesses is a mess. At this stage I would recommend seeking legal advice.
The trouble is that many people think they can just take what they like from around the World Wide Web and not have to bother about issues such as copyright or even asking permission. This is simply not true, there are large image companies out there that make a decent living from suing people who use their property without either paying for it or receiving permission. I am not suggesting this is the right route for you – but I certainly would not take this type of theft lying down!