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I've always been of the opinion that competition
is a good thing. It encourages all of us to be better
and make better products. While it might be true that
imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, copying
someone else's work is simply wrong.
We recently came across a competitor using
our sales copy. The competitor was using a web graph
showing the traffic on one of our sites, along
with our sales copy to promote their competing application.
Digging a little further, I realized that their competing
application was, in both form and function, identical
to our application. The competing program contained
identical screenshots, custom program icons and our
help documentation. While the code of the program was,
in fact, different, it was clear that our copyright
had been violated.
We are not the first company to have our
copyright violated and once the initial emotional reaction
passed, we took action.
Dealing With Copyright or Trademark
Who, What and Where
Before reacting, it is important to do homework
and research the alleged content violator. Arm yourself
with information. Determining the who, what and where
will guide you in taking the appropriate steps.
Determine WHO is violating your copyright
Research the website: do a Whois lookup to determine
the site's owner. The domain owner can be found by entering
the domain into http://www.whois.com
and clicking on the link that says Whois Lookup. If
the copyright on software has been violated, check the
PAD file for the author and release date.
Determine WHERE the website hosting
Determine where the website is hosted. Web hosts
located in progressive countries will be more cooperative
in addressing copyright violations. After determining
the webhost's location, check the host's Terms of Service
(TOS) and Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to determine the
level of cooperation you will likely receive. More often
than not, a physical address and detailed information
on how to report an abuse claim will be found in the
webhost's terms of service.
Determine exactly WHAT violations
When determining if a copyright violation has
occurred, it is important to go back to the question
of what constitutes a copyright violation.
Copyright is a form of protection provided
by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code)
to the authors of “original works of authorship. This
work can be literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, or
similar intellectual works. Copyright protection is
available to both published and unpublished works. It
is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided
by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. It is
important to note that ideas can not be copywritten,
and while it may be morally and ethically questionable,
cloning a software application is not a copyright violation,
yet copying a helpfile is a copyright violation.
Copyright protection exists from the time
the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in
the work of authorship immediately becomes the property
of the author who created the work. Only the author
or those deriving their rights through the author can
rightfully claim copyright. Evaluate the violator's
work to determine if text, graphics or any of the program
or website's artistic qualities are the same as your
creative works. Print hard copies of any documents and
save electronic versions of web pages and executables.
Capture screenshots of offenses, save documentation
or the Help file that contains any duplications of text.
Enter the URL of the offending website into http://www.archive.org
to see the website's history and determine a timeline
during which violations occurred. Look and feel can
be subjective, try to focus on obvious or flagrant violations.
Copied text or Help files is obvious when filing a complaint
with web hosts or other third parties.
What is Next?
If you feel your copyright has, in fact, been
violated there are a number of steps that you can take.
Contacting third party service providers is a good starting
point. Make a list of the providers with whom you can
contact to report the violations.
2. Online Ordering
3. If Software, Download Sites
4. Associations or Organizations
Aside from service providers, consider
using existing relationships with parties who have a
mutual interest or relationship with the other party.
Often, knowing key people can result in a rapid response
and increased dialogue with the purported offender.
Send simultaneous emails to each of the
parties identified. Include details of the violation;
using a PDF that displays screen captures or copies
of text violations with website pointers is helpful.
In the email, explain the action you wish to occur.
If you want the web host to remove the website, say
so. Also, ask that they keep you apprised of the situation.
In most cases you will receive responses
from webhosts or registration services that require
you to provide additional details so that the infringement
can be investigated. It may seem obvious to the copyright
holder, but the web hosts typically have a contractual
agreement with their clients and are legally obligated
to research any infringements before removing hosting
or registration services.
Send a Cease and Desist letter and an
email detailing that a copyright has been violated,
include a reasonable deadline by which the offending
copy or application should be removed. It is not necessary
to provide the offender the details of the violation,
as it is likely they are already aware of the offenses
that have occurred. These actions will generally open
a dialogue with the offender. If the offender ignores
requests to remove the material that infringes on your
copyright, pursue action with third party services.
This will likely get the offender's attention.
Artists, developers, and writers all work
hard to create unique material and copyrights should
be respected by all.
About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll http://www.feedforall.com
software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds
and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for
a wireless text messaging software company.
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