Measures Against Content Theft and Website Plagiarism

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What is content jacking?

The professional and automated copying of entire websites and Internet projects as well as the accompanying flooding of Internet search engines to maximize advertising revenue is called content jacking. Since some webmasters earn a lot of money with their lucrative advertising programs online, it attracted content thieves which made the so-called content jacking a downright disease of the World Wide Web.

For example metasearch engines search like this entire websites and make their content in quotation or even as an analysis / assessment on an own, new website available, paired with advertising banners and other advertising. Now even entire content networks exist which hire students among others, which are instructed to read homepage content of news sites for example, to rewrite them and then to publish them on other another homepage as new. Afterwards, these students advertise in various forums or social networks for the pertaining website and with that increase the visitor numbers which translate to hard cash since the link pop of these sites are increased. By the same token, it takes content jacking from RSS/XML Feeds place. Those read content from various homepages, Internet blogs and Internet forums and then present the content as their own content, sprinkled with advertising – these are the co-called scraper sites. In addition to that come the known and unfortunately wide-spread Wikipedia clones in every aspect, which copy the entire content of the known online encyclopedia and recirculate it.

Contrary to popular and wide-spread belief that you as the webmaster are largely powerless against content jacking, since their acts lie within a narrow range between legal and illegal, there are indeed possibilities to take judicial and extrajudicial actions against the so-called content thieves.

Find out if your content is subject to copyright laws

The law of copyrighting and the related protective rights (copyright law, or UrHG) includes the regulations over content for the Federal Republic of Germany, which are generally worth protecting . Certainly, it does not make a lot of sense to take legal actions against content theft when it is clear beforehand that the copied text was not protected by copyright law. However, it might certainly make sense in these cases to threaten someone with legal actions to achieve an out-of-court settlement.

Paragraph 2 of the German copyright law defines the so-called protected work, where an own creative contribution can be recognized, work that has a certain threshold of originality . To recognized work as a truly protected piece, it requires a closer review of the German case law, since in the judicial sense a huge debate prevails to what constitutes protected work and what does not. This question is when in doubt always to be answered under the consideration of circumstances of individual cases. Therefore, you cannot get around a specific, judicial review of the German copyrights in regards to Internet sites. You can find an initial assessment whether your text is covered under copyright in the article copyright.

Verify your authorship or your rights to the text

If you seriously consider to take action against content jacking, you should already think about documenting proof of your authorship or rights to the text during creating or buying of your texts. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it seems to be:

A printout of your texts, date and time stamped, is already a help. When it comes down to it such printout is not very defendable since the date can be placed on the paper after the fact. Therefore, it is helpful to send the printout of the text to yourself without opening the envelope. This way you have simple proof that the text at the time of postmark was already in your possession – whereas strictly speaking only the envelope will be “certified” and not necessarily the content.

More professional - but also significantly more expensive – is the deposit of texts with a notary . A little less expensive than going straight to notary are otherwise several online service providers that have been taking on this issue. One of the largest provider is PriorMart, where texts as future evidence can be deposited.

One problem however remains: Even the deposit of the text with the notary only proofs that at the time of the deposit the text existed and that you had access to it. Nothing says of course that the text in question was in fact inked by you or that right of it is yours. If you are lucky, the text is older than the website where the copy was found. If not, under these circumstances one word is against another with an uncertain outcome.

For this reason you should – if possible – not only deposit the text, but also a plagiarism check report of your text . This clearly indicates that at the time of the text creation no other public sources on the web were available. Even this is of course not a stringent proof of your authorship, but it tremendously increases the chances to get justice when it comes down to it.

If you closed the stable door after the horse had already bolted and you are confronted with content jacking without any precautions, then take a look at this Web-Archive like the WayBackMachine. These archives made it their tasks to record all important sites and their modifications. With a little bit of luck, you will not only get your proof here when your text was published by you for the first time, but also that the content jacking is really a copy of your site and not vice versa.

If none of these sources are available, an enforcement of the copyright is risky at least, because it can be skewed as one word against the other. However, the threat of taking legal actions can be helpful at least to push through the deletion of the copied content or even claims for damages.

Document the content jacking

Regardless of whether your text is (presumably) copyright-protected or not, if you want to take the additional steps, you should document the content jacking properly. In the simplest case this can happen through a printout of the applicable page.

Pay absolute attention though if the copied texts are possibly integrated into the source code of the site without being visible. This is for example the case when content fades in and out with mouse actions which is the case for ToolTips or popup texts. In addition, clever website operators make texts invisible to achieve a placement of searched topics with the search engines. Because of this, it can be helpful to also print the source codes.

You can save the website easier and more readable by using the PlagAware function create content report. You can receive an Acrobat PDF document after entering the web address in question that lists the text content of the website including all invisible texts as well as a screenshot of the entire page. By the way, this function is free after registering.

Above that, a comparison of your texts and the copied content is useful. This makes it easier to identify the amount of copied content and possible modification of the copied text. PlagAware offers for this case a comparison report, that can be exported into a PDF file as well and provides a useful addition to the documentation of content. This function is also available for free.

Making contact with the operator of the plagiarism site

When you as a webmaster discover a case of content jacking of your own website’s content and you found the Internet page, that presents external, stolen content as their own, you have the option to demand from the operator of this website to take down the stolen content from his webpage.

