My Work Has Been Stolen! What Do I Do??
FROM THE DESK OF THE SITE WIZARD
Hello Wacky Writers, and welcome to CJ’s seminar on copyright infringement. As always, I must preface this post by reminding everyone that I am not a lawyer, so this cannot be taken as legal advice; however, I do happen to have some knowledge on the subject for your edification.
This topic has been popping up a lot this week – from Twitter to Wattpad to here on Wacky. Considering where most of us from Wacky originated from, I imagine most are unaware of what options you have to pursue reclaiming your work from a plagiarizer.
It’s a violation.
Copyright is no joke, and I feel like some people think it’s only something big companies can afford to pursue in terms of takedowns.
If you put your content on the internet, it is yours. If you write it in a notebook, it’s yours. If you doodle it on a piece of paper, it’s yours.
Unfortunately, not all sites are created equal, and some are more…helpful when it comes to plagiarized content than others. So without further ado, here are a few steps you can take to try and reclaim your stolen work. It might not be easy, and in fact, it may be time-consuming. But you DO have options.
What you should have ready:
- The site of the stolen work. Grab a URL, screenshot, anything that shows where it’s been posted and how it relates to the site in question.
- Proof that the content is yours. This can be anything from an originally posted date on sites like Wattpad or even a creation/modified date in a Word document. Timestamps are critical here. Have the Word/Google document ready to send if they ask for it as proof. Generally, though, just make sure you have the links to your work available where you originally posted it as well as WHEN it was posted.
- Your contact information. You will have to provide your name, address, email address, and phone number in most cases. This shouldn’t go to the infringing individual, it’ll go to the abuse or legal team of a website.
- The following statement (or something similar): “I have a good-faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”
- The following statement: “I swear under penalty of perjury that the information in this notification is accurate, and that I am the owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.”
- A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive right that is infringed (this is usually you).
In order of severity, here are the steps you can take.
Reach out to the website directly
Many sites (including Wacky) do take copyright infringement seriously. In most of a site’s legal documents (usually Terms of Service), there will be a section on what recourse you have to request your plagiarized work be removed. Many of them will look something like this (this is from Wattpad’s Terms of Service):
They should have explicit information about what you should provide them in a DMCA takedown request, but they’ll usually follow a similar pattern as the screenshot above.
But what happens when the website stonewalls you or refuses to acknowledge your rights as a creator?
Unfortunately, this happens sometimes. But you DO have more options!
Contact the website host or CDN
Common site hosts include Godaddy, Siteground, Bluehost, WordPress, etc. “Hosts” are where the website data and storage is kept – they’re the people who make sure the servers are up and running and can load the content of a webpage. They will also usually have specifics on how to get your content removed: they don’t want to host stolen work, that can open them up to a lawsuit too. You’ll start to notice a pattern of DMCA takedown request sections in Terms of Service documents…
But CJ, how do I find out where a site is hosted??
This is where you have to play the detective and do a little research. Use the site network-tools.com and search the WHOIS database for the website in question.
I’m using Wattpad as the example here because it’s the most well-known writing website:
You’ll get results that look like this. You need to find the “Name Server” section. Looks like a bunch of random stuff, right? (You may be able to guess this one, but some aren’t so easily found). Wattpad uses AWS to host their content (which is Amazon). If you don’t know the Name Servers by sight, just run a Google search for one or more of the Name Servers. Usually you’ll be able to figure out who hosts the site pretty quickly:
Cool, now you have your host information. So using your awesome Google skills, just do a search for the hosting provider and “DMCA” and you should find an answer fast (this is from Amazon’s DMCA takedown site).
What if the host is through a CDN?
A CDN is a “Content Delivery Network”. Common ones are Cloudflare, Amazon Cloudfront, or NS1 (Wacky uses Cloudflare). This is used for two purposes generally: to make content load faster across the world and to hide your host information from WHOIS searches like the one we used above. Name Servers will still show up in a WHOIS search, they just might point to a place that doesn’t typically offer site hosting. However, you will probably find that, just like normal site hosts, a CDN service will still give you an option to report copyrighted material. This screenshot is from NS1’s Terms of Service:
Noticing the pattern? Nobody wants to get caught up in a copyright lawsuit. They’re messy and can have huge financial consequences. Most of the time, websites, hosts, and CDNs will do takedown first and ask questions after. That’s where the next part comes in:
The right of the other person to file a counter-claim
BUT IT’S MINE!
Yes, it is. But the plagiarizer does have the legal option to file a counter-claim with the website/host/CDN stating that they are NOT, in fact, plagiarizing content and offer their own proof. Sites differ on how they handle this, but in my experience, most sites state that they won’t get involved past that–it now is up to you to file an actual lawsuit. If you do file a lawsuit (which usually has to be within 10 business days), they’ll get more involved. However, most of the time, a DMCA takedown notice (which is a SUPER official-looking scary notice) is enough to keep someone from filing a counter-claim. The thief would be taking their chances that you won’t file a lawsuit, and if you did, not only will they be found guilty of perjury (lying on a legal form) if you’re able to prove in a court that you legally own the content, they may also have to pay you for additional damages–like if they made money off your content or even caused you emotional distress. Lawsuits get big and ugly all the time.
Just be aware that it’s possible someone may have the nerve to submit a counter-claim–and unless you’re prepared to file an actual lawsuit, there may not be much else you can do.
You have one final course of action. It’s not nearly as satisfying as getting your work taken off the website in question, but it can still cause some discomfort financially to the site.
You can request that Google/search engines remove the content from their search results. You may have seen notices like this before when doing a Google search…
And yes, you have the ability to do this too. This screenshot is a publicly available page on Google:
You’ll need to provide the same information as all the other places: where the stolen content is, proof it’s yours, your contact information, and the legal statements that you promise that you’re not filing a false report (this can have SERIOUS legal consequences, don’t do this just out of spite or to try and “get back” at somebody–doing this can have REAL WORLD BIG consequences and you should ONLY submit a DMCA request if your work has actually been stolen).
After all of this, I hate to say it, but there’s no guarantee this will work in some cases. Some thieves may file a counter-claim on the chance you won’t file an actual lawsuit, or your proof won’t be considered “enough” to take down content. Your only option after that is a lawsuit. But you DO have options, and I felt they were not made public enough, especially when so many writers on Wattpad and other places see their work plagiarized so regularly.
You have options.
Your work is yours.
With a little effort and preparation, you can escalate a DMCA request all the way up to a big website host or even Google and they will review it, even if the individual or website itself won’t help you.
I have to reiterate that I’m not providing legal advice, but more of an FYI/PSA to everyone who has had their work stolen and feels like they don’t have options or don’t know how to go about reclaiming their stolen work.
Don’t steal, kids. Copyright is not a joke.
Much love to you all,