Copyright Laws of Intellectual Property
Intellectual copyright laws are one of those things most people think very little about, until they are forced to understand them. And when you are, buckle-up; it's going to be a bumpy ride.
All of a sudden, there we were reaching out to a lawyer about copyright laws for intellectual property. Imagine stumbling across another website that copied large portions of your own site’s content. It recently happened to us. We did not hesitate to begin protecting our intellectual property. What would you do? First, it helps to understand the laws.
Understanding Intellectual Property
In basic terms, intellectual property (IP) is the result of one’s creativity. It can be a design or a story or something similar created by your invention. Our intellectual property is the content that we’ve written on our website. There are typically four types of IP: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. Our IP falls into the copyright category.
Understanding Copyright Laws
We aren’t lawyers. However, and again in basic terms, this is its definition. Copyright is a form of protection for original works of authorship. In addition, an original work is protected by copyright laws the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form. For us, the tangible form is our website. According to our research, works published after March 1, 1989 do not have to claim copyright to be protected under this law.
For additional and more expansive details about copyright laws, review the sites linked below. Or, consult with an actual lawyer as needed.
How We Found the Culprits
You may be wondering how we found the culprits. After all, the internet is a vast expanse of websites. It was completely by accident and by design.
We are passionate about websites and all things that make for a successful one. We review our stats on Google Analytics, Adwords, and Search Console often. In Search Console*, there’s a nifty tool that lets users know which websites link back to theirs. These are known as backlinks. During our review of backlinks to our site, we found a link from another web designer’s site. We thought this was rather odd. Therefore, we went digging.
When we landed on the offending party’s website we immediately recognized our Website Maintenance Plans content. Word for word. Plan title for plan title. Price for price (less one penny). We were able to navigate to their site through Search Console and also found them through a Google search for their company in their state (which is not South Carolina). Their website was out there for the world to see. With our content.
Our first reaction, annoyance. Then we began to mull the idea of the temptation for a new business to search out and use established content.
As such, we emailed the offenders with a nice enough note. We notified them of the issue, asked that they take down the copied content immediately, and alerted them to copyright laws. We also noted that we were willing to take legal action, although did not want to in these challenging times. Finally, we referenced their own ‘2020 Copyright’ notification in their site’s footer and encouraged them to govern themselves accordingly.
*Search Console is not the only way to discover copied content.
We did not receive a return email. But we will. Read on for more.
Upon Further Inspection
Upon further inspection of their site, we found large portions of website content that we had written. It was copied word for word. We reached out again via email. We encouraged them to remove our content by end of the day.
In the interim, we reached out to an Intellectual Property Copyright Lawyer located in North Charleston with additional offices in Tennessee and Virginia. We didn’t want to be in this position, especially during a pandemic. But there we were.
We didn’t receive a return email from the culprits. However, we noticed that they had received our emails. And, in turn, they began updating content and disabling pages. But not before we were able to take screenshots of all of the offending content and pages. We were encouraged that this situation was resolving itself.
A few days later we return to their site. Unfortunately, their ‘Services’ page is still active and remains a word for word copy of our content. We are feeling justified that we’d reached out to a lawyer. We send yet another email to the culprit.
THEN, another day after that, we found another site made by the same offender that was a complete duplicate of our site’s content, not just portions of text. A. Complete. Duplicate. They were even using similar images. Imagine reading the ‘About Us’ page on another business’s website with the only thing changed being their business name. The gall.
This time we received a return email. It started with ‘F### off‘. It went on to say things like it was a ‘test site’ and ‘thrown together’ and that they ‘never had any customers’.
Why Copying Content is a Bad Idea for Your Business
It may be tempting to repurpose content — copy it — in an attempt to jump-start your own success. However, did you know that copied content will actually hurt your website? It affects your rankings with Google and other search engines and devalues the content overall. Shortcuts such as these are not the best way, or even a good way, to gain momentum. For more on Google rankings and copied content, you can read our blog article, “Duplicate and Copied Content” that we wrote in 2019. To learn even more, you can go straight to the source, Google, who wrote a detailed report.
Why Your Content is Worth Protecting
Setting aside the precept that stealing is wrong, if you do not protect your content, someone else may get your customers.
Unless you are Jeff Bezos, your industry has several worthy competitors. Especially when you are a small and/or local business. Sometimes it comes down to how you explain on your website the approach to the services your clients will require of you to earn new business.
If your competitor is using your language on their website, your hard work may be earning your competitor that new business.
Be in the Know About Copyright Laws
Regardless of intent, if copied content is published so that others can see it, it becomes a tangible format and therefore subject to governing laws.
As you know, starting a small business is hard work. Growing and maintaining a successful one is equally as difficult.
If you are reading this as an inexperienced web developer, we encourage you to be inspired by our work. We would be flattered. However, there is enough business to go around, so be original.
If you are reading this as someone who has had their content repurposed without permission, we encourage you to protect your intellectual property.