In doing so it does not really matter whether this occurs over the phone or in writing, but the webmaster should always have a written cease-and-desist and removal of stolen content solely for evidence in case of future legal proceedings. In each case the demand should be accompanied by setting a clear deadline for the removal of the stolen content from the concerning website, which ideally sets a specific date and time if applicable.

Cease-and-desist declaration

When the deadline is passed without any reaction from the content thief and the stolen content has not been removed from his webpage, it is worthwhile to obtain legal support in form of an attorney, ideally a lawyer who specializes in copyright violations, since it can happen that you have to legally enforce your copyright violation claim.

The attorney has the option to send the content thief a legal demand letter with the demand to remove the stolen content and a cease-and-desist declaration enclosed, that the content thief has to return within a deadline (usually between one to two weeks) set by the attorney to avoid legal proceeding. In the letter, the attorney claims the incurred attorney fees against the content thief and with that recuperates his cost from him. However, should it come to a legal dispute, you should better be able to proof content jacking indisputably without a doubt, since should the named content thief prevail in legal proceeding, the webmaster does not only have to pay for his own attorney and court fees, but also for possible attorney fees and expenses of the opposition. Since a settled court case in such situation the value of the claim can be set at a minimum of 25,000.00 Euros, the court fees alone for such value of the claim is 933.00 Euros and the own attorney fees are close to 2,000.00 Euros. There are cases thought where the value of the claim was set at 50,000.00 Euro, whereas the court and attorney fees will be much higher of course.

Therefore, legal disputes are only worth it for online plagiarism of highly scientific or sophisticated texts, that promotes higher added value to the appropriate reader or serve as a regular realization of profits in high amounts, if not even meant as the main source of income for an independent contractor etc. and is therefore marketed as such.

Preliminary injunction

In addition, there is the option to make a motion to a preliminary injunction. For that you need a so-called application deadline and urgency for a court ruling though. The application deadline starts with the acknowledgement of the content jacking and the content thief and it usually takes four weeks, but under certain circumstances in isolated cases even six to eight weeks, as the district court Hamburg once decided. In the motion to a preliminary injunction, the website operator has to credibly demonstrate the content jacking to the court having jurisdiction. Then the court can without a verbal decision make a decision in this case and can order the content thief by the means of the ruling to remove the stolen content from his webpage and furthermore, impose on him the incurred court fees and expenses of the website operator.

Criminal Charges

Besides the option of assertion of claims from civil proceedings against the content thief, you also have the option to file criminal charges against the content thief. According to the German penal code, short StGB, copyright violations are punishable by fine or sentence to 1 to 3 years. In most cases, those dramatic measures serve a threat rather than an actual alternative though.

As a private operator of a homepage or an Internet blog, you should not leave a discovered content jacking unpunished though and try to get the content thief with a warning letter at least to remove the stolen content from his website. As a sample for such warning letter, you may use the following template:

Dear Mr. Doe:

I discovered on your website on XX.XX.XXXX at XX:XX am/pm that the published article with the title "John Doe and his sample samplings" was copied for the most part from my operated website and specifically the published and from me personally written article "Jane Doe and her sample examples". This was determined without a doubt by my personal verification through and was afterwards appropriately documented.

This constitute a copyright violation according to the copyright law and the related protective rights (UrHG), since in this case it is indisputably a so-called content jacking of copyright-protected web content.

To avoid legal action, I hereby demand you remove the aforementioned content from your website by XX.XX.XXXX at XX.XX am/pm and to confirm the deletion of this content in writing by XX.XX.XXXX.

After the expiration of deadline without satisfactory results, I will be forced to initiate legal actions against you and file criminal charges.


Jane Doe

What proof do you need for damage claims?

If you want to exercise your right to a claim for damages, you should be able to proof your revenue from the article with receipts as well as proof to which loss of revenue you suffered from because of the content jacking.

For that you can impose on the content thief your attorney fees, that were incurred because of out-of-court legal notices. It is normal though that the content thief will not simply pay and most of time it turns into a legal dispute over damages in such case.

What can you do if the content thief is located abroad?

It is by far more difficult when content thief is located abroad. Then content thieves often hide their identity and if their location is outside of the EU, your chances to act against content jacking are zero. In such cases, you should carefully evaluate as the website operator if you want to invest time and effort to act against the content thief. A private demand letter should be send to the content thief of course, ideally an email in English would serve well that can be at least viewed by the foreign content thief as a serious threat.

What does the DMCA application of Internet search engine Google yield?

For all cases of content jacking applies though that you have the option to file a so-called DMCA application with Google. With that, Google is made aware of the content jacking and the possible plagiarism of your text in the World Wide Web and should Google accept the authorship of the applicant, the plagiarism will be blocked from this Internet search engine.

Notice about the content of this page

The content of this text was researched carefully, however it is possible that statements are not correct, distorted, outdated and not yet valid. The article pertains to Germany, even if it is not explicitly noted. Under no circumstances should you use this article as a legal opinion. Consult an attorney or help desk regarding your concerns. Note that in many legal matters time limits exist, which can be a disadvantage if missed. (Based loosely on Wikipedia: legal topics)

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