Jennifer Simpson and I met at this year's BlogHer conference where she was one of the volunteer audio gurus recording the event. Her first of a two-part post on copyright diligence is worthwhile reading for global companies of any size. Be sure to check out the resource links at the end of Jenn's article.
As the director of marketing for an online retailer of welding accessories I often surf the internet and, like any good marketing guru, I check out the competition. We don’t like to dwell on the competition too much around here but we do like to stay aware.
A year ago I found some content on a competitor’s website that was suspiciously exactly like content on our website, www.Arc-Zone.com. When I asked my boss about it, he told me that this document, a white paper on how to correctly set up your welding torch, was in fact written by us, not by the torch manufacturer.
Had it been distributed by the manufacturer as marketing materials we would have no claim to it and no reason to complain about its use on a competitor’s websites. But the fact is we wrote this article, it belongs to us to do with as we wish.
We pride ourselves on the amount of technical information we provide our customers. We don’t just sell part numbers, we sell high-performance accessories to sophisticated customers. I like to say we’re the Nordstrom of welding accessories, not the Walmart.
According to the United States Copyright Office, a “copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship.” In regards to written works, the owner of the copyright has the “exclusive right to do and to authorize others to” make copies of the work, prepare derivative works, or distribute copies.
Needless to say we had not authorized another welding distributor to use our content to compete with us. Clearly this was a copyright infringement.
We mailed a letter and asked the owner to remove the content, that this content was in fact protected by copyright as indicated on the bottom of each web page on our site. And we waited. And nothing happened. So we called. Actually my boss Jim called, since he’s the president of the company. Mr. Welding Shop Owner basically told us that everything on the internet is free and he could copy anything he wanted to. I believe the call ended with Mr. Owner saying, “So sue me.”
I did notice that Mr. Owner changed a couple of words. For example, our document titled “Maximize Weldcraft Water-Cooled TIG Torch Performance” became “Miller & Weldcraft Water-Cooled TIG Torch Performance.” At the time we didn’t want to sue given the expense of hiring a lawyer, not to mention the time involved-- time that would take away from our ability to serve our customers, to continue to grow the business. So we let it go.
It wasn’t until I went to the BlogHer convention in July 2006 that I learned how the Digital Millenium Copyright Act could help me, that search engines like Google or Yahoo may actually ban copyright infringers from their databanks (i.e. search results), and that web hosts can be asked to take down infringing content or be held liable. So in essence, even before you get your legal team involved, you can pull together a team-- a team with some teeth.
Some of you may be saying, “What’s the big deal if someone copies text from the internet?” or “Everyone does it!” Doesn’t make it right, though.
In our business we spend a lot of time crafting educational materials so our customers (and potential customers) can make the right decision about the product they need. It’s part of the customer service we offer, the value we add to the product we sell. And it’s how we position ourselves as a Nordstrom, not a warehouse.
Protecting our copyrighted material is another way we maintain our position in the marketplace. For Part 2 come along with me as I discover more content that has been infringed, and what I am doing about it!
In the meantime, check out these online resources:
Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a joint project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, University of Maine, George Washington School of Law, and Santa Clara University School of Law clinics