Stop! Thief! My Web Site Was Stolen!

John Yunker of Global by Design posted a link on his Twitter feed just before the holidays that pointed to a BBC article describing how a company called Lingo24 had their web site lifted and used verbatim by another company in China. Very little attempt was made to even change the content and images!

Pretty amazing, but more common than you might think.

This very thing happened to me at a previous company. A company in our same industry operating out of Central Europe had “borrowed” our content for their site. I can’t recall exactly how we discovered it at this point, but it was likely either a tip or a rogue meta tag that got caught by Google. The nerve of this other company was stunning to us at the time. They had described our services, even using the name of a proprietary technology as if it was their own. And though they apparently used pictures of their actual executives, the exec’s bios were lifted exactly from our team, right down to where they went to college!

Hopefully this won’t happen to you, but if it does, there are some things that you CAN do.

  1. Document everything, immediately. Take screen shots of everything that is duplicated off of your site from both their site and yours. Chances are good this content will disappear rapidly once they are caught, it’s important to have documented evidence if needed later.
  2. Once the infringement is documented, contact the various internet regulatory bodies to notify them of the theft. There may not be much they can ultimately do, but you should formally register the complaint to ensure you maintain legal ownership of the content.
  3. Draft a sternly worded letter to the executives and contacts listed on the company’s site. Send it also to whomever is the registered owner of the domain name.

In our case contacts were easily found. Once the company received the letter, they immediately flipped out the content and apologized, indicating that they had been using our content on their development servers while they went through a site refresh. Apparently the web team had “accidentally” let that content go live. While we didn’t believe them, the desired result had been achieved so we let it drop at that point.

While that worked in our case, certainly there will be times where you will have to pursue further legal action using the international web dispute and governance mechanisms. It is time consuming and difficult, and potentially impossible even in some countries, so you will have do your own cost-benefit analysis.

One thing we did right after the incident however was create Google alerts for relatively complex phrases and a few key terms. We didn’t expect they would ever generate a result, but if they did, we would be alerted early to a potential content theft.

And as always, stay vigilant.

Additional useful links:

http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2006/04/10/what-do-you-do-when-someone-steals-your-content/

http://www.wipo.int/portal/index.html.en

www.icann.org

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