What To Do When You Find Someone Has Stolen Your Website Wholesale

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There's an insidious practice occurring online. Scammers will register domain names similar to known businesses and copy their sites wholesale in the hopes of tricking visitors into doing a variety of things, such as clicking on ads or providing personal information that can be exploited. As you can imagine, this can damage your company's reputation as well as cause you to lose business. Here's what you can do to fight back and get the situation resolved in your favor.

Contact the Site Owner

Even though your first instinct may be to call your attorney and file a lawsuit against the infringer, it's cheaper to contact the person that owns the website and issue a cease and desist letter to stop using your copyrighted works. There's a chance the person, having been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, will comply and take down the site rather than risk being sued. Additionally, courts like it when plaintiffs make a good-faith effort to resolve situations before heading into court.

When crafting your cease and desist letter, be sure to add a reasonable deadline (e.g., 7 days from the receipt of the letter) for when you expect the copyrighted content to be removed. This will prevent the offender from dragging their feet on the issue and allow you to move as quickly as needed to protect your rights.

If you're having trouble finding contact information for the person on the website, you can use a WHOIS database, such as DomainTools, to look up information about who registered the domain. There should be a name, address, phone number, and email address for the registrant. Use that info to submit your cease and desist letter.

Unfortunately, the person's real information may be hidden behind a privacy service, so skip to step two if that's the case.

Submit a DMCA Take-Down Notice With the Web Host

If you don't receive a response from the infringer within the time period you've given or if the individual flat-out refuses to remove the content, the next step is to submit a complaint with the person's web host. Hosting providers in the United States do not tolerate copyright infringement because they could be held liable for aiding and abetting the crime by continuing to allow the content to stand. Thus, submitting a formal complaint—known as a DMCA take-down notice—will usually cause the host to take quick action.

DomainTools will list the name of the hosting provider among the information it provides you about the site. However, there are also a number of websites that can tell which company is hosting the website, such as WhoIsHostingThis and AccuWebHosting. GoDaddy also has a good tutorial on manually locating the webhost by pinging the site's web address.

Once you get the contact information of the web host, submit a complaint to its abuse department detailing the site that is using your copyrighted content and providing a link to your site showing you are the owner of the original material that was stolen. The web host should get back to you fairly quickly, and most times this is all it takes to get an infringing site removed.

Contact the Domain Registrar

Unfortunately, if the web host is located in a country that doesn't recognize US copyright laws and/or that doesn't have copyright laws that are as strict as those found in America, then you may have a difficult time getting the provider to cooperate. Another option is to file a complaint with the site's domain registrar.

Although domain registration companies only deal with domain names, you may still be able to get the site removed if you can show the domain name the person is using infringes on your company's trademark or was registered in bad faith. You would submit your complaint the registrar abuse department and provide proof of your claim. If successful, the registrar will often cancel the domain name, which will effectively remove the site from the internet.

There are other ways you can handle someone who tries to impersonate your company online. Contact a business litigation attorney for help resolving this issue.

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