How to Prevent Content Theft
If you are using the internet for marketing your painting company, plagiarism and copyright infringement is an issue you will inevitably face twice. Once when you are building your site to make sure you are not using copyrighted material. The second time is every day after that to make sure your unique content is not being used by someone else.
Welcome to a whole new job you didn't know you applied for.
Here's what you need to cover both ends of your new job description.
Protecting Your Site from Plagiarism
Copyscape offers a a great service to monitor your site duplicate content on the internet. Because my website is large and I have a fairly extensive painting blog, I subscribe to its premium Copysentry service that will email me alerts whenever duplicate content appears on another site. For smaller sites, Copyscape also has a free content checker which checks individual pages.
If you are buying content, Copyscape Premium will scan the web and let you know if the copy is original or not. If you have hired a third party to design your website and you are not providing the copy for it, using a service like Copyscape is essential. Many site owners who are contacted after stolen material is discovered on their site will use the either naive or full on cop out excuse that they did not know. They hired a designer. Well, guess what? As the owner of the site, YOU are ultimately responsible for the content that is shown.
When it comes to photos, I am in the court that all the images on your site should be your own. If you are using stock images, make sure you are paying for them. To check if your own photos are being used elsewhere, simply use Google Images. Put the address of one of your photos into Google Image's search engine and searching by image will bring up copies of the image and even visually similar ones to yours.
Taking Action Against Copyright Infringement
If you discover your copy or photos are being used without your permission, take a deep breath. I was steaming mad the first time I discovered someone stole my website. I spend countless hours and a lot of money to make our website what it is and along comes some guy who copies and pastes all my hard work and calls it his own. Don't worry. The law and Google are on your side. Here is how to effectively tackle copyright infringement.
Contact The Website Owner Directly
Start with an email request to the offending site letting them know you have discovered your content on their website. I usually start simple, letting them know they might not be aware of this but it is hurting their Google rankings and it is in their own best interest to remove the duplicate content immediately. It's rather surprising how many people consider copying content or photos to be perfectly acceptable. After all, if it is on the internet and doesn't have a "buy now" price tag on it, it must be free, right? Not so much.
Contact The Web Host
Find out who the website hosting company through a whois lookup service. Most of the larger web hosting companies follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the "DMCA") and will remove plagiarized content if a complaint is filed. For example, Wix provides all the information required to file a complaint on their site. If the first email you send to the website owner is not effective, copy them on the complaint filed with their web site host.
A Step Further
In most cases one of the first two steps is all that is required to get duplicate content removed. Rarely do you need to take it a step further. However, if you have to, try contacting any advertisers or sponsors that might be on the offending site. You can also contact Google and file a complaint with them. Google might not have the power to take down a site but they certainly control the world of search and can push a site to the bottom of the pack for search results. Taking to social media can also be highly effective. If the company has a Twitter account, a few to the point tweets can make your point and create enough of a PR headache to help the offender to realize that it is best to remove your stuff.
The last option is of course to take legal recourse and hire a lawyer. Before you do this however, carefully weigh the cost, time and effort that will go into this process to decide if it is worth it.
Imitation is Hardly Flattering
The truth is that its easy to copy content from a website - text and photographs. Watermarking your photos helps protect them but unless you are watermarking across the entire photo, a simple amount of cropping can remove the mark. Using hidden layers, Flash, disabling right clicks can all help protect your images but that doesn't protect against someone taking a screen shot.
It's a new digital world which requires monitoring and diligence to protect your property from being stolen. It does't help that a large part of the population believe information and content is free for the taking on the web and have a "you should be flattered" response to copyright infringement. But that's a conversation for another day.
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