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Monday, March 9th, 2009
Question: When is your website not your website? The increasingly common answer is, when it gets stolen, lock, stock and barrel.
And that’s precisely what happened to i-Zimbra a few days ago when we were shocked to find an IT company based in Lagos State in Nigeria had copied our entire website design, layout, navigation system and all of our content, even to the extent of including our customer testimonials, examples of previous work we’ve underaken and all our news stories - stories just like this one.
Now you may think “So what?” If it’s not hurting you, why bother yourself if another company nicks your site. Agreed, it might be a bit frustrating that you put in all the effort to build it and write original engaging content but isn’t it flattering that they think your work is good enough to plagiarise in its entirity?
Well, actually no. If someone steals your website it can have really serious consequences for your organisation, although perhaps not the in way you might think at first.
Many people believe the most serious ramification of website theft is that it results in duplicate content which will ultimately damage your rankings on major Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. However, in actual fact, this need not be a major concern. It’s true that the result is duplicate content but this shouldn’t cause your website any problems in terms of its place in the SERPs (Search Engine results pages) rankings. There is a plethora of duplicate content on the web published on different sites. It only really becomes a problem when you have duplicate content on your own site.
The real problems can be found when the entire site has been copied including any Analytics and social bookmarking code, as happened in our case. Because they hadn’t bothered to customise the site, they were using our Analytics code and thus distorting our marketing data.
So, what is the best course of action to take if you find your site has been plagiarised? Firstly, you need to discover where the duplicate site is hosted. You can do this easily by running a traceroute by using “tracert” at the command prompt. Alternatively, you can use one of the many sites on the web that do the same thing. Just type “online tracert” into Google and you’ll see various sites that will trace the path from your PC to where the offending website is hosted.
The output should look a little bit like this tracert I’ve just run to this website:-
C:\Documents and Settings\user>tracert www.i-zimbra.com
Tracing route to www.i-zimbra.com [188.8.131.52]
over a maximum of 30 hops:
Number five is what we call the last hop and shows the IP address of the webserver where this site is hosted. You need to exercise a degree of judgement here but, generally speaking, you can determine the name of the company that hosts the site by looking at this last hop or the penultimate one.
In our case, we can see that zen.co.uk is the ISP that is hosting the website. Armed with that information, you can look at their website and read their Terms and Conditions of use. It is sure to state quite clearly that hosting space can not be used for content that is in breach of Copyright.
The next step is to find out who hosts the domain name itself - who is the domain Registrar, in other words. You can find this out easily by running a WHOIS check on the domain name. Again, if you’re not sure how to do this, just google the word WHOIS and you’ll find many sites where you can check the owner details of a domain name.
Once you’ve gathered the evidence from these two sources, you should write a stern email to the offending party, copying in their Registrar and Hosting Company, pointing out what they’ve done and requesting they take down the site with immediate effect. Copy in anyone else who you think might add weight to your cause, such as legal departments of any business partners who might also object to the duplicated website. In our case, we contacted several manufacturers whose partner programmes we belong to, as the Nigerian company was obviously using their Partner logos without having earned the right to do so. We also copied in our solicitor for good measure.
And that should be all you have to do to get the ball rolling. Hopefully, you should get some contact back from the Registrar and / or Hosting company within 24 hours. In our case, the Registrar switched off the domain of the website bandits within a day, stating that the matter was now considered closed.
So, if you come across someone who’s stolen your website, don’t despair: there IS something you can do about it. And if you need help with constructing a letter to send to the Registrar and Hosting ISP of the site copying perpetrators, feel free to contact i-Zimbra and we’ll be only too glad to assist in any way we can.
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Working with i-Zimbra is great because they know how we need to have our sites built. As a web marketing company ourselves, it is vital that our sites look great and are web standards compliant.Katherine Dawson