Respecting Copyrights Online

Despite how much I see this, I’m still amazed at the volume of people taking copyrighted content, images, and other works online to use at their own sites, to pass off as their own, to earn income with AdSense or other ad programs, to even sell to their own clients, and whatever else. Like many others, I have also had my copyrighted work taken by others. So, how do you know if something is OK or not to use at your own website? And what can you do about people infringing on your copyrighted materials? Today’s post goes into copyright infringement and includes helpful resources for more information.

But it’s So Easy to Take Whatever You Want...

Whether or not it’s easy to take whatever you want online, you should always check out someone’s copyright information. Instead of assuming that everything online is free for the taking, stay on the safe side and assume that everything is protected by copyright, and that it also belongs to someone (not you!).

If you’re interested in possibly using something from someone else’s website, always check out the copyright information and find out if it’s OK to use or not. If it’s not, don’t use it - simple as that! Most pages have at least a basic copyright statement at the bottom of the page, such as:

Copyright © 2008 Brainstorms and Raves. All rights reserved.

Even if there isn’t a similar short copyright statement, generally whoever creates the work is considered the owner of that work unless stated otherwise - in the United States and countries that have signed the Berne Convention.

Unless the copyright statement specifically states that you’re allowed to use the materials at your website, then don’t use them. Period.

To find out more information about a particular site’s copyright restrictions, check to see if the site also has a copyright information page in addition to checking the bottom of the page for a copyright notice. If not, don’t assume you can use the materials. Write an email and ask for permission, and only use them if you do get permission in writing. Permission in writing can potentially protect you, too, not just the copyright owner.

On the other hand, like we learned in school, generally it’s OK to quote a few sentences or a paragraph or two without obtaining written permission, as long as you credit your source properly, typically also including a link to the source Web page. But you should always check to see what the copyright owner spells out and abide by those wishes.

Note: I’m not an attorney, and this post is in no way legal advice. Check with your own attorney to get the best information. At the end of this post I’ve also included helpful online resources about copyright.

A Real Life Example of Copyright Infringement and Action Taken

As an example of copyright infringement and what can be done about it, I’ll use one of my own recent experiences.

Last month (February, 2008) someone took an article I wrote for on the best performing banner ad sizes and locations, including all the content, images, and HTML markup, and posted it at his business blog. In the process, he removed all my copyright information but left the entire article intact otherwise, and he also hotlinked to the images on my server. In addition, he added AdSense ads, and his business blog directly linked to his business site - in other words, he was potentially drawing income directly or indirectly from my copyrighted materials that he was using without permission and that he was also passing off as his own.

How I handle copyright infringement in part depends on what the person is using and the circumstances around it. For the example above:

  1. First I sent 2 or 3 comments through his blog post with my copyrighted materials requesting that he remove my copyrighted materials.
  2. I then followed up with a Cease and Desist letter by email to him with a copy to his webhost, allowing several business days for him to remove the content. (See below for resources on Cease and Desist letters.)
  3. Since he deleted my blog post comments, ignored my email request, and didn’t remove my copyrighted materials within a reasonable amount of time, I then went ahead and sent him a certified, registered letter by postal mail and filed DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaints with his webhost, Google Search and AdSense, and Yahoo! Search.

I spent over $40 for the certified, registered mail to all the parties, and it took several hours of my time to research the search engine listings, document everything, and write the letters, but he finally removed my copyrighted materials from his website. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

By the way, over the years I’ve heard so many silly excuses, including this recent experience in which he told me he accidentally deleted my blog post comments since he gets so much spam, and he didn’t know how copyrights work online. He also managed to delete my copyright information within the text content and leave all the other content and markup intact. Curious coincidence, eh?!

I suspect most or all the readers here already know not to infringe on copyrighted materials, especially to try to pass them off as your own. But not everyone seems to be aware that we can do something about people taking our hard work. So I hope sharing this story and some information is helpful. It takes a little time to deal with it, but in the past 12 years that I’ve been protecting my work online, it’s been well worth doing every single time to date.

