2nd October 2020
What to do if someone copies your website content or design?
Creating a quality website complete with valuable content is difficult, requiring a lot of hard work, time and effort to design and build. So once you have published your site, the last thing you want is to find that somebody else has stolen your design (copying your source code), content (including text, images, videos etc) or even your entire site. So once the line has been crossed from taking inspiration to outright copying, what action can you take to get the duplicated content removed or copied site taken down?
The following guide outlines the steps you can take to deal with this difficult situation:
1. Document everything
Before taking any action, it is important to first begin collecting evidence and documenting the process. Initially you should note down the date you noticed the stolen design or content, taking screenshots of your own site and the copied site as well as noting relevant URLs. It is worth looking at WayBack Machine to view the sites at earlier dates to try to identify when the content or design was copied and to prove that the content or design existed on your site first. You should also document all communication throughout the next steps in case you need evidence if the case escalates.
2. Contact the website owner directly
Once you have found your content or design has been copied and have collected the evidence of the theft, you should start by directly contacting the website owner. The majority of the time, you can find the site owner’s contact info on the website or there may be a contact form to complete. If the contact details are not on the website, you can complete a WHOIS search, which may provide you with an email address to contact.
In your email, you should explain that your content or site is copyrighted and should politely request that the content, offending page, element or site is removed within a given time period, or you will need to report the site.
Alternatively, if it is a case of stolen content, and the site which stole it is a high-quality domain, you may wish to ask them to link to your site from the content to improve your backlink profile rather than removing it entirely.
3. Contact the website’s hosting service
If you do not hear back from the website owner your next step is to contact the domain host. You can find the host by using a site such as https://www.whoishostingthis.com/. Once you have identified their contact information, you should send an email explaining exactly what has been copied and requesting that the page or site is taken down. You will need to attach any relevant evidence.
4. Report the page to Search Engines
If the copied content or site is ranking in search engines, you can file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against the copied site. You can submit removal requests to Google and Bing asking for the site to be removed from their indexes. This will not remove the site from the internet but will stop it being listed in the rankings.
Furthermore, if the website owner or hosting service has already taken the content down, but it is still ranking, you can submit requests to search engines to remove outdated content that has already been modified or removed from the web.
5. Take Legal Action
If you haven’t had a response from the website owner or hosting company and have not been able to get the content removed from search engines, you may wish to take legal action. This should begin with a lawyer sending a cease and desist letter to the website owner, and if necessary sending a letter to the website hosts. Escalating the issue to a lawsuit should be a last resort as it can be costly.
Unfortunately content and website design theft are not uncommon and although there is no way to protect your site from being plagiarised, there are a few preventative steps you can take. We would recommend adding a clear copyright notice to your site to deter potential thieves and also speaking to your developers about disabling right-clicks, copy-paste and securing your code.
For more information and advice on stolen website designs and content, contact Varn.