For creators of original content on the internet protection under law can feel inadequate for their electronic intellectual property. Because the web is open, pervasive, and information is so easily copied, plagiarism, copyright infringement and unauthorized reproduction are rife.

Copyright Registration, a process I outline elsewhere on this site is a process that gives the best protection. Although you obtain copyright in your website the moment it is electronically published, I recommend that my clients take the following steps to give notice to would-be copyright infringers, to strengthen a court case and to help with evaluating damages if a lawsuit is filed.

What is theft and what is not? In the United States, “Copyright protection subsists . . . in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” Since everything on the web is “fixed in . . . [a] tangible medium of expression,” it is important to assume everything on the web is copyrighted, unless specifically stated otherwise.

HR227, the “No Electronic Theft (NET) Act” became law in 1997. It states that even if no profit is garnered from a copyright infringement, it is still theft and still punishable by law.

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) brought together two treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) extending the reach and increased punitive limitations of infringement.

HR 1761, the “Copyright Damages Improvement Act” of 1999 sets tort limitations for legal actions against infringements.

How to find out if you’ve been plagiarized?

Most web-based copyright infringement goes undiscovered. A general Google search about your topic may return thousands of results. So it becomes impractical to pursue infringers by a simple search. There are, however  tools available on the web to help you detect unauthorized reproduction: The search engine can seek out specific language that is your intellectual property but copied on other sites.

The search engine can check and monitor complete websites for plagiarism elsewhere on the web.  (They also offer a free plagiarism warning banner you can post on your website.)

Most commonly,  infringements come to light as you do your work and research on the web, or through discovery by friends and colleagues. It is thus important that you keep dated records of your original work as they will become proof of ownership.

Copyright Notice and Registration

For a relatively small fee (currently $35 and up if filed online), you can register your material with the US Copyright Office.  [Link to Page]  Registering your publication or material within five years will, “establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate,” and, “an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.” If you register within three months, “after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions.”

Other copyright plans exist.  Please also look at Creative Commons for information on copyright protections and various licenses available, ranging  from “all rights reserved” to “no rights reserved.”

What to do if you have been plagiarized

There are first steps you can take on your own, once you’ve discovered the owner of an infringing website:

  1. Email an acknowledgement of legal claim to your original material. Site references, and suggest the infringer should either: delete your material both from their site and from the web server, recognize and credit you as the author of the work, and/or reimburse you for the use of your material.
  2. Note if there has been no response. Send a warning that you will notify advertisers, search engines and hosts of the infringement.
  1. If there is still no response, send a DMCA takedown letter to the website’s ISP which can be found at or

Although DMCA is a US law and web hosts outside of the US are not legally bound to it, some foreign organizations recognize the copyright registrations of other nations under the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty.