The Henna Page Tech Pages
"You Didn't Say 'May I?'"
Dealing Effecively with Online File Theft

by Roy Jones © 2007

Few things get the blood up among online henna folk like finding that their photos, patterns, and other files are suddenly being featured on some stranger's site without the owner's knowledge. It's frustrating and anyone can be forgiven for wanting to go on the attack after becoming a victim of theft, but when you find your work has been swiped, that's the time for careful, well-considered action.

Try to contact the file thief first. Sometimes people act in ignorance or they just don't think anyone will care if they help themselves to a few images. Sometimes a person who's pinched some of your stuff can be persuaded to take the files off his site. But another, more important reason for going to the siteholder first is that it's useful to be able to tell the network admins you made an effort to resolve the matter yourself and got no satisfaction. If the file thief responds by e-mail with a refusal to comply, save that message with the full headers and attach it to your message to the network administrators.

It's easy enough to find the contact info for a major site but locating small-time operators requires a good tool for digging up the info on the domain. A tool I've been using lately to gather WhoIs info on Internet sites is IPNetInfo, It's fast, accurate, comprehensive and, best of all, it's free. You can download IPNetInfo at the developer's Website.

Host networks in the US and EU are bound by law to cooperate when they receive complaints of infringement, but only to a point. Network operators are increasingly likely to ask for a full description of the files in question and a declaration from you that you are either the owner of those files or an agent of the owner with authority to speak and act in the owner's behalf in the matter. The host network will want this in the form of a written, signed document. The signature can be physical or electronic, as in the case of an e-mail message signed with an encryption key. All this helps protect the network owners against frivolous or bogus claims of ownership.

Note that we're talking about only one person making contact. Mobbing the network's administrators with messages from all your online friends is out of order and most likely counter-productive. The network has no legal obligation to respond to anyone other than the owner of the files or the owner's agent.

It's a bad idea to gather up all your buddies and "bomb" the file thief's e-mail, guestbook or forum. This almost never gets a good result and it could leave you open to a harassment complaint. And if you plotted your caper on a forum or newsgroup, the posts could be used against you as evidence of conspiracy. It's not worth the risk.

The thing to keep in mind is that the process of recovering control of your online material is a business transaction and you need to handle it in a professional and businesslike manner. Joining with your friends for an extended round-robin rant on a public forum is neither professional nor businesslike and can complicate matters if you or your friends make statements that could be regarded as libelous or if you get involved in any other action that could lead to a legal complaint or that could be interpreted as a violation of your network’s terms of use. Remember, also, that your statements on a public forum are visible to anyone and remain in place until someone deliberately deletes them. And, given the fact that only the owner of the files or the owner’s agent has any legal standing to demand redress, a long “Ooh ain’t it awful” thread only adds to the noise level on a forum without contributing to the resolution of the problem.

Be professional and polite when dealing with the network's representatives and be aware that yours is only one of many complaints to cross their desks, so you'll need to be patient as well.

Recently, we had to go to the admins at FaceBook to request that one of HP's signature images be removed from an online group. In the response to my initial e-mail, the rep who handled our case sent me the following guidelines for the complaint/request letter:

Pursuant to the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act, if you believe your work has been copied in a way that constitutes copyright infringement, please provide us with the following information:

(a) an electronic or physical signature of the person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the copyright interest; 

(b) a description of the copyrighted work that you claim has been infringed; 

(c) a description of where the material that you claim is infringing is located on the Web site; 

(d) your address and telephone number; 

(e) a written statement by you that you have a good faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law; 

(f) a statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the above information in your notice is accurate and that you are the copyright owner or authorized to act on the copyright owner's behalf.

I wrote the letter on a simple letterhead we use for official purposes, scanned it and sent it as an e-mail attachment. About three days after I sent the formal letter, I heard back from FaceBook that the logo had been taken down. Here is the letter, if anyone would like to use it as a model. (Please ignore the typo in the next to last sentence.) Stay calm, gather the facts and state your case as clearly and specifically as possible. There's no guarantee of an instant result but persistence and a resolutely businesslike approach are your best hope for success.

You can e-mail specific computer questions to Roy Jones at

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