Firstly, let me plagiarise Wikipedia ... "Plagiarism (from the Latin plagiare, "to kidnap") is the practice of claiming, or implying, original authorship of (or incorporating material from) someone else's written or creative work, in whole or in part, into one's own without adequate acknowledgement." Of course, I haven't really plagiarized have I, because I acknowledged this definition came from Wikipedia.
In 1886 Victor Hugo instigated something called "The Berne Convention" named after Berne in Switzerland. Under this convention copyrights for artistic work are in force at creation. From Wikipedia again "As soon as a work is "fixed", that is, written or recorded on some physical medium, its author is automatically entitled to all copyrights in the work and to any derivative works, unless and until the author explicitly disclaims them or until the copyright expires. Foreign authors were treated equivalently to domestic authors, in any country that signed the Convention." And, just about all countries signed the convention and the Berne Convention is still in place today.
Bill Clinton, former US President, bought about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 to include Internet material. It is interesting to note that the DMCA includes as part of it's advice to people who have been plagiarized "Include here the possible URL of the page in which you have list or give detail about your copyright. This information is optional as all work of the mind are by default protected by the Copyright Berne Convention." This means that the DMCA is just something that sits on top of the Berne Convention in American Law and has been put in place solely to deal with Internet related copyright and Intellectual Property (IP) infringement.
Last month I was expounding the virtues of all the good souls on the net who push the envelope, develop cool art galleries and then give their IP away freely to whoever would like it. This month, I'm feeling a little different. You see I found a website that had copied, not only our text content, including testimonials, but they had also dipped into our portfolio of clients and were brazenly displaying our work on their website and claiming it to be their own. This is actually quite a common occurrence for us, to have our text content plagiarized, because we place well in Google and we've been building websites since 1997 or 1998 ... these blackhearts who steal think our text on their site will make them place better in Google. BUT, and I repeat BUT, our text content is one thing ... claiming our testimonials and clients as their own is a different kettle of fish. As not only are these plagiarists infringing on our IP and copyright, they are infringing upon our clients' IP and copyright.
Imagine this scenario: Our client writes us a testimonial because he is very excited about the website we've designed him, he says glowing things about our service and the product he has purchased. Then three or four years later we tell him his testimonial is in place on another web designer's website with his name and company on full display. Not only that there is an image of his website. Our client is, understandably, not impressed.
So, I began the process to get our plagiarized content removed from public viewing on the blackheart's site. I did a whoIs trace on the domain name and found the contact details and hosting company for the site. I sent CEASE AND DESIST emails to around four email addresses I found to be related to the domain name. All but one bounced back "user unknown". The one that didn't bounce has not responded. I telephoned the phone number for the Company, a New York number, and had to leave a message on their answering machine. They have not returned my call.
I guess if they are sociopathic enough to claim our clients as their own then they possibly won't have the conscience to respond to gentle requests. At this point, the next logical step is to contact the hosting company because they are also infringing our copyright by allowing this website to be on display. Usually a simple CEASE and DESIST notice via email is enough to bring the situation to a close. But I didn't bank on my first time encounter with GoDaddy's copyright and trademark complaints department.
Four emails and one fax later and GoDaddy are still telling me that I haven't advised them correctly and they can't be more help unless I follow their complaint criteria to the letter. Oh well, I will keep trying, although I'm not all that worried because if I can't contact the owners of spidersling.com then I'm sure any prospective clients would be having the same trouble. They probably don't get a lot of web design work if no-one can contact them. As for GoDaddy, I also found they had some trouble earlier this year over turning off a site ... so they're probably just a little wary ... I will keep trying, they have to turn the site off eventually ... don't they?
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Every couple of months we check around the Internet to see who's been copying our content and I regularly need to send out CEASE and DESIST letters, so this experience isn't a new one for us. This past week I have sent out four cease and desist emails and I'm happy to say that these people all happily removed our content immediately ... so there is still hope for the Internet and it's nice to know there are whitehearts out there as well as black.
Update 15th November, 2007:
GoDaddy removed the offending website from public viewing.
Update 23rd January, 2008:
GoDaddy have restored the offending website to public viewing and our content is still in place.
Update 24th January, 2008:
GoDaddy have removed the offending site from public viewing. And, moved against the domain name. To be honest, I thought this was extreme, however, the offending site was pretending to be us (our clients, our testimonials) so I guess it's justified.