How to Handle Website Copyright Infringement: DMCA Takedown / Google Takedown Requests

So your article, or entire website, has been copied. Word for word, your copy is staring at you, but it is on some other website. It sucks. You feel a bit violated. You want it removed immediately.

In 20 years of building websites we have seen it all. We have seen highly ranked articles that we wrote copied to a news aggregator. We have seen photos, bios, and website branding copied to a competitor website. We have even seen entire websites copied as a scam, pretending to be real attorneys to fool users (same bio photos, pedigrees, and only the logo changed).

Over the years, we have learned how to quickly and effectively take down these websites. Read below on four tactics to get the offending content removed.

Legal Notice: Our in-house counsel, aka me, Pete, made us write this notice. Please note that the below is NOT legal advice. While we build websites for lawyers and have attorneys on staff, the below is not legal advice. It is just processes that have worked for us in the past. We urge you to seek competent legal counsel. With that out of the way, onto the show…

When you notice your website design, content, or both has been copied your first priority is to get it taken offline.

How to Take Down the Content

There are many routes to get rid of the offending content quickly and easily. Here is what we have used in the past:

Backup and Make Sure You are Correct

Before you move forward with any of these tactics, please make a copy of all the infringements. Screenshots work great. Better yet, download the entire website via HTML/CSS/JS and also save the site as a PDF.

There are tools to grab entire sites. Sitesucker for iOS is awesome. If there are only a few infringing pages, then you can also just click save in your browser on a page-by-page basis. In Chrome this is under the extra three-dot menu in the top right corner, click that and choose More Tools > Save Page As. Adobe Acrobat Pro also can download sites completely as PDFs (though it sometimes makes a mess of the layout). In any event, record a copy of the infringement for later reference.

Also, this is very important, check with your team and make sure your content that is online is in fact original and 100% yours. Make sure your team did not copy something else, or license something that has multiple uses. For instance, most stock photos can be used by anyone who pays the license fee. You don’t want to contact the offender screaming about infringement and then suddenly find out you are the infringer or that they have a legal copy. That never goes well.

With everything preserved and checked that you are the owner, now it’s time to figure out what tactic will remove the offending content the quickest.

Contact the Infringer

The first step is the simplest. Call and email the infringer. Ask them to remove the content.

Simple, huh? No way it works! Actually, it does work.

Sometimes the firm does not know something is copied. Maybe they outsourced the writing to another web agency or content mill. Sometimes they know they copied and now are shamed into removing it. If so, they usually pull the content down in a few days.

If they don’t pull it down quickly enough, we recommend blogging about it and putting it on social media. Shame goes a long way to making people change course.

This may not work though. They may tell you to go pound sand.

I have had firms scream at us about a website they clearly copied word-for-word. They even claimed they wrote the content, even though I remember where/when I wrote the content and could prove that Google indexed it five years prior.

In that case, we publicly shame them on social media, file a DMCA takedown, and eventually contact a lawyer to handle the matter. They then usually change their tune.

Overall a quick email, or phone call, could save hours of work though, so it’s worth a try. Again, our goal is to get the content removed as quickly as possible.

DMCA Takedown Request

After you have contacted the firm, or decided it may not be prudent to contact the firm, then the easiest route to remove the content is file a DMCA Takedown Request with the infringers web host.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests have been around since 1998. The law basically creates a safe harbour for web hosts. So long as they pull infringing content when notified, the web host is not liable for any infringement. Web hosts love this law. It allows them to host just about anything, until they are notified that something is infringing. When that happens, they pull the content and move on.

“Congress enacted section 512 of the Copyright Act, which enabled copyright owners to have infringing online content removed without the need for litigation. Section 512 shields online service providers from monetary liability and limits other forms of liability for copyright infringement—referred to as safe harbors—in exchange for cooperating with copyright owners to expeditiously remove infringing content if the online service providers meet certain conditions.”

Section 512 requires each web host to designate an agent to receive requests and process the requests. How does this help you? It provides a quick mechanism to file a complaint – without the need for a lawyer.

