The Stealing Of Intellectual Property Online

by Nancy E. Roebke

(Note by Scott -- the content of this is most excellent. But since its publication, many of the links have disappeared and some of the resources have changed. The information is still relevant and you can search for more information, easily.)

As the Internet gets more and more traffic, the incidences of theft of material online is increasing. Sometimes, this is the result of lack of knowledge about what is considered theft. Most of the time, that is not the case. I am sharing in this articles, ideas that were given to me on this topic. I want to make three things clear before we start:

1. I am not an attorney so the topic of what is and is not copyrightable will not be discussed here. I defer that discussion to those who are trained in that area.

2. The ideas expressed here were shared amongst the online small business community. They are SUGGESTIONS and should be treated as such.

3. I am publicly thanking those who helped me with my recent challenges in this area. Although I wanted to share their e-mail addresses in the acknowledgement below, I am not, due to my concern that they will get more spam than they already do.


What You Can Do To Prevent Theft Of Your Material?

1. Print out copies of all of the material you have online. All of your web pages, all of your autoresponders, all of the articles you have written- EVERYTHING. Be sure to include a date on your copies.

2. Print out copies of all of the SOURCE CODE of your web pages. Again, include a date.

Scott's Note: You could probably compress your entire site and store it ON your website, since that would add a date to the file transfer that would reference a point in time for the files on line. Another option would be to burn a cd of your website -- since those cannot be modified (not talking a r/w cd) and are permanent in nature, you could sign and date the disk and send it to yourself or to your lawyer. Since you ought to have a will, you probably have a lawyer!

3. Add a copyright notice to every page of your web site, all of your autoresponders, all of your articles- EVERYTHING. My Copyright notice is below:

Copyright c1996-1997-1998 Profnet, Inc. All rights reserved. Using the information at this site and linked to this site is done at your own risk. No promises or guarantees of any kind are intended or implied.

4. Copyright your material. It is very easy to do online. See <>.

5. Consider a Poor Man's Copyright. Print a copy of everything you have online including the tree structure of your website. Sign and date each page. HAVE IT NOTARIZED. Put it in an envelope and tape it shut. Put "x's" across the seal. Take it to the post and place the stamp across the seal. Have the postman stamp the stamp on your envelope. Mail it to a party who would be responsible for presenting it in court should they need to.

Considering how easy and how inexpensive a copyright on the material is, I personally prefer that option.

6. Include a Copyright Meta Tag in your source code.

<META name="copyright" content="Copyright (c) 1998, Profnet, Inc.. All Rights reserved."> <META name="author" content="Nancy Roebke, Profnet, Inc.(">

I understand that the search engines ignore this tag.

7. Look into online technology that prevents your web pages from being copied easily. I want to personally thank Ronnie Gauthier for setting up a protection demo at, which seems to no longer be at this location.

It appears to be just what I needed and is best for the pages on your site that contain the most important information.

You can "lock" your very valuable material by using Adobe Acrobat (PDF) security features to distribute information while preventing users from modifying, selecting (copying), or printing these files. To see this technology in action, visit . They distributed the full text of about 40 plays this way.

You can also protect your html on your site by using "TARGET=_TOP" in your links

I was also told that Bill with ( might be able to answer some of your questions.

8. Add a section to your site on how to become an authorized agent for your product line. Include information on how people can use your material legitimately and according to your rules.

9. Include a page on your site that outlines your reprint permission criteria. The best site I have ever seen that did this is at You can also view mine at Whatever you do- don't copy these pages and put them on your site. Be sure to write your own.

10. Learn about NETA.

NETA is the No Electronic Theft Act signed by President Clinton in December of 1998. The new act makes it a serious criminal offense, to engage in certain acts of copying materials protected by copyright that were previously treated as criminal offenses only if they were done for financial gain. Despite the name of the legislation, it covers much more than simply electronic theft. Learn everything you can about it.

