When I started playing music about 15 years ago, I had a band with some friends and we recorded some of our songs (demos) and I remember someone told me to put everything we had on a tape or CD and mail it to ourselves. This way we’d have the date stamp on the package and should anyone rip one of our songs we’d have the proof that we came up with the ideas first.
It sounded like a simple and easy way to protect our material. Of course this was never meant to replace copyrights, but we were 13-14 and that seemed like a good enough solution, especially since we had absolutely no budget :)
Needless to say that something like this would not work today, and would certainly never work for web designs and online content! Especially because of the amount of content available online, the tons of different ways you can license your work, the fact that your rights will vary from country to country, and other issues like bandwidth theft, splogs and scrappers.
Trust Me. It Will Happen!
I’m no stranger to content and even bandwidth theft and many of my designs and content have been ripped, stolen and copied countless times. That’s not because I have the best ideas around or because I produce content like crazy. It’s simply because I’m an active internet user, I run blogs and I produce designs for both myself and for my clients. Probably similar to what you do.
If you think no one ever stole any of your work it is only because you haven’t found out about it yet! Trust me, it will happen. It sucks, but there are ways to deal with this.
If you follow me on Twitter you probably already know that I have no respect for thieves. I’m kind enough to give a chance or two, but I hate sitting there and do nothing when I know someone is stealing my work.
I know some people just figure there’s no use fighting against thieves but if everybody were to think like that we might as well all put our work available in the public domain right away. Not for me.
Most plagiarists don’t expect to get caught and, when they do, they generally go along with the demands to avoid escalation. Many will do so silently, never writing back and others will write back to apologize or make excuses… Plagiarism Today
Tools To Find Out If Someone Is Stealing From You
Of course the first step is to actually find out if someone is stealing from you. You should also get yourself familiar with terms like ‘fair use‘ and ‘public domain‘. Being educated about copyright will definitely go a long way.
If you write a blog I suggest setting Google Alerts for key phrases and words and also try out Copyscape. Also, if you find out that someone is stealing designs or content from someone you know, why not let your friends know about it so they can do something?
Here are some tools and things you can do to find out if someone is stealing from you:
Google Alerts: Setup some alerts for keywords related to your website. For example, I have alerts setup for ‘Spyre‘, ‘SpyreStudios‘, ‘Jon Phillips‘, and many others.
Copyscape is a great tool! Simply enter your site URL and Copyscape will try to find if some of your content has been copied. It can be a bit time-consuming to go through all of this, but doing this every once in a while should help.
Incoming links and trackbacks in WordPress: If you run a WordPress blog you should see a box in your dashboard with all the latest incoming links. Most of those sites will be legit and that’s great! But sometimes you’ll sometimes find links coming from sites that are stealing from you. Do something about it!
Bandwidth usage on your server: look for unusual spikes and check to see where this traffic came from. Scrapper sites and splogs usually don’t receive much traffic (makes me wonder why they even bother) so it may be difficult to tell if someone is stealing your bandwidth, but it’s worth checking this every once in a while. Bandwidth theft is just as bad a design and content theft.
Network with other designers: You’d be amazed how often I get emails from fellow designers telling me an article or a design I did has been stolen. Get out there and make some friends! It will go a very long way :)
Preventing Hotlinking And Bandwidth Theft
There’s many ways you can deal with hotlinking and bandwidth theft. My favorite method is to replace the hot-linked images with another image of my choice. It’s actually very easy to do. This post by David Airey should help.
Here’s my image:
If thieves don’t comply, at least I find comfort in knowing this image is showing up on their sites.
Someone Stole Your Stuff?
Once you find out that someone is stealing from you, here are some basic things you can do. I’m not a lawyer and those are simply things I picked up along the way. What you decide to do first is up to you, but don’t jump the gun, some people simply aren’t aware they’re in the wrong.
Make sure you take screenshots and keep track of email communications. Some thieves will comply, some won’t, and others will take forever to comply but eventually will. There is no excuse for content, design or bandwidth theft, but being kind and giving people a chance to comply would be a good idea.
- Send an email asking that the infringing material gets taken down
- Leave a comment on the infringing blog if it’s a blog article
- Tweet about it
- Send a DMCA take-down notice
- Contact the host – do a who.is search
- Send a DMCA to Google
- Let advertisers know about it – take away the thief’s revenues and he’ll eventually go away
In the end, annoyance is a legitimate tactic. – Plagiarism Today
Resources And Blogs About Copyright And Plagiarism
There’s many blogs, articles and resources about copyright, plagiarism and content theft out there and I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Those should give you a head start and point you in the right direction:
- Plagiarism Today
- Copyright Law: 12 Dos and Don’ts
- The 20 Best Free Anti-Plagiarism Tools
- Copyright Litigation Blog
- Creative Commons Blog
- The 1709 Blog
- Google Copyright Blog
- US Copyright Office
How To Protect Your Work
I’ve tried a couple different apps and methods to protect my work, but my favorite so far has to be Myows. Myows, which stands for ‘My Original Works‘, is a copyright management and protection app that’s very easy to use and best of all, it’s free during the beta testing phase and the free beta accounts all get 500MB of storage.
Simply create an account, and you can start uploading your work on MyOws. More information is of course available on the Myows website!
Your Turn to Talk
Did you ever get your content or designs stolen? How did you resolve the issue? Do you have other ideas on how to protect your work and deal with thieves? I’m very interested in hearing your stories. Please take a minute to share them with the rest of us! :)