How to Beat Content Scrapers – And Avoid Google Panda Penalties – With Copyright Protection

by Houston Neal

Director of Marketing ,
Software Advice
6/2/2011

Don't yawn. Copyright protection has big implications for your organization. Bloggers, website owners, and any organization that publishes content online should heed this advice: copyright your content!

With Google's recent Panda update, scraper sites are now frequently outranking the original author of great content. That is, websites that steal and illegally publish content from other websites are now ranking higher in Google than the site from which they stole the content. Content creators need to track down scrapers and force them to remove copyrighted content.

However, an unregistered copyright claim is a "timid, toothless tiger," as our attorney explained. Any counsel worth their weight knows this. You can cry and stamp your feet all you want, but you really have little leverage against scrapers if you haven't registered your copyrighted content. Adding copyright language to your website footer is not enough.

Avoid Panda Penalties with a Copyright Strategy

Why, you may ask, is Software Advice writing a blog post about copyright? We suffer the same fate as other online publishers; scrapers steal our stuff. We mostly ignored it in the past. Hey, the Internet is all about the dissemination of information, right? Not necessarily.

This February Google rolled out a major update to its algorithm dubbed the “Panda Update.” Its aim is to lower spam websites – including those that copy others’ content – in Google’s search results. But because Google didn’t get it quite right in each case, some high-quality publishers are now seen as the scraper, and the scraper as the original author.

In light of this change, we decided to register all the content on our website. Yes, all 1,200 pages. Scrapers, be warned! We also decided to share what we learned along the way.

Legal Disclaimer – Just 'Cause We Have To

What’s an article about copyright without a legal disclaimer? In all seriousness, I (and Software Advice) cannot give legal advice. This article should not be interpreted as such. This article provides general information about the Copyright Law of 1976 and how to register your website’s content with the Copyright Office. Every organization is unique, and so is their copyright situation. You should consult an attorney if you have a question about Copyright Law or registration.

What You Need to Know About Copyright Law

The Copyright Act of 1976 is a US law that – to this day – is the foundation from which all other copyright provisions exist. The law prohibits anyone from reproducing, modifying, selling, or displaying literary work without authorization. Even if the literary work is not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, it is still covered under the law (so long as it is “fixed in a tangible medium”). However, registration can be very valuable when pursuing litigation.

If you don’t register your content, or if you wait until litigation begins, you forfeit any statutory damages that you could have received otherwise. But if you do register, you can be awarded up to $30,000 for a case of clear copying, or up to $150,000 for “willful infringement.” No evidence of lost revenue is needed to collect these damages. Instead, it depends on how severe the copying is. You may also be able to recover attorney fees.

But it’s about more than the potential for a win in court. It’s leverage. Write a tough letter to a scraper, tell them the work they stole is registered, and ask them to check with their attorney as to why that’s a big deal. They will pretty soon learn that they had better comply with your demands.

To improve your chances of receiving statutory damages, you need to register your content, but also provide copyright notice. If you don’t give notice, the scraper website could claim they didn’t know about the copyright protection (i.e. “innocent infringement”). Proper notice includes three items: 1) your company name; 2) the word “copyright” or © symbol; and, 3) The first year of publication.

Here is an example of how we provide notice of our copyright: “© 2006-2011 Software Advice, Inc.”

How to Register Your Content

While intimidating at first, registering your content through the Electronic Copyright Office is easy and affordable (we registered 250 PDF-pages of content for just $35). For starters, read through Circular 66 from the Copyright Office. It provides some background on how online registration works.

Before registering, you should also know that you can register a single piece of content (e.g. a blog post) or a collective work (e.g. all your blog posts). Registering every blog post individually would get expensive. So, you could register all your existing blog posts as a collective work, then just register new blog posts as a revision or “derivative work.” Of course there may be some cases when registering one article makes sense (e.g. if it’s really important).

After deciding what to register, the actual registration process is easy using the Copyright Office online system. We’ll break it down into three steps, just like the Copyright Office did.

  1. Complete the application. Create an account at: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/. Login and select “Register a New Claim” from the menu. There are 12 steps in the process that you’ll need to complete. The Copyright Office has already created a very handy PowerPoint and PDF tutorial that provides detailed step-by-step instructions. So we’re not going to present instructions here.
  2. Make a payment. After you review your application, you will be required to pay the application fee. This payment is required before you upload your work. You can pay using a credit card or your bank account (using ACH).
  3. Upload your content. Finally, you will be prompted to submit your work. To do this electronically, click the “Upload Deposit” link. An upload window will pop up as a separate window, so be sure to disable your web browser’s pop-up blocker before doing this. You can submit most file types using this system, including PDFs, Microsoft Word Documents (.doc), and plain text files (.txt).

Congratulations, you’re done! Well, almost. You’ll need to monitor the status of the application. The average processing time for e-Filing is three months. You also need to keep an eye out for scrapers who violate your copyright. When they do, pounce.

Thumbnail image created by MikeBlogs.

 

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