Part of standing out online is having a unique and memorable company name, logo, motto, or tagline. If you sell products, your product names should be unique to you as well.
You work very hard to create your brand. Something that is so you and different from all the generic similar websites and products out there. But after all that work, how can you protect that image and your uniqueness?
Well, you can spend thousands of dollars trademarking your collateral. That is highly recommended if you want to have any leverage in a court of law.
I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on T.V. You always want to make these decisions in partnership with an attorney specializing in digital and trademark law, so you know all the variables you need to consider. More here at the U.S. Patent & Trademark website.
Even if you do trademark and have that “Circle R” (®) after your business and product names, that in of itself does not stop shysters from misusing your good name or stealing your graphics and content. Plan on the fact that they will.
But, you have to catch them first. And with billions of web pages currently online, how is that even possible? Easy — by tracking.
Tracking Your Brand
You don't need to be trademarked to prevent others from using your brand and images. However, here is where the Digitial Millenium Copyright Act, also known as DMCA *, comes into play.
I wrote a detailed article about the DMCA and how you can use that to file complaints against infringers. How to Report Stolen Content: DMCA Guide and Tips
The short and sweet of it is the moment you create anything — it is naturally copyrighted to you. No one has permission to use your collateral without your consent.
So it goes without saying that tracking any terms related to your brand is a no-brainer. You don't want other websites masquerading as you. Or worse, pretending to be offering your products as a scam. In addition, it's just good marketing to keep up with what others using the same, if not unique, terms you are targeting.
I run into this all the time with one of my e-commerce websites. We offer unique products with very uncommon names. Our product images are also unique to us in the way we have them taken and framed. When someone steals our stuff, there is no mistaking that they did so.
And guess what? At least once a week, I get notified of a website that is using our company name. With our images. All because I have tracking in place.
But surprisingly, many small businesses do not engage in active tracking of their business and product names. Because of this, they are not aware of their products, content, and images being used without their knowledge.
Tracking is Easy
Create a list of products, names, and phrases you want to track. Then head over to Google and set up some Google Alerts.
You have many options to choose from for each alert as to how often and how you want to receive your alerts. Also, for each alert, Google keeps a running preview of the Alerts found for your chosen terms.
What Happens Next?
You'll receive alerts when Google picks up your terms, company, or product names. You can then follow the links and determine what actions you need to take. It is often a matter of filing a DMCA request to get the site owner to take down anything that belongs to you.
In many instances, my product names and images are on websites that are using Cloudflare. Unfortunately, this means I have no visibility to ownership or hosting to complain directly to their hosting company. So I file an abuse complaint via Cloudflare's Abuse form.
Cloudflare will then notify the offending website's hosting company. But, unfortunately, that's all they can do. Since many of these offenders are overseas and not obligated to follow our laws here in the United States, there are times when you are powerless to make them do anything.
But that should not prevent you from trying.
Alert Benefits Too
Not only do you find out when someone is taking your stuff and using it without your permission, there are positive alerts too. For example, when a link to your domain name happens or a positive write-up about your company or products.
Inbound links are golden, especially when they are positive. That's called a networking opportunity. And if the link is negative, you then have the opportunitiy to react and make things right.
Time to get your brand alerts set up, don't you agree?
At your service,