  • Most of the time, writing a Cease and Desist letter to the website owner is sufficient in having my copyrighted materials removed from the infringer’s site.
  • Occasionally I also need to write a copyright infringement complaint to the infringer’s webhost, who can and will take the copyright infringer’s entire website down. You’ll find examples of Cease and Desist letters and DMCA complaint letters via my copyright information resources below.
  • On very rare occasions like the above, I end up having to also send copyright infringement complaints by certified, registered postal mail to the infringer, webhost, search engines, and any other parties involved. It’s not required to send them by certified, registered mail, but this way I have signed proof of receipt. The infringer can’t use the excuse that he/she/they didn’t receive the letter or that the dog must have eaten it. It’s also helpful if the issue needs to be pressed further, whether in small claims court or with an attorney.

Note: I have no current plans to divulge who the copyright infringer was in my example above, as that’s not the point of this article. I also won’t intentionally send any traffic to his site, either. At the same time, though, he still has other people’s copyrighted materials at his blog and passing them off as his own work, even though he removed mine. I’m in the midst of emailing as many of those other authors to let them know about this, however.

More Information on Copyright, Copyright Protection

Official Documentation, Laws on Copyright Protection

More Information and Resources on Copyright


Comments, Trackbacks: 2 so far. Add yours!

  1. Well done!

    Obviously this is a person who is draining alot of people of time, money and talent. A Leech on others good work. And he/she doesn’t care either, otherwise they would have taken down the content (which is great and I have learned from btw) after you emailed him/her.

    It’s a shame there isn’t a law saying the web-hosts must remove a site for a week for copyright infringement.

    I think it’s really bad you had to pay $40 plus all the time you wasted, to get the perp to remove your content.... and how bloody cheeky to not only steal your advice, but also steal your bandwidth too by linking to your images!

    Scum of the earth. Maybe you should email Google ad-words as well and get their account suspended.

    04:47 pm, pst 4 March, 2008Comment by Gary Storm

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  2. Hi, Gary,
    Thanks for your comment. Regarding webhosts, I’m not sure what the laws are, but I do know that they could be listed in lawsuits... but I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know how it all works. At the minimum, though, every single webhost I’ve contacted over the years regarding copyright infringement has taken the issue VERY seriously, and they always respond quickly and ensure that the copyrighted materials are removed from their servers. Most of the time the infringer removes the materials, but once or twice the webhost has stepped in and taken down the entire website and suspended the account... but that’s when the person was refusing to remove the materials otherwise.

    Also, as I’ve further investigated the type of copyright infringement for the person I mention in my article, it appears that he could actually be arrested for fraud. This is because he’s not only passing off all these copyrighted articles as his own but he’s also potentially earning income from them as well - he has AdSense ads posted on these pages plus his blog is directly linked within his business site’s main navigation.

    So what he’s doing is VERY serious and has potential prison time... this particular circumstance goes beyond copyright infringement.

    Regarding writing to Google AdWords, I don’t know if he has a Google AdWords account or not, but he DOES use AdSense. And I DID send a DMCA complaint to Google AdSense, in addition to Google Search and Yahoo! Search - since my copyrighted materials on his website started showing up in search results.

    The person’s webhost, Google AdSense and Google Search all replied quickly to my DMCA complaints. They ALL take this very seriously, and I’m thrilled to see this. :-) I haven’t heard from Yahoo! yet, but I’m sure I will this week.

    People do need to take online copyright infringement seriously.

    I also hope that increasingly more people will take action against people who do this - and what I mean is to at least send copyright infringement complaints and request/demand that the infringers remove the copyrighted materials.

    Via my resource links above are sample letters and lots of helpful information on this. Plus, once you write your first one you can pretty much use that as a template for any you need to send off in the future. So it really doesn’t take much time at all. The situation in this article is highly unusual and took a lot more time since he continued to ignore my requests/demands until he got the registered, certified letter with copies of what I sent to Google, Yahoo, and his webhost’s attorney. I rarely have to push it that far.

    Bottom line to me, though, is that people just need to do the right thing, be honest, and not take stuff that belongs to someone else - online or offline. There’s a saying that a person of integrity is one who does the right thing whether or not anyone is looking. :-)

    10:29 pm, pst 4 March, 2008Comment by Shirley Kaiser

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This discussion has been closed. Thanks to all who participated.

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