  • Research – Find the web host that is hosting the infringing website.
    • IntoDNS.com is our favorite site for investigating this information. Plug in the offending domain name. Check out their nameservers at the top and that could give away who is potentially hosting the site.
    • WhoIsHostingThis.com or similar websites can also tell you who could be hosting the site.
    • Now, some websites you cannot determine the actual web host. Sometimes they have privacy settings on or CloudFlare is a middle person. But in most cases, you can find the host with a bit of digging.
    • Make sure the host is in the United States (more on this below).
  • Contact the Web Host – Typically the web host has either an email address like legal@ or dmca@ or copyright@ or an actual contact form. Look for the “legal” page in the footer, or run a Google search for that page using site: technique of the website. Once you find it, review the details and fill out the boilerplate text needed to request a takedown. You can see some good practices here, a generator here, and a sample here.
  • What is Needed – Usually you need to identify your work and the infringing article, provide your contact information, and, sometimes, explain how it infringes. The more information the better. It’s usually no more than a page of information.
  • Timeline – When it works, we have seen content pulled in four hours and at most in 48 hours. In cases of fraud or clear copying, they usually act quicker. When it’s a judgment call on whether it’s copyright infringement, they act a bit slower.
  • What to Watch Out For – Copyright law is country-specific. The DMCA only applies to United States hosted websites. So, if a host is in Russia, Singapore, or does not have nexus with the United States, this may not work.

Overall DMCA takedown requests are the easiest route to get content pulled. Please note that the infringer could file a counter-notice, or what is called a “put back” notice. If they file that with the web host, then the web host will reinstall the content that they pulled. Ugh. You would then need to file suit in federal court to have the content taken down (i.e. you would need to lawyer-up).

Google Takedown Request

Most of our clients are worried that their content is lowering their rankings, pushing them out of search, or fear that people will find the other duplicate content. The good news is there is an easy way to fix that. Ask Google to remove the offending content.

If you want the content removed, Google has a step-by-step process to remove content from their index that infringes your copyright. You can visit the guide here, which then leads to the removing content form.

When completing the form, most of the time you would choose “Google Search” as the option, “Google Search” as the product, “Intellectual Property” as the issue, and “Copyright Infringement” as the issue. You would fill out that you are the owner, and then walk your way through the remainder of the questions.

Google will typically respond in a few days via their system and start to remove specific links from the index that are infringing. You can track it via their web portal.

Contact a Lawyer and Sue the F*CK out of Them

Finally, there is the legal option. You can take this action at any time. Get a lawyer, talk it out, and file suit for copyright infringement.

Note there are a number of steps you need to take before filing a claim – one of which is registering your work with the USPTO. Registered copyrights have additional protections and are needed to file a case. One big protection is that you can get legal fees for infringers in set scenarios.

Your lawyer will probably start by researching the case, documenting everything, and then sending a nasty/threatening language. If that fails, they will then file suit in federal court.

Final Thoughts – Legal Warning

While we build websites for lawyers, PaperStreet is not a law firm. We have a few lawyers on staff, but this is not our core job. We have worked with 900+ law firm clients, and countless lawyers. As such, we can recommend several law firms who may be able to help. You can reach out to my old firm at Lott & Fischer, as well as Peretz Chesal Herrmann, or Staas Hasley.

Finally, what we wrote above is just a guideline of what we have used in the past to get our copyrighted work taken down. Did we get damages/money paid? No. Did we get the content pulled? Yes.

That was our goal and the above process worked. Contacting infringers, sending DMCA notices, and filing Google requests are highly effective. It only works if the infringer is in the United States though, sometimes other countries have similar laws though. You would need to research each and potentially contact local counsel.

For PaperStreet Clients

If you are a client of PaperStreet, we did NOT authorize any infringer.  We are as shocked as you that our hard work is stolen. We want to help you, but this is a legal issue and we are limited in the assistance we can legally give.

We urge you to seek legal counsel to resolve this unfortunate matter. They will probably tell you the same steps as above. At the same time, maybe they have new techniques to use and can send sterner letters to infringers.

If you want our help, we can assist only in the research documentation, and consulting phase. We would do this in a non-legal capacity. You would need to fill out all forms and requests.  We cannot make any guarantees of success.

Also, this is not part of our usual scope of work for design, marketing, or support/hosting.  As such, we would work at our hourly rate to document, research, and assist with questions, which is currently at $200 per hour.

The above guideline though should help. You can do this internally in a cost-effective way with your staff. If you need further assistance, let us know.

Good luck and hopefully you can get the content pulled.


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