Many times, when dealing with plagiarism issues, Webmasters adopt something of a “shotgun” approach to stopping the infringement.
In short, they will, almost simultaneously, send out cease and desist letters, DMCA notices (or other host contacts) as well as contacts to advertisers and search engines. Many will further complicate things by posting about the infringement on their site in an attempt to shame the plagiarist and/or infringer.
Though the shotgun method is almost always effective at shutting down the site, many are left wondering what exactly happened. Did the host remove the site or did the plagiarist pack up and leave? Was the advertising cut or did the plagiarist shy away in face of the bad publicity?
It can be very difficult to tell exactly what happened and performing a post-mortem on a Web site can be very difficult.
However, in most of these cases, it is usually easy to determine what happened to the site. One just has to look at the clues that are left behind.
The Truth is in The Errors
When a site goes down, it tends to behave differently depending on who took it down and that is reflected in the errors it generates.
Sometimes the errors are obvious. For example, when a Blogspot site goes down for suspected terms of service violations or a domain starts generating “account disabled” errors, it is fairly easy to surmise that it was the host that removed the content.
Other errors are less clear. A generic 404 – file not found could mean that the plagiarist simply deleted the page or that the host reached in and did it for them. Likewise, a server that is returning just the default page could be a sign that the host cleaned out the server themselves or that the plagiarist hit “delete all” and never looked back.
In those cases, one has to look at different clues and consider other factors to determine what exactly happened to the site and who they should credit for the removal.
However, if one follows a simple series of steps, the answer can usually be made clear.
How to Do an Autopsy on a Site
When trying to determine who took down a Web site, take the following steps and see what conclusions you draw:
- See if the Entire Site is Down: If you were complaining about just one or two pages of a site, check and see if the rest of the site is down. If it is, it was most likely the host that removed the content. Though some plagiarists do pull down everything as they shutter their doors, most do not.
- Check if the Layout is Intact: Since most sites use some form of Content Management System such as Drupal or WordPress, a page or a site can stay up even if the content has been removed. However, it will generate an error within the software such as “Post Not Found”. If the layout of the site is intact, odds are the content was removed from within the CMS and that is, almost certainly, the work of the site owner. An exception to this is Myspace, which usually surgically removes infringing content.
- Consider the Time Frame: Plagiarists will generally respond to a cease and desist letter within 24 hours. A host, on the other hand, usually takes closer to 48 hours. If you had just sent your notice to the host, it is unlikely they’ve had time to act. Likewise, if your cease and desist to the plagiarist was several days old, it is unlikely that it was acted on so late. Though these time frames are loose and there are exceptions to the rule, they generally seem to hold up.
- Domain Forwarding: Sometimes, in these situations, the plagiarist domain simply gets forwarded on to another site. That is almost always the work of the site owner him or herself. Though it might, at first, appear to be a sign of the host taking action, only the owner of the domain has the power to direct it to other sites. Some plagiarists do this as a quick and easy way of shutting their doors. Bear in mind that it can take up to 72 hours for a domain redirection to take effect.
- When All Else Fails – Thank the Host: In my experiences with cases involving both plagiarists and hosts having been contacted, the host is almost always the one who removes the work. Fortunately, hosts are almost always more honest than the plagiarists that use their service, Most Web hosts want to run an honest service and work to make that happen. However, it never hurts to send a polite letter to the host if you are curious about what action they took (if they didn’t tell you already). If they removed the content, they will usually be happy to tell you.
It is important to bear in mind that these are rough guidelines and there are exceptions to every rule. Though you can generally get a good idea about who took a site down, there is rarely any hard evidence. Sometimes there is little that you can do to find out the truth without asking for confirmation from one of the parties involved,
However, who shut it down is rarely as important as the fact that it was shut down in the first place. No matter who took the final steps, the end goal has been achieved and that is all that matters.
The Best Strategy
The end goal, however, should be to never find yourself in a situation where you don’t know who did what. Rather than being forced to perform a post mortem on the plagiarist’s site, you should know well in advance who is taking action.
The best way to ensure that is to not get caught up in the moment and take your time in handling the matter. Sending out letters only takes a few moments. but that doesn’t mean you should send them all out at once.
If you decide to send a cease and desist letter, give it a few days to work. If you send a DMCA notice, give it at least four working days, the same goes for any advertising networks and search engines you contact.
In short, do not put yourself in a position where you have multiple people acting on the same matter at the same time. Decide on a strategy and follow it, letting everyone involved have a fair chance to deal with the situation.
Failure to do so not only makes it nearly impossible to tell who took down an infringing site, but can make it more difficult to determine which tactics are working and, thus, improve your strategy in the future.
The bottom line is that, when an infringing site goes down, what is important is that the works have been removed. Though learning the who, how and why are important for improving one’s techniques and learning from the experience, that is secondary to protecting one’s labor.
Thus, it is not worth spending too much energy on doing autopsies on infringing sites. That effort is better spent on avoiding such confusion and building a strategy that gets the works removed the first time.
In short, if you spend more time planning what you’re going to do, you’ll spend much less trying to figure out what happened. Though sometimes these situations are unavoidable, they should be minimized as much as possible.
After all, no one likes a headache and that’s exactly what these tend to be.