September 28, 2008

Has Your Web Site Been Plagiarized? Time to Find Out.

They say "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," but when your intellectual property has been stolen, the warm fuzzies just aren't there. Finding my Web site duplicated and published under a different name did make me wonder, however. Of millions of possible targets, why did mine make it to the top of a swindler's list?

If you've thought that identity theft applied only to people, think again. It happens to Web sites, too. My experience might help if you ever get the shock that I did.

It all started on a Sunday morning when I did a Google search for references to "No change is an island," which is a phrase I've trademarked. I expected specific sites to appear, but there was another one, too. When I clicked on the link, it looked very familiar.

As I read its opening page, I realized it was the text from my business site, Christopher Technology Consulting, with the name changed. It really got interesting on the "Services" page: it was my Services page (including the reference to my being an expert witness in intellectual property cases!) with the company name changed once, but "Christopher Technology" occurring thereafter.

Obviously, not a very bright thief, so the flattery angle disappeared after that.

I used the "WHOIS" function from our domain registrar to obtain the administrator's name and the host for the fraudulent site. You could also Google "WHOIS search."

I then found the format of a Cease & Desist letter for copyright and trademark infringement and sent a C&D request by surface mail and e-mail to the both the administrator and the host, Yahoo! (http:/ / ).

Ah, the legal system. Yahoo! replied that my message was insufficient as I had neglected to use the words "good faith belief" and "under penalty of perjury." Maybe those form letters on the Internet are not all they are cracked up to be. I sent back an e- mail adding the magic words.

The administrator, who lives in the UK, wrote next. He claimed no knowledge of the site and that he had reported identity theft to the Bedfordshire Police. Was he a wily co-conspirator? I wrote to the police, but they would verify only that a report had been filed.

Meanwhile, 15 days had passed and the fraudulent site was still there for all the world to access. A friend asked about their expertise. "Well, they copied my 'Services' page, so I guess they do everything I do," I replied. With a grin he asked, "Are they cheaper? Maybe I'll give them a call."

With friends like these ...

Yahoo! finally wrote that it would take "appropriate action."

The next day the site was gone. It had taken 20 days, but Yahoo! removed the Domain Name Server (DNS) records that pointed to the site.

It might be a good idea for you to search some of your Web site text some Sunday morning. You might be surprised by what you find.

Reach the author at (757) 373-1454 or [email protected]

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