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Hijacked! What To Do When Your Website is Stolen

Posted by Sherry Holub on: 2006-09-25 23:25:23

Self SEO > Internet Articles

Recently while checking the usage statistics for our company website I saw over 2000 "referrals" coming from a particular company. I usually investigate any links with such high numbers (often, it's as simple an article of ours that someone has placed on their website). What I was shocked to find when viewing this link, was that basically our entire website was duplicated on this site. Our copyrights were removed and replaced with this company's, and even our logo had changed to this company's name.

For those who have not experienced such a thing, consider yourself lucky. It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but usually, when you discover something like this, all you can think about is the hours and hard work you and your team have put into your website and the audacity of someone to come along and call it their own.

The internet, being the free and open place that it is, makes it easy for would-be thieves and not-so-savory companies to lift anything and everything from another website. It is important to take a stand when infringing material is found. Consequences of another individual or company using your written material, graphics, or even logo can damage your reputation, get you blacklisted by search engines, and more.

So how does one find out if this is happening and what can one do about it?

Stay Alert

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the way this incident was discovered was by checking for unusual traffic in our usage statistics program. This is a bit of software that most hosts provide with your website hosting package. Look for unusually high "hits" or traffic coming or going from any link. The culprit link on our statistics was found under the Total Referrers heading.

Some of the large corporations write special spider programs into their code to specifically seek out things such as: same names of images, same names of files, etc. Once these are found and flagged, they are investigated for any infringement.

Sadly, most infringements are never found, or are found completely by accident (such as typing something into a Google search or being alerted to it by someone you know). However, if you have a popular site, it is a good idea to regularly check statistics, have a spider created to protect your copy written material, or routinely do web searches containing some of your copy written material to make sure it doesn't show up anywhere you wouldn't want it to.


So what do you do when you find your material (text or graphics) on another website?

The first course of action is to perform your own research. Go through the website you find your material on and note which pages your content or graphics are being used on. Pay attention to any copyright statements that are on the website (for example, a website claiming your content as its own). In the case of articles note if the website mentions you/your company as the author. As you find violations, make screen captures or print outs of the offending material. Another very cool tool that you can use to help prove that you are indeed the owner of material is to try typing in your website address at the Internet Archive Way Back Machine (http://web.archive.org/collections/web.html). This website archives other websites over the years.

The next step is to find the contact information for the individual or company who operates the website. Most often, sites will have a contact page or at least an email written somewhere within the site. If you can't find anything, check the whois (http://www.whois.net) directory for who owns the site.

Once you have this information, you will need to compose a Cease and Desist letter to the individual or company. You can find samples of such a letter on the web by searching "cease and desist letter" in any of the search engines. If you or your company has access to the services of a lawyer, you can have them write and send the letter, but it is not required.

This is usually enough to have the individual or company remove your material.

If you receive no response from a company, you should perform at least 3 attempts to contact them, including physically mailing your letter before taking additional steps. Those additional steps can include contacting the hosting company (which can also be found through the whois directory) and explaining the situation. Usually a hosting company will also contact the offending website owner, and if they fail to hear from them, will delete the files from their server.

Your final option would be to peruse full prosecution of the individual or company, in which case you would need to consult with a lawyer who is familiar with general as well as internet copyright laws.

Quick Facts About Copyright and the Web

Even if a document or image on the Web does not have a copyright notice, it is still protected by copyright laws. No copyright statement or registration is required, although having the statement can only benefit you. With websites, a copyright can appear at the bottom of each web page, or even placed into your meta tags.

U.S. Copyright law is explicit that the making of what are called "derivative works" - works based or derived from another copyrighted work - is the exclusive province of the owner of the original work.

There is no "sure-fire" way to protect your website from being stolen, but by following the tips above, you can defend yourself if it is.

Useful Websites on Internet Copyright and Other Legal Issues


Sherry Holub received her degree in design from UCLA in 1995. She is now the Lead Designer and Creative Director at Southern California firm, JV Media Design. Sherry is also a member of the NAPP, the International Academy of the Visual Arts (IAVA), and Cambridge Who's Who.

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