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Infringement and Online Marketing for Attorneys

Infringement and Online Marketing for Attorneys

Over 90 percent of attorneys are now engaging in some form of online marketing.  However, with online marketing comes new copyright concerns, and many attorneys may not be aware of the ways in which they may be committing copyright infringement or making the theft of their copyrighted materials easy.  In this guide, we'll go over some of the basic concerns about copyright that attorneys should keep in mind when they are designing websites, making content for search engine optimization purposes, or distributing content, including through social networks.

Search Engine Optimization and Infringement

One of the biggest recent changes to how search engines rank pages is that Google will no longer rank inbound links that come from web pages that they believe are copyright infringement.  This means that if you use an “article spinner” service (which makes many copies of an article, possibly changing it slightly, and copies it to various locations on the internet for the purposes of building a large number of inbound links in a short period of time), only one of those links is likely to count for each new piece of content you feed to the spinner.

This means that you'll now need to focus not only on getting content that is high quality, but on differentiating your content on different websites.  It won't be enough just to change a few words around—Google is now clever enough to detect when this kind of obfuscation is used in many cases, and will still consider it potential infringement.

Try to make sure that you're not copying a great deal of your content from one page to the next—not for different social media profiles, not for blog entries.  If you're copying content in a way that looks deliberate, it's likely that it will be regarded as an attempt at over optimization, which will be used as a reason to lower your site's rankings.

Intellectual Property Problems With Online Images and Text

When you're building your website for the first time, you may not have paid much attention to where you got the images and layout of your website.  However, in most cases, those images and any content that you “borrowed” were actually copyrighted by their creator and may not have allowed free use by just anyone.

You should always check the source of any content that you post online in order to avoid potential infringement claims later on.  There are a large number of stock photo services that will provide you with the full licensing rights to use an image as long as you pay their licensing fee.  By paying these fees, you ensure that you can defend yourself from any infringement claims.

Monitoring Your Online Reputation

You should also make sure that you're monitoring your reputation online.  Infringement isn't the only way that your content can be used inappropriately.  If you find any potentially defamatory content online, there are reputation management services that can quickly get it removed from most websites.  

As a law firm, you'll have a lot more credibility when you send a cease and desist than most other website owners, so you probably don't need to worry about defamatory content remaining up for long as long as you maintain an attitude of vigilance.  Self-Googling isn't just a vanity pastime when you're working in this kind of market—it's an absolute necessity for understanding what people are seeing first about you and your law firm.

If you see that you're having some reputation problems, you should take some positive action as well as taking action to remove the offending statements.  One of the best ways to make sure that your search results stay “clean” even with a negative result is by simply adding more content that is high quality and will rise above the offensive page in search rankings.  Because most web searchers never go past the first or second page of search results, you don't need to push it down much to make it disappear for the vast majority of users.

Monitoring the Use of Your Content

If you've used original content—for instance, original writing or photographs of your law office—as part of your website or your social media presence, you should search for that content online periodically.  Infringement can happen while you're not looking, and you may find that your content has been used for purposes you would not have approved of.

If you do find that infringement has happened, you can start by emailing the webmaster of a website.  If the webmaster doesn't respond to a cease and desist notice, you can try talking to the hosting provider.  Many hosting providers are very sensitive to infringement claims and will take a website down immediately upon being provided with evidence of infringement.

Keeping an Eye on Infringement Laws

The state of copyright on the internet is in some flux.  There are currently several plans in place from content providers to start punishing copyright infringement, but most of these schemes involve video and audio files rather than the types of content most likely to be part of an attorney's website.

You should make sure that you're keeping informed about any changes to internet copyright law and how internet service providers deal with claims of infringement.  You should also make yourself aware of your own hosting provider's policies about infringements of copyright, in case you would ever be accused of infringing on someone else's copyright.

How to Avoid Infringement

In addition to making sure that all of your images are purchased legally from image websites or are created in-house specifically for your site, you should also make sure to run your written content through a plagiarism checker before you post it.  If it detects plagiarism, you should alter the content significantly so that you aren't considered to be infringing on another person's intellectual property when you post your article and have it indexed by Google.