(Ed. note - A small overview is provided here) Use "Back" to return to this article)


* What To Do When It Happens To You

1. Print out the pages the stolen material is being used on.

2. Print out the source code of those pages.

3. Notify their ISP or their upline provider (you can do a tracer for this by doing "whois") about copyright infringement and tell them that if THEY do not take action within 48 hrs, you will also hold them liable for damages for copyright infringement. You will usually get a response from them on their copyright infringement policy.

4. Email the webmaster of the site the material is on. That e-mail can contain many things. Ideas given to me on ways to handle this are listed below. Not all of these ideas will work in all situations. Decide what is best for your situation:

a. Contact the webmaster stating that stolen material appears on their site and ask for the name of the person responsible for that material.

b. Invite them to become partners. It was suggested that you say:" Thank you for expressing interest in our web site. Unfortunately, you have stolen copyrighted material from us. You can become an authorized agent reselling selling our products. You can keep the material, but all order forms must be directed to my company. You will receive a XX% commission on all sales generated from your site." Give them a reference number for if he wanted to get in touch again "so we could find his files".

c. Invite them to buy a license for your product or service. They could then be allowed to distribute materials of your choice, or to "lease" them (which would allow you to stop the arrangement at any time).

d. After insisting the site owner take the materials down, demand in the same place a description of what you do and free advertising, an endorsement, a link to your site, and anything else you can think of. e. Send them a bill for using the material.

f. Send an e-mail with the following information. Reprinted courtesy of Barb Sabal:

Sample Trademark Infringement Letter

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing on behalf of Art a deux, Ltee., a manufacturer of greeting cards. Art a deux, Ltee. is the owner of a registered trademark for the term "My Sentiments" (No. 75/336,850 registered on August 6, 1997 with a priority date of July 8, 1997). We very much value our trademarks and would appreciate your ceasing use of the My Sentiments mark.

We found at least one use of this trademark on your site at HTTP://xxxxxxxx. Please remove all instances of the My Sentiments mark from the Web pages that you manage, which also includes any instances of butterflies and dogs within the design.

We feel there is a possibility of confusion as our two companies offer the same or similar products.

We appreciate your cooperation and sensitivity to the protection of our intellectual property and would appreciate the removal of our mark(s) from your web pages by or before .........[insert date].

End Trademark Letter

Copyright Inclusion...

If you have any questions concerning our trademark, feel feel free to contact our lawfirm at:

Keyser Mason Ball 201 City Centre Drive Mississauga, Ontario

Attn: Anthony de Fazekas (905) 276-0418

Please also remove any instances of "" that you are utilizing as contact information for your own company, as this is also a copyright infringement.

As we have asked you previously over one month ago, we trust we have your full cooperation.

We appreciate your cooperation and sensitivity to the protection of our intellectual property.

End Copyright Letter


5. Send a Certified Letter From an attorney. Keep your attorney informed of everything you do. Some pre-paid legal programs handle this as well.

6. Be proactive in your handling of this online. Should you not get satisfaction with the above actions, there are several ways to proceed. Paul Myers offered the following suggestions:

a. Notes to the infringer's clients are one.

b. Blacklisting by a small group of people with control over access to publicity is another. Enough listowners refusing to deal with someone is a good start. The good listowners will go along. What's left? The whiner lists.

These avenues can be especially effective in a global marketplace and when dealing with the cases of International theft. Many people wrote expressing variations of the following, sent to me by Geoffrey Gussis:

"I am writing, however, not to commiserate but instead to encourage people to enforce their legal rights to the maximum extent possible. The only way to stem the tide of copyright infringement on the Net is to make people pay for what they take. Although the processes for registering an entire huge website with the U.S. Copyright office are complex, registering important pieces of your website can entitle you to significant advantages if someone ends up stealing your work. Copyright registration is not required; your work is protected once you have fixed it in a tangible medium. However, if you register your copyright before your work is infringed, you may be entitled to statutory damages and attorney's fees. Registration is cheap ($20 for a literary work) and you can get the forms online." Be proactive, at least in protecting what is yours.


