We’ve talked before about the efforts Google is making to stop piracy and how it can affect your business, but we’ve never gone into what to do if your content does get pirated. Who do you call? Can you get it taken down? And do you need a lawyer?
While online piracy is rampant, it’s never been easier to take action against it. This is usually a simple DIY job that does not require an attorney.
3 Steps to Take if Your Content is Stolen
There are several ways to deal with pirated content. Below we’ll discuss the three simplest ones. These proceed from gentlest (and easiest) to most serious. You may or may not have to use all three — we recommend trying them in order.
1: Ask them to take it down
The easiest approach is often the most effective. If a site stole your content, they either did it “innocently” (and will remove if asked) or intentionally (and hoped you wouldn’t call them out). So just ask them.
The key to success is to send a firm but polite email. Email the site owner directly if possible, but consider cc’ing their general information email. The more people in the company who know about your request, the better.
The email can be short and to the point. Tell them that you discovered some of your copyrighted material on their site. Provide links, and ask that they confirm when they’ve taken it down. You may consider setting a deadline, “Please reply within seven days or I will have to proceed to file a DMCA request.”
Most importantly, resist the urge to be accusing or vindictive. You have the moral authority in this situation, but if you irritate them they’re less likely to cooperate with your request.
2: File a DMCA request
The next step is to take it up with Google. Google cannot control what content people put on their sites and they can do nothing to have it taken down. However, they can make it vanish.
Google has created a process to deal with infringement claims. You fill out what’s known as a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) request, which you can do here. You will need to be logged in to your Google Search Console account (formerly Webmaster Tools).
The form is straightforward. You’ll provide contact info, a description of the work that was stolen and direct links to the offending pages. Google will then review the information and decide if your request merits action.
If so, they’ll drop the page in question from search results. That means the pirated content it still out there, but it’s hard for people to find it. This will likely hurt the pirate’s traffic and potentially their revenue.
Note that Google won’t drop the entire site, just the page(s) with the stolen content.
3: Contact their hosting company
Last, you can attempt to get the entire site taken down. Without legal action there’s no way you can force this to happen — but you have a good shot.
The key is to go around the site owner and talk to their hosting company. Most hosting companies have a policy of not knowingly hosting pirate sites. They can lock or remove websites that they find to be in violation.
To start, simply run a WhoIs lookup (free). Enter the address of the offending site and you’ll see who hosts them. Contact that company, clearly state that you own the copyrighted material, and provide links. If they need more information they’ll ask.
Be aware, however, that hosting services are wary of shutting down too many sites — these are their customers, after all — and some will flagrantly host pirates. Whether they take action is up to them. But it has a surprisingly good success rate.
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