“Houston, we have a problem...”

This was the message flashing across my computer screen a few months ago on MSN Messenger. The source of the message was my long-time business partner and friend, Anat. I quickly checked the world clock at the bottom of my computer to see what time it was in her part of the world…2:00 a.m. too early to consider calling her and waking up her family.

Hoping there was a follow-up email, I clicked over to my email bin. I located an email telling me that one of our popular websites had been stolen!

I did a double-take. Stolen? I couldn’t believe what I was reading. How do you steal a website? Over the next week, I would find out just how easy it is to steal all of someone’s hard work and sweat and also how prevalent website theft is.

The thief had indeed stolen our entire website, and just changed the name a tiny bit. But this thief either too lazy or sloppy had in the process truncated many of the pirated pages. The games section was dead. The photo contest expired, and the wallpaper section still had our original logo stamped across each photo.

As I surfed through the pages, I could feel the anger welling up inside of me. How does anyone think they have the right to steal all our hard work! For over two years we had this website on the Internet, doing quite well, and in just minutes, our work was turned into a mockery.

I spent the following few days searching out options while trying to expedite the removal of the copycat website.

If your website is stolen, this is what you do:

• Locate the host server of the pirated pages by looking it up on WHOIS.com
• Send out several emails- one to the thief, one to the host server, one to the FCC. The emails have to be specifically worded and sent to the proper party. Otherwise, the legal department will bounce the email back to you, telling you they reject your claim because it does not adhere to their standards.

• The document you need to follow is located at www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf

• Once the host server has been notified they are bound by law to remove the offending website within 72 hours.

• Notify your advertisers if applicable. Sometimes a group effort brings results quicker.

• Visit http://www.w3.org/Consortium/ many of the website tools and tutorials located there are free for usage. They also carry excellent information on how to deal with website theft, and how to make your website safer.

• Make screen shots of the pirated website and store them away in a special file. This is to help you prove your case if you decide to sue for the intrusion. If you decide to sue and are unsure where to turn to for legal advice, I suggest you go to http://worldlawdirect.com/ they were very helpful.

• Keep your anger in check. In order to prompt the quickest action, state the facts carefully and concisely. Give URLs of your pages and the copycat site, and be sure to include anything that tells the email recipient the date your website went online.

In our case, I failed to follow the necessary steps on reporting the theft initially. Because of my lack of attention to detail, the host server was slow to respond to our claim.

After sending off the correct information in the proper format and still getting stalled, I began to get irritated. I had gone to speak to a lawyer about this theft and I still had the lawyer’s business card. I scanned the card, placed the scanned image right in the top center of the body of the email I was composing. I then sent the following message to the host server:

“Right now, you are looking at my lawyer’s business card. Should you fail to remove the offending website within 24 hours of receipt of this email, you will be seeing more of him.”

Twenty minutes later, my phone rang. The host server’s legal representative was calling me to apologize for the delay. The website was now off the Internet!

For us, part of the thief’s handiwork was redirecting the ad codes. The thief had another network’s ads showing on the pages. I found out where the ads were being sent from and I called the service. The phone call was interesting.

I learned that the website had been red-flagged when the person signed up for their service. The evaluation team noticed that the website was odd, and some things just didn’t add up. They did not release any funds to the thief, holding instead all checks in a special file. When I revealed to the ad rep the name of the thief, they had already had this person blacklisted for doing this sort of crime in the past.

How do you protect yourself from website theft?

• Have someone install a working network firewall. Encrypt your data.

• Change your password frequently. Steer clear of the common passwords- such as “God,” “sex,” “money,” “admin,” or “password.”

• Update your security patches on a regular basis

• Keep your anti-virus program updated and run scans frequently

• Hire someone trustworthy to police your data base looking for unauthorized break-ins

• Check the archive section of the Internet to see if anyone has lifted any of your website content or images.

• Become a member of http://copyscape.com/

• Make sure all your work is copyrighted on each page. You can also install deterrents to discourage the theft of images, but sadly you cannot make your website 100% burglar proof. If someone wants to take all your hard work from you, the only thing you can do is work steadily and efficiently to get them off the Internet.

Most of the time the thief gets away with their crime, moving on to other servers, trying to profit off of other’s hard work and passion. This leaves you behind to clean up whatever mess is left from the theft. You feel violated and betrayed. Just know that you are not alone. Website theft victims make up a large group, one that is growing larger daily.