Whether it’s YouTube for videos or Flicker for photographs, the ever-increasing demand for entertainment leads to the creation of more and more websites dedicates to displaying amateur “art” in the hopes of widespread popularity. As evidenced by the recent sale of YouTube to Google for $1.65 Billion, once a website gains widespread popularity, riches are not far away. This trend has increased the demand for new and entertaining content. Most times such services rely on self-submitted videos, photos or articles, but as more sites pop up, available supply dwindles. Consequently, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “website hacking” has become more and more popular. This form of hacking occurs when an individual uses some service or sight to put up their video, photo or blog, to share that particular medium with known friends. Hackers looking for new and original content will often hack this information and use it on their site, in an attempt to gain hits and popularity in the effort to be the next YouTube.
Most times this form of hacking goes undiscovered, or if discovered, the true owner of the personal copyright views it as too time or money consuming to go after the hacker. Whether or not you view it as such, this form of hacking constitutes theft. Unlike theft of tangible goods or chattels, this is theft of intellectual property to which only you have the right. When the theft, or hacking, rises to the level of intrusion where it becomes necessary to take action, a person must first determine how to go about putting a stop to the theft.
The first necessary step is identifying the source of the original theft. When the intellectual property has been stolen for some time, this can be a difficult task. Most often the material hasn’t spread to the point where it is difficult to track down the original hacker. However, if you find that the information has spread, you should contact the administrator of each website and identify yourself as the primary source, and most sites will post a correction. If you can at least find a name or business name, you may then use certain directories to track down a mailing or email address [such as [http://www.whois.godaddy.com], http://www.whois.sc and [http://www.dns.com], among others].
The next step, without involving an attorney, is to contact the hacker using the information found regarding their site. You should first request that they stop broadcasting your material. The first request should remain polite if they truly don’t know their site is using your property. If your efforts are repudiated or met without a response, it may be necessary to contact an attorney to take further action.
If repudiated and you decide you would like to press forward, you should contact an attorney experienced in cyber law matters. A qualified attorney can help you begin to preserve evidence by creating a paper trail, gather information and properly establish ownership over the stolen material. Once ownership is established the attorney can help you to register your copyright with the United States Copyright Office, since in the United States, it is necessary to register a work before enforcing your rights about that work. Once registered, the attorney will likely elect to issue an inexpensive Cease and Desist Order to the cyber hacker. Based on the Cease and Desist order, you should then contact those who advertise on the hacker’s sight, as well as associated search engines, and demonstrate to them that your material is the subject of a Cease and Desist order. Most search engines will immediately comply since Title II of the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA) creates a safe harbor for these companies, preventing them from sustaining any liability when immediately pulling material in response to such a request. These steps, supported by the consumer-oriented DMCA, enable cyber-theft victims to minimize the damage done by the hacker.
If the cyber hacker still refuses to stop using your now copyrighted material, your attorney can properly advise you on how to proceed, and what type of court action may be necessary to ensure compliance with your order, and whether any form of damages may be available to you in your enforcement proceedings. Only an experienced cyberlaw attorney can efficiently and accurately guide you through the web difficulty which arises when personal content has been stolen by illegal cyber-hackers. Individuals must take steps to keep personal material personal and to ensure that the hackers are not allowed to continue committing their illegal acts.