Last night I was working on my website and decided to check out some of the analytics. I noticed among the traffic sources a url that looked similar to a client's url but wasn't the same. So being curious I clicked on the link and found myself at the website I had designed and coded for my client but I noticed very quickly there were bits and pieces that were askew:
- The photo wasn't showing properly.
- The columns were funky.
- The type? Ghastly.
So now I'm thinking, "Hello?!" Why is there a website with a different URL with the exact same information as my clients site?!
I poke around the site some more. Unbelievable. He or She duplicated my client's site word for word, code for code, background images, all my photographs, all the links -- everything!
One problem: No contact information. Believe it or not, this person left all my contact details and links on the dupe site which ultimately lead to his or her discovery.
So, I poke around some more. View source code. I can't believe it. The site isn't even hotlinked. This person took the trouble to download every asset and re-build the exact site on the same platform!
OK, number one: WHY?! Why in the world would you go to all that trouble? To see if you can build a site? To convince a client you can build the site?
Number two: Who in their right mind with the motivation to STEAL would name the site nearly exactly the same as the original site and add "remake" to the end of the name?
Number three: Why make it public? If you wanted to "test" your chops or convince a client, why make the pages public and allow the pages to be indexed? The platform they built it on allows for pages to be "hidden". Hello!
Number four: Who the hell do you think you are? Did you think you would never be caught?! You really must be a fool.
I suppose I'll be trying to figure this out in my head for awhile because it is just totally amazing to me that someone would do this. Do they hate my client and wanted to screw with his brand? Did they like the site design so much they were thinking it would be flattery? Really?
What to Do When You Discover Someone Has Stolen Your Entire Website or Pieces of It?
First, full disclosure: I'm no expert and from consulting my lawyer and some bits and pieces I got from my helpful tweeples as well as the hosting/platform company, here's what I would do the next time it happens (and I would recommend keeping all documentation and seek legal counsel):
1. Contact the site owner. Politely (or not depending on how you want to play it) inform that person or company and you would request that they either take down the site (if the whole site was duped) or remove the assets (that clearly belong to you) off their site.
2. Contact the hosting company of the dupe website and file a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) Claim. Let them know you believe or know that some of your content, photos, code, designs or even your entire website has been stolen. Include the URL; list what parts were stolen; what date you discovered this and how. Here's a good sample DMCA Claim Letter or this DMCA Notice of Copyright Infringement Sample.
3. Give them some time (or not). This number depends on how comfortable you are with waiting. I gave the hosting company in my head 24 hours to resolve this or at least make an effort to at least help me out since there was no way for me to reach the site owner.
Things that Could Have Been Handled Better
1. For the OSP (Online Service Provider): Train your support or customer service peeps to know what to do the next time this happens. My first person of contact actually told me to:
- a. Consider that I may have given out login details to other people (ya think?)
- b. Wait for the person who duped the entire site to put up a contact form so I could get in touch with that person (Seriously?)
That last suggestion was super priceless and the less-than-serious nature of the response irked me. So I told that person the answer was unacceptable and put me in touch with someone who can give me a more satisfactory response.
In the end, the OSP came through and my faith has been restored but I'll be watching.
Remember, consult with a lawyer. I personally like having back up especially if the stakes and costs of a potentially damaged online brand are higher.
A Few More Resources
- Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act
- Digital Millennium Copyright Act
- Electronic Copyright Office
- United States Copyright Office