International Incidents

In the hundreds of cases of plagiarism I’ve dealt with, only a few have really stood out as being exceptionally difficult. Of those, almost all shared a common thread, they were cases involving international thieves and/or international hosts. It seems that, when a plagiarism case crosses national borders, that it becomes exponentially harder to handle.

As the Internet grows worldwide and more and more people from foreign countries come online, the potential for trouble will only grow. However, the problem is not insurmountable in most cases and, with some minor changes in tactics, most incidents of international plagiarism can be solved.

One just has to realize that things often times work very differently overseas.

The Problem

There is no such thing as international copyright law.

That is the fundamental problem with international plagiarism incidents. Even though the Berne convention of 1978 effectively means that your copyright will be respected anywhere it travels in the world, the amount of protection that affords ou will vary wildly depending on the nation involved.

To make matters worse, what’s written on paper doesn’t always play out in practice. Many countries, especially many former communist nations and third world countries, have little concept of what intellectual property is and don’t take copyright seriously. This makes dealing with copyright complaints in nations like China and former soviet bloc nations almost impossible to handle.

However, even in nations where copyright law is respected, cooperation can be hard to come by. Most countries have not passed any kind of law outlining what a host’s responsibilities are when dealing with copyright and, even when they have, hosts know that the possibility of someone going through the expense and effort to hire and international IP attorney to sue them is slim to none. They have little motivation to anger a customer just to please an individual that is no threat to them.

Finally, it’s a sad statement to make, but a true one. Most people in the world have a low opinion of Americans and the litigious nature of the country is just one of the things held against us. Going to a host with a legal complaint, even a legitimate one, seems to further that stereotype and, as sad as it is, many hosts will refuse to help out of spite more than anything else. Though I’ve only had that once out of all my incidents, it is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

The Solution

Fortunately, most countries and hosts want to be taken seriously on the Web and they realize that rampant plagiarism is going to tarnish both their national image and their business models. Thus, most incidents of international plagiarism can be resolved, it just involves taking a different tone and a different approach.

However, before attempting to handle such incidents directly, you should always try to fight the battle as close to your own turf as possible. If the plagiarist is foreign but their host is domestic, it might be wise to contact the host as the first step, not last. If the host and the plagiarist are foreign, try to find out who hosts the host. Many international hosts lease connection and servers from American companies that might be more willing to help.

If that isn’t an option and contacting either the host or the plagiarist is a requirement, the best thing you can do is go straight to the host, unless you have some reason to believe that the plagiarist is likely to cooperate, and forgo any legalese, threats or other trademarks of American legal wrangling. Instead, you should make the letter a personal one, asking politely for help in resolving the matter while explaining the situation.

The hope is that the person reading your letter will take a personal interest in it and aid you. Though most will do so no matter what tone you explain the situation, this is one of the few legal areas you do attract more flies with honey. In short, it never hurts to pad your case with a little human interest and, though you shouldn’t make your letter a sob story, making yourself a likeable, sympathetic character is certainly better than kicking down their metaphorical door and screaming threats.

If a host doesn’t respond right away, keep trying to contact them using different addresses and different means such as chat and phone (if practical). It’s also important to note that, though most companies, including international ones, do have someone capable of speaking English, you need to be aware of the language barrier and either try to contact them in their native language or make your English as simple as possible so that translation is easy.

In the end though, no matter how nice you are or how persistent you try, some hosts will never cooperate. For example, works stolen and hosted in copyright hostile countries, such as China, are next to impossible to get taken down. Out of dozens of plagiarism cases I’ve helped with that involved the country, none were resolved. There are some times that you simply have to give up or resort to using last-ditch techniques.


While International cases are among the most difficult to handle and the least likely to be resolved, they are far from impossible. The percentage of resolution is still overwhelmingly positive and most cases to reach some kind of satisfactory conclusion.

Because, even though the notion of copyright might vary from country to country, the notion of honesty and fairness doesn’t. Most hosts, even those who don’t operate in countries where they are required to, put some kind of copyright infringement clause in their terms of service and will follow that when asked.

Nonetheless, don’t forget that manners and decency pay off as well as good proof and persistence.

Hopefully, in the future, an international atmosphere of cooperation will be restored and the idea of handling international plagiarism differently will be an odd one. In the meantime though, it pays to know the differences so you don’t fall into the traps so many have before.


Be Nice– Though being polite is always important, it’s even more so when dealing with international cases. Charm, likeability and camaraderie go a long way when dealing with foreign hosts.

Don’t Announce Your Nationality” This goes double if you’re American. No matter where you’re from, you don’t want to make it a matter of “us” versus “them” or create unneeded divisions; your goal is to be as close as possible to the host as possible. If you’re an American, attitudes toward the country are at an all-time low worldwide and it’s probably best to avoid the issue altogether if possible.

Read the Terms of Service” Be sure to read a foreign host’s TOS if possible. If they have a mention of copyright infringement inside it, mention it specifically (but politely) when contacting them.

Provide Clear Evidence” Your evidence with international affairs needs to be up to a higher standard than domestic cases. I strongly encourage the use of links from the Web Archive and other sources.

Know When to Quit” Some cases just can’t be won and that’s a fact of life. It’s best to accept it, battle the ones that you can and consider using alternative means of handling the others later. While persistence does pay off, there’s nothing gained from spinning your wheels.

Further Reading

Stopping Internet Plagiarism Part Four: Contacting the Host

[tags]Plagiarism, Copyright Law, Copyright, Content Theft[/tags]

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