*What not to do

1. Do not under any circumstances accuse before you know who actually stole the material. Do your due diligence, find out, then you can share the "facts" that are available. The online small business community is VERY savvy and will have no problem drawing their own conclusions, once the facts are made known.

2. Do nothing about this challenge we are all facing. To do nothing, either to prevent theft or to deal with it when it happens to you will surely aid in the increase of the act.

3. Expect our governments to be able to fix this challenge for us. As Dana Blankenhorn so succinctly said:

"No matter how noble the goal, the pattern is the same. Want to protect the environment? Small auto shops denounce laws on dumping oil into streams. Want to plan the city? Small developers denounce you for taking their property. Want to protect music copyright? Restaurants want an exception for their mood music. And on and on and on.

Whenever you beat-back "regulation," you leave room for charlatans and crooks. But whenever you propose regulation, you will be denounced as a "big government liberal" by groups which don't want the hassle of obeying the new law.

The point is, crooks hide in boundaries. Cops charged with policing these boundaries may (by accident) hassle honest businesses. Regulators who seek to prevent crime by requiring forms (civil rules, or rules of civility) may also hassle the law-abiding.

So we have to decide how much hassle we're willing to deal with from the cops, and how much regulation from the civil authority, in order to protect ourselves."


*Things To Remember:

1. Use the Internet as a source of ideas but don't copy what you find. You really don't know who actually wrote the material you see since people hire ghost writers and content writers all the time. You may be stealing the material of someone you personally know and suffer huge consequences because of it.

2. Some people feel that when your site has material stolen, it is a compliment.

3. No one can do what you do as well as you do it.

4. It takes time to follow-up on these situation. Do not let the person who stole from you online also steal so much time from you that you can't accomplish the other things you need to do.

5. Be sure you have taken steps to avoid claims against you and your business, as well. The following was shared by James L. McNish . [This is general information for the benefit of all of the IB Digest list that may be interested in the subject. It is not legal advice about your specific situation.]:

a. If your office has copiers or computers: (i) learn what copying is legal and what is prohibited, and share this information with your employees; (ii) adopt a company policy that unauthorized copying is prohibited, and advise employees (preferably in writing) of the policy; (iii) post notices by photocopiers and computers.

b. If it is frequently important in your business to make copies from magazines, journals or books, there are organizations, such as the Copyright Clearance Center that can facilitate authorizations for you. Often this can be done for as little as three or four dollars per article copied. Some businesses choose to negotiate a blanket license with the Copyright Clearance Center, allowing them to make unlimited copies for a single annual fee.

c. Take steps to assure that your employees understand when copying is allowed as a "fair use" of copyrighted material. If you do not know what is fair use, seek advice or obtain a publication discussing the issue.


* Thank You To The Following People: (Should I have missed anyone, please let me know and I will add you to the list. NR)

Robert A. Huntsman, Bradley Bartz , Jack Yan, Geoffrey Gussis , Ronnie Gauthier ,Leslie Smyth, Jeffrey Baumgartner, Dana Blankenhorn, Jan Crowell, Russ Kelly, Paul Myers, Denise Stewart, Marilyn Strong, Brian Platz, Shari Thurow, Bruce M. Clay, Janis Rose, James L. McNish, Michael Richter, Aaron Zahrowski, Scott Temaat, Jeremy L. Miller, Yves Poirier, Sharon Tucci, Barb .A. Sybal, Nikki Sev Pilkington, Dee Power, and especially to the thief of my material and to ALL thieves out there. Because of you, the Internet small business community is a bit wiser.

About the author: Nancy E. Roebke is the Executive Director of Profnet, Inc. Nancy can be reached at: Execdirector@Profnet.Org and visit the ProfNet web site at: Learn to Network! Increase income, cut costs, and put an end to cold calling. Subscribe to our

FREE newsletter that teaches you the secrets of successful networking. !

ProfNet- Helping Business Professionals Find More Business


Hugh Murray kindly gave me permission to repost something he said on one of the lists that I thought was excellent:

A few months ago, we got back a manual with a Post-It sticker which read, "Matt, you can send this back now, I have made the copies you asked for". We immediately took legal advice.

Our problem was that the evidence was not conclusive. Although we, the judge and the lawyers would all know perfectly well that copies had been made, if the defendant chose to deny it, we had no proof. We also believed that if we contacted the defendants asking them for an explanation and threatening legal action, they could destroy the evidence and our case would be lost.

So, we hit upon this strategy. We issued a writ out of the blue, without warning. The writ alleged unlawful copying and named a sum of damages. We then publicised the fact that we had issued the writ, by means of press releases, the internet and in other ways.

The point about this is that a writ is privileged in law as regards defamation. If I say, "you killed my dog" that could be defamatory and you could sue. But if I say, "I have issued a writ alleging that you have killed my dog" you cannot sue for defamation. Because it is true. I have. (I haven't, but you know what I mean!)

The combination of the writ and the adverse publicity brought the defendants, a firm of accountants, to heel extremely fast and we settled out of court.

You can read about the case at the Training Media Copyright Association web site at: in the "pirates exposed" page.

Hugh is a lawyer - should you need any advice, contact him!


Another Addendum:

From: Shari Thurow

Subject: Online Thievery Update

I want to let you all know what we have done since we posted last (about our problem with online theivery of copyrighted materials)

1. Made hard and digital copies of both the stolen web page content and the source code.

We printed out the web pages that were stolen and made sure that the date he printed the pages out was included on every page. We also included the URL (location) and the Title on the printed pages. We have to have a date on there and a URL in the event that either the host or the webmaster takes the site down.

Second, we viewed the source code (i.e. the HTML code) and printed that out. What is amazing is that the person/site administrator actually took our code. Same font settings, same graphic bullet points, same table formats. A lot of our source code and his source code match.

2. Did a WHOIS at Network Solutions ( to see who hosts their site and who is the administrative contact.

One of our HelpDesk participants, Terry Kluytmans < >, gave me very helpful information. She said to see if the host has an Acceptable Use Policy that speaks to the consequence of copyright infringement. This is more evidence for us. We printed that web page and source code out as well.

3. Made sure we have hard evidence that our content is "older" than the allegedly stolen content.

Many, many thanks to Lisa Hupman ( for sending us this tip. Of course, we have to prove that we actually wrote the content and the code, not the alleged thief. I thank goodness that I have older versions of our website. Rest assured, the dates have been noted and printed out.

We also printed out the dates that our graphic images were created.

This tip from Lisa is a very valuable one. A lot of people do not save older versions of their sites, but rather save over the old file. We just recently redesigned our website (it's not quite finished yet), and I kept the redesign separate from the older site. I even copied the graphic images into an identical images directory. So we were able to retain the dates that the graphic images were created and/or modified.

As a side note, I am so happy that I met Nick Nichols ( and partnered with him. (We started corresponding after we read each others' posts on the HelpDesk -- thanks, Eva.) We updated our entire tips section to reflect the current search engine/directory changes and any new design ideas that we thought would be better, so some of the content is not an exact match. But we gave Nick permission to use many of our tips in one of his publications a while ago (last year). We have a contract with him, and he has hard copies of our original tips. More evidence that the content is our intellectual property.

On a last note, Terry gave us another valuable tip. We use a footer.gif on our new website for contact information and copyright notice. (We do this so we only have to replace one graphic at the end of the year to update the copyright dates.) We should put ALT text in this graphic that states the copyright in the event that our site visitors are surfing with their images turned off. It's a good safety precaution. Thanks, Terry.

And thank everyone for their support.

Take care, Shari Thurow (


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