Why people steal
Publishing online is very easy for anyone to do; it's also very easy for others to steal. As the web expands in size, so do the number of thieves. Online thieves steal anything from a single image or a paragraph of content to an entire web site. Every web site is vulnerable.
If you have a web site, chances are you will come across another Web site showing your original work and passing it off as its own.
Our entire web site has been hijacked by other companies several times this past year. The online thieves included a high-ranking Chamber of Commerce member and a church pastor.
Rationalizations online thieves offer for stealing include:
1. "I won't get caught - the web is too big."
2. "OK, I got caught. But you can't really do anything to me. Copyrights on the web are impossible to enforce."
3. "Everybody's doing it."
4. "It doesn't really hurt anybody."
Online thievery can be extremely damaging. The damage doesn't just come from the online thieves taking credit for your work - and taking potential prospects away from you.
You could wind up being sued by your own clients or associates. The reason? Some parties might have clauses stipulating that if the work they commission or license to you is shown without authorization on another site - especially an objectionable one - and you failed to exercise precautionary measures against copyright infringement, you can be held liable.
The good news
Copyright protection online is accessible, affordable and just as enforceable as traditional media. UK copyright law states that electronic files - including web files - are copyrighted the moment they're put into a tangible form, even if they're not on display to the general public.
Protected web files may include the site's content, code, scripting, graphic images, sound and video files, to name a few. Legitimate ISP's and web hosts now have their own copyright infringement guidelines, and they work with copyright holders to remove stolen materials from their web space, even to terminate the thief's web account.
But the web site owner must do the work. No one should expect others to protect your web site. It's still up to the owner to gather proof that he/she owns the copyrights, search the thieves out, and take swift action against them.
To help you prepare, see Prevention Cures Copyright and Act Now for Your Copyright for a complete guide to protecting your web files and how to successfully handle an online copyright dispute.