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The Main Event: Pirates off the Starboard Bow
Posted Jul 28, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

In a creative business like ours, you'd think that every videographer would be anxious to showcase his or her own talents and work, but it's not always true. Newcomers, anxious to get a quick start, have been known to steal text, images, and video clips from established videographers and use them on their own websites.

Pirated material can turn up in a number of ways. A new videographer posts to an internet forum, says he's building a website, and asks if anyone has "some clips I can use." Or a client calls you, and asks why the same demo clips occur both on your site and on the site of a competitor. A Google search of some key phrases finds your material on another site. A videographer recognizes the demo of a well-known colleague, but posted on an unfamiliar website. Another pirate site doesn't even bother to copy your material, but links directly to your own video clips (the nerve!).

When caught, pirates offer all sorts of excuses, such as the following:

  • "My web designer did it." Not true. Web designers get content from the client, or at least submit it for approval.
  • "Anything on the web is in the public domain." No, it's not. The web is just a medium of distribution, and putting something there does not mean it's automatically free for the taking, any more than the books at Borders are free.
  • "Everyone's doing it." Not true, and no excuse.
  • "I'm new and don't have any material of my own." Everyone has to overcome this hurdle. Shoot some freebies.
  • "It's my stuff and the other person's the thief." This can easily be checked. Google, Yahoo!, and the Web Archive (www.archive.org) maintain copies of past versions of many websites.
  • "He/she did such-and-such to me first." Sorry, two wrongs don't make a right. But I'll concede that it takes a strong character to keep from jumping into the sewer with your opponent when you're boiling mad.

Most often, when confronted with the theft, the offender will simply remove the disputed material, either with an apology or without saying anything.

Not all bad guys are sneak thieves. Some of them prefer assault. Here are some examples:

  • A rival attacks you on a public forum.
  • A rival pretends to be you on a public forum, and makes statements that undermine your credibility.
  • Your website is actually hacked, and embarrassing content is substituted.
  • Your rival directs a flood of traffic to your site, overloading your bandwidth. Your ISP socks you with a bill. (This may backfire. If the traffic likes your stuff, it could result in a lot of new business!)

What can you do to protect yourself from theft or attack? If it happens to you, how should you respond? Nothing is foolproof, but here are some pointers that can help:

  • Hire a good web designer. They should be able to implement a number of security measures on your site. For example, there are scripts to keep web robots from indexing "members only" parts of your site.
  • Include a copyright notice on your site. It won't stop a determined thief, but it may deter casual borrowers who think anything not nailed down is free for the taking.
  • Watermark your content. This can be invisible, such as a digital signature encoded in a still image, or a visible watermark on images and video clips. • Incorporate original phrasing in your text, and search the web periodically to find if your particular phrases are being used by other sites.
  • Register URLs that are close to your business name or your own name. Registration isn't expensive, and you can even use the URLs to broaden your own web presence by pointing to your site. If they are already taken, check them periodically to see what the owner(s) are doing.
  • Keep a backup copy of your website offline.
  • Remove old, unused files from your site.
  • Don't put your email address on the site directly. Make it an image file, or use a "Contact Us"-type link.

If you find someone's stolen your content, first send them an email asking them to remove it. If they don't respond, then contact the "Abuse" address of their ISP or web host. A good set of free tools to investigate ISPs and URLs can be found at www.DNSstuff.com. Most ISPs are pretty good about shutting down offending sites. However, some very large organizations won't act unless forced. If the ISP balks, the next step is to hire an attorney to send letters to both the offending party and his or her ISP. If that doesn't work, resolution is going to get much more expensive. Bringing suit against someone will cost tens of thousands . . . so be sure you've tried everything else, and that it's worth it.

As the moderator of some web forums, one thing I won't encourage you to do is to take the dispute public. Keep it private, keep it professional, and think twice before hitting that Send button!

In the end, the best defense against theft is to be so good, so original, that everyone will immediately recognize your work as yours. The best defense against attack is to be honest and fair with your clients and your colleagues. A solid reputation goes a long way to repel pirates!

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