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Argh, matey! Have your training materials been pirated?

We recently had a customer's student send us a link to a website where he was able to search and find the same training materials - that he had just purchased - posted publicly for free. You can imagine how frustrating it would be to a course attendee who just paid more than $1000 to attend your software training class to find the same training materials posted for free on-line. And how frustrating this situation would be to you, who spent countless hours to develop a great software training course and the accompanying materials and lab exercises.

Wth a steady increase of training delivered via on-demand and via instructor-led (ILT) virtual classroom, delivering courseware electronically is fast becoming a new standard. However, piracy of training pirated training materialsmaterials is a real and growing problem. Your team has invested heavily to create valuable courseware for your customers and partners. Unfortunately, even printed training materials are easily copied and scanned. But worse, training materials delivered via email or ftp can be easily printed, shared via email, or posted to websites for public consumption with the person hardly breaking a sweat. Even eBooks can still typically be printed with little restrictions available.

So how do you know if your courseware has been pilfered?  We found a few resources to help identify if you have a problem:

1. "Google" It

You can start with the obvious and "google" your course title or your product name and see what comes up. Google is likely indexing posted content if someone has posted in HTML or even PDF format, so by simply doing a Google search you may find a pirated copy. You might also want to search on a key phrase or excerpt from the text, perhaps from the introduction paragraph, to see if that pulls up any search results. To find an exact match to the phrase be sure you enter it into the search box with quotation marks around the phrase. Also, Google limits a search to 32 characters so you might want to try several different snippets of text from the document.

You can also set a Google Alert for the same phrases that will automatically notify you if the phrase appears online in the future. This is useful as a proactive measure, and should save you the trouble of manually searching on a regular basis.

2. Search "share" sites

The student we mentioned above found the pirated copy of the training manual on a site called '4shared dot com'. We won't hyperlink directly to this website, because we don't want to encourage that behavior or promote the idea of using such a site. But by navigating to this site, and typing in your product name, course title or even the course ID, you may find a bootlegged copy of your courseware. 

