Copyright Law and SEO Part 2

What protection do you or your client have in the face of content theft? What can you do to prevent it, and what remedies are available?
In a previous copyright article, I described what copyright is and how it applies to SEO, and why it’s a very good idea to protect your content rights. But what do you do when someone ignores your carefully crafted copyright notice and steals your stuff anyway?

This is where life gets interesting — enforcing your copyright can be a scary issue. One of the questions I hear most often is “What happens if it costs more to sue than you might win?” Or worse – “What happens if you sue and lose?”

Let me preface the rest of this article by saying that what is or isn’t open to a successful lawsuit can vary depending on the circumstances, and you should always have a lawyer look at the actual content involved before going anywhere near a courtroom. There is an old legal maxim that says “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

Having said that, there are 2 venues to enforce your copyrights as an SEO, Webmaster, or content creator: the courts, and the search engines. Yes, that’s right, the search engines. All the major search engines will support a copyright holder against an infringer, and there is nothing like the sense of satisfaction you can get when the infringer is told to stop stealing your content or they will no longer be in the Google or Yahoo databases because of it. Frankly, I think it’s more effective than clogging the courts.

With both tactics, the first step is the same. If you or the infringer are in the US, get your copyright legally registered: You forgot to register? That’s okay – you can register up to 5 years after you create the content. You are in a much better position if you registered before the infringement, but in order to show up in a court you need some sort of paperwork saying you have a copyright. It’s cheap – only $30. Note that this is not strictly required for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), but I strongly advise getting it anyway.

I suggest registering your whole site at least once per year, and after every major revision. The chances are that even if you are constantly editing your site, the infringer will steal something that hasn’t changed, and then you are protected as best as you can be.

For non-US companies and citizens, the registration of a copyright in the US is almost always supported by your country under the Berne Convention. Since most jurisdictions don’t have special advantages to registration like the US does, I recommend registering in the US in order to be able to sue in a US court, since you will get the right to sue in your local jurisdiction automatically in most cases anyway.

Once you have this you can go to the search engine(s) that the infringer is showing up in and fill out their DMCA notification. You will be asked for contact information, a statement saying that you own the copyright in question, a description of what search results are showing the infringing content, and a few other things. You then fax it off (or mail it) to the search engine as per their instructions. I would always send a copy of your registered copyright, as well. I have Sample DMCA Templates available for you to download, just don’t sell them, please!

The search engine will send off notification to the domain owner in question. There’s nothing scarier for most people than getting this email from the Google legal department. If they don’t respond or can’t provide evidence to the contrary, they’ll get yanked from the search engine results pages (SERPs).

The DMCA has other uses too. You can give notification to the offending website’s host and request that the site be removed, and you can show it to directories (especially DMOZ) and they will usually remove the offending site. There are endless possibilities that don’t require a courtroom.

If you can prove that you lost money due to the infringement, or if it was a particularly vile and obnoxious infringement, you can also go to court. This is where spending that $30 for registration comes into play. You cannot show up without it. If you were smart and had registered the copyright before the infringement happened, you can even get statutory damages without needing to prove a specific loss, which is very handy because it’s hard to measure in most cases. I would strongly recommend obtaining an intellectual property lawyer at this point, as well.

Search Engines to Report Copyright Infringements to



MSN – Microsoft:

AOL/Open Directory:




This article was first published in the High Rankings newsletter

Go To Copyright Law and SEO Part 3

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