Simple Courtesy Can Help Protect Your Online Content

Lora Bentley

Copyright infringement has been a hot topic around here in recent weeks, largely because of the Righthaven litigation and what the results of those cases may mean for copyright holders. I've written about Righthaven. I've written about alternatives to litigation and I've written about fair use more than once. But short of registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, DMCA takedown notices and all-out courtroom battles, what do you do once you find your content has been stolen?


Not long ago, I had the opportunity to speak with attorney Steven O'Donnell, whose Lancaster, Penn., practice focuses on patent, trademark and copyright law. He not only helps clients protect their content, he has to keep an eye on his own blog. He does so using Google alerts on key phrases from posts that he thinks have a high probability of being scraped. He explained:

I pick out a five- or six-word block that I think is going to be pretty unique. That way I'm notified if anything like that is reposted. Then I can look to see if it's something I need to pursue further.

O'Donnell says clients often use the same method, or they make use of features within their respective blogging platforms that allow them to see when language identical to what they've posted has been posted elsewhere. A few also implement software or Web-based services that crawl the Web looking for content that may have been lifted from their blogs.



When he finds lifted content - from a client's blog or from his own - he runs a WhoIs search to determine who owns the domain, and he writes a letter. "I just want to take care of [these things] cheaply and quickly," he says. So the letter is "softer" than a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice. The takedown notices can require quite a bit more work and are more costly, O'Donnell explained. But more often than not, the letter takes care of the issue. The offender takes down the infringing material, provides a link back to the original material or otherwise meets his clients' expectations.

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