There was a time when I thought imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. But when it comes to copyright violations, it's not flattering at all. It's theft and it needs to be pursued.

Why bother? After all, isn't your time better spent doing things to improve your site, moving forward instead of chasing deadbeats around? For the most part that's true, but copyright infringement on the Internet can impact your site in search engine rankings. Most of the search engines try to weed out duplicate content (but they aren't very good at it yet) and at the very least, display the most important version of the duplicate content first. The "most important" version might not be yours!

Copyright violation is a legal issue in the US and most other countries and can be pursued as a civil case (for money) if the violator profits from the stolen work. As a website owner, if you find your copy on multiple sites without the proper credit, it makes YOU look like a possible copyright violator as well.

All that being said, who has time to spend on the internet looking for copyright violations? It IS time consuming and you DO have better things to do. I've found that Google Alert does an amazing job of helping me to spot violators.

Google Alert is a free service that monitors the search phrases of your choice (up to 3) and sends you an e-mail when it finds new pages containing that phrase. Their paid version allows for more search queries and deeper results returned. It works so well, you'll be amazed at where your humble copy turns up.

Simply input a string of words unique to your page in the Alert setup. The more unique the phrase is, the less "false positives" you'll get for finding pages with your copy on them. It just takes a few minutes with each email alert to click through the results and see if the copy on the page is in fact, yours and whether or not the page has properly credited the original version with a visible link (if you allow that.)

Another great tool in your fight against copyright infringement is the Wayback Machine. Put a URL into the Wayback Machine to see past copies of the site. It's a helpful way to establish when your copy was published and when the offender's copy was pusblished. The Wayback Machine even has a helpful tool you can put in the Links section of your browser that will take you straight to the past copies of whatever page you visit. Not every site is in the Wayback Machine, but a huge number of sites are in there.

Report infringers who refuse to remove your copy or give you proper credit to their ISP's and the search engines. See The Upside of Copyright Infringement for details on finding out ISP's and reporting violations to them. Below are the copyright notification pages from the various SE's.

Each has a mail/fax address and a specific procedure to follow.



MSN - Microsoft:

AOL/Open Directory:


Some pages aren't worth tracking- I have a FAQ page for a specific industry that's been duplicated so often there's no way I could pursue them all. And honestly, the information is not all that original or unique, so it's not worth the time. While I wish people had at least made the effort to change the wording somewhat, it's not worth spending hours defending it.

On the other hand, copy and articles that present a unique point of view or compelling sales copy are worth defending. The longer you wait, the harder it is to prove that your copy was the original. And if it's really good content, you get into the "I didn't copy it from you, I copied it from him," snowball effect.

As in any industry, the bad apples make it harder on all of us. Luckily, we have some great tools to help track the issues and responsive entities (the search engines and ISP's) that make correcting the wrongs possible.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
May 17, 2005

Scottie Claiborne is the facilitator of the Successful Sites Newsletter. She is a speaker at the Search Engine Strategies conferences and the High Rankings Seminars as well as the administrator of the High Rankings Forum.

Search Engine Guide > Scottie Claiborne > Pursuing Copyright Infringers