Copyright Violations
Internet Thieves are on the Rise

Question: I have had a website on the Internet for about three years to which I continually add and upgrade. It is a popular site with many visitors and a lot of potential. Recently, I discovered a new website with many of its pages containing information identical to mine [I really mean identical ...including a few typos I hadn't gone back in to change!!!]. Is there anything I can do?

Answer: It's not unusual for someone surfing the Internet to see an impressive website and think they can do the same thing - perhaps even better. And they give it a go. So far - so good. Competition is actually good. It keeps businesses from taking advantage of customers. It keeps businesses performing at their peak. Yes, competition is good. There is no problem as long as the businesses in competition with each other are ethical and obey the law. When a business wants to compete with you because they consider you the best - that's flattering. However, it is an entirely different matter if they are stealing your work. Unethical website developers might download your pages, that you have spent long hours [and sometimes months], putting together, they strip out your identity, post it on their own website and claim it as their own.

Now, the important question is - what information have they stolen? ... is it public domain information? ..or is it an article you have written? ...or is it a story that has been circulating the web so long nobody knows who wrote the original any more? ...or is it ideas that you have posted on your site?

  • If it is an article you have personally written - it's yours, plain and simple. You have the right to sue for copyright infringement.

  • If it is a story that has been circulating the Internet and no one is sure about the author, chances are if you post it as such, no one will sue you for posting the article. That is unless you try to pass it off as your own. Be sure to say the author is unknown and welcome information from anyone so you can credit the author and ask permission.

  • If they stole information; i.e. such as lists, well, here it gets a little tricky. Certainly anyone too lazy to type their own information in should be held accountable for stealing your time. It isn't the information per se that is copyrighted. It is the labor of retrieving it and putting it into an HTML coded page, so, no, it isn't permissible for them to just strip out the HTML.

  • If someone has borrowed your ideas what can you do? Nothing. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. However, they must redesign their own page and gather their own information. For instance, I saw an area site that contained a page on high school class reunions. I thought it was a wonderful idea but expanded upon it. I had found information on many more reunions than they had posted. I brought in graphics and color and provided email and website links. Yes, it was originally their idea [and it was good] but I didn't use their page, their HTML, their format and had a finished product with much different than the information their site contained.

Question: Okay, it is much clearer to me now. But how do I handle the situation when I discover that someone has taken a page directly from my website, stripped the page of any indication that it was mine and reposted it to theirs?

Answer: Remember, regardless of intent they are infringing on your copyright. However, if they are using a poem or inspiration piece that has been circulating the web, and no longer had its author or byline, they may have assumed it was anonymous. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Contact them by phone, email, or in writing and ask them to take off the pages that are copyrighted. [Document your action.] If they remove the pages, you could let it drop. If they do not, you could take it to your attorney and sue them for their illegal practices.

Question: Suppose someone just links to my pages - is a law being broken then?

Answer: Not really. [At least not yet! There was a case pending in court in Utah, and as I write this, laws may drastically change the ability to hyperlink with other sites.] It is always appropriate to ask permission first. And of course, if they say "no" - do not link. Also, if you do not ask and they find out you have a link they do not want, you must remove it at their request. Most websites are delighted you want to link to them as it increases their traffic. [ long as you leave their pages intact]

The exception to the above statement is pornography sites. No honest and dignified websites would want to link with or have anything to do with a porno site. And I think they might seriously consider a lawsuit in those situations. The other questionable links would be to gambling or "get rich quick" sites. To link to any of these three sites tends to give others the impression that money and notoriety are your primary motives for existing on the Internet.

FYI There was a lawsuit between Microsoft Sidewalk and Ticketmaster a few years ago. Ticketmaster did not want Sidewalk linking to them because they linked deep within the sight and bypassed the front page which contained all of their advertisers. Their advertisers were justifiably upset and complained to Ticketmaster. Hence the lawsuit. It was settled out of court.

The Internet gives us fantastic opportunities to own a business. It gives us the ability to be creative and express ourselves through design, writing and layout. If we want this freedom to continue - all webmasters and designers must adhere strictly to ethical business practices and values. Obey all copyright laws and always ...if in doubt - check it out.

Connie Eccles, CEO of ComPortOne

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