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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - May 2005

This month we focus on a number of legal issues that have arisen over recent months and affected us and a number of clients. The first concerns plagiarism and the practice of unscrupulous companies or individuals copying website content or images. The second looks at the increasing common practice within pay-per-click advertising of companies bidding on competitor’s trademarks. We look at the options for tackling these practices and consider the chances of success.

Another month has passed and so another new service has been launched by Google! In this issue we look at the new Google Local search tool that is now available in the UK.

To find out more, please read on below. You can also browse through previous editions and if you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, just submit your details using the form at the side of the page.

On to this month's news...

Plagiarism and copyright infringement of websites

Although plagiarism had been a problem for companies long before the Internet arrived, the web has made it much easier for unscrupulous individuals or companies to copy and use information or images with a few simple clicks. So if you find that your website has been copied and your copyright has been infringed, what can you do about it?

If a business competitor decides to copy text or information from your website, this can be easily done with several clicks of the mouse. They can also copy the source code of your site, including the optimised metatags, or in the most extreme cases, copy the whole design and structure of a site. We often see forum postings from webmasters expressing a combination of disbelief and disgust when they have found that another website includes their plagiarised content and want to know what can effectively be done about it.

Sometimes this plagiarism is simply the result of laziness or sometimes it is done to try and replicate the search engine rankings of a site that performs well, but simply copying information from sites in the hope that this success can be replicated is a sadly deluded technique! Unfortunately, there are also people who just think that they can make ‘a quick buck’ by copying a successful online business and don't care who they antagonise - if they get found out, then they just move on to another project and website.

We've suffered plagiarism from our website by 4 different competitors over the past 3 years. They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in most cases such plagiarism doesn't result in any significant business threat. However, it is intensely frustrating that such unscrupulous companies can set up a website with the minimum of effort by using text and images that we have spent considerable time crafting to reflect our brand and services.

So how can you find out if your website has been plagiarised and what can you do about it?

It’s quite hard to find images that have been copied, unless the culprit has retained the image name or ‘alt’ tag content. However, reproduced copy is easier to find and we use 2 methods to regularly check our pages. Firstly, the excellent CopyScape website provides a search tool whereby you enter the URL of any page on your site and it will scan other sites and bring up those with a close word match. Another way, which uses the same basic technique, is to simply copy a paragraph of text from your website and place all of it into the Google search box, which can then bring up any other sites that are using the same information.

CopyScape is also a useful online resource that provides advice on protecting your copyright and taking action should a competitor start using it. Although it can be useful to have dated copies of all copyright content registered with your solicitor, legal action can often be expensive and drawn out, with limited chances of success unless you can demonstrate an impact on your business.

The best route is to take a copy of the offending page/s, then e-mail the offending website with a polite request to remove the offending material, which will sometimes get a quick result. If not, you can also contact their web hosting company who could be held legally responsible for hosting a site that is infringing copyright and so, depending on their concern to abide by the law, may pressurise the site to remove the content. Search engines should also be contacted if they are indexing the offending pages, as they may also remove these from their listings if the offence continues. Another option is to post a page about the website's plagiarism – as we have done – which is likely to get their attention if they are concerned that potential clients may look use a search engine to find out more about the business and then see details about their unethical behaviour.

If you would like further information about how to check for copyright infringement or ways to tackle plagiarism, please contact us and we’ll be pleased to help.

Competitive PPC bidding on trademarks

An increasing trend within pay-per-click advertising these days is for competitor companies to bid on keywords so that they appear when a user may be looking for your company name. This may be through an intentional trademark infringement or down to the creative use of keyword bidding, but either way, it is a frustrating technique that can potentially take business away from your own website.

There have been instances with three of our clients over the past month where competitive bidding has displayed one or more competitor companies when searching for their distinctive company name. Therefore competitors are attempting to attract traffic from users searching for the original company, either by passing themselves off as the business or by trying to benefit from the brand awareness generated by advertising or PR spend.

Both Google AdWords and Overture have policies about the use of trademarks within pay-per-click advertising activity, although in many cases it is not necessarily a clear-cut case and also both companies prefer to avoid getting involved in disputes and recommend any direct action to be taking between the advertising companies concerned.

Google's policy about trademark complaints within their AdWords listings is set out here. Essentially they do not wish to arbitrate between disputing companies, but will consider ‘reasonable complaints’ where distinctive trademarks are being used, or where advertisers are attempting to pass themselves off as another company, based on the way the adverts are written. In these cases they will remove the offending adverts, although if generic terms are being used to display adverts then the decision is much harder and often can’t be challenged.

Overture (now rebranding as Yahoo! Search Marketing) takes a similar stance and they do require that all search terms that a company bids on comply with their listing guidelines and are relevant, otherwise their editorial control is likely to disallow these in the first place. Interestingly, Overture says that any advertiser that refers to another company’s trademark ‘must be using that trademark fairly on its website’.

So what can be done if this happens to your business? Firstly, you can contact the company concerned to warm them off, although in many cases, if they are prepared to do this sort bidding activity, then they will probably ignore your approach. You should then contact Google or Overture with the relevant details of the disputed terms and adverts, with the valid reasons for the requested removal. Although both of these companies will probably deny this, it is probably true that your negotiating position will also be strengthened by the level of PPC spend you have with them!

If you would like more information about this issue and what chances of success you may have if a competitor is bidding against your business name or trademarks, please contact us for more details.

The new Google Local search in the UK

Google has just launched its Local search tool in the UK during April. Combining its own search index with the business database of Yell.com (Yellow Pages), this search option allows users to search for a particular type of business within a local area.

This new local search function on Google reflects the increasing trend for search engines to offer a more targeted search option for regional areas. It was originally developed and launched as a US tool and also follows the earlier move in Google AdWords to limit the way some adverts are displayed to localised searchers.

Google Local can be searched for directly from the new ‘local’ section of the site or it can be accessed from the top of the main search results list if listings are available from a relevant search. By combining a type of business or service with a location name or post code, Google Local will display a list of relevant companies taken from Yell and relevant web pages listed on Google. In most cases, companies are listed in order of distance from the chosen location, although alternative rankings may be displayed based on Google’s relevance criteria. Clicking on a company link will bring up a page with information about the business, include web links to its own site or other sites on Google that refer to the business.

A map is also displayed from the new Google Maps service, which marks the locations of the companies listed. This map is interactive, allowing you to zoom in or out, move around and also request a route map to a selected business from another specified location.

This new service will undoubtedly support business listings on Yell.com as it becomes more popular. This is good news for Yell, who are facing increasing pressure from the use of search engines to display results for localised searches. It will also further extend the range of options being offered by Google and provides a powerful new business search tool.

If you’d like to find out more about Google Local and how it could benefit your business, please contact us for more information.

We hope you've found this month's newsletter informative. Please contact us if you need any more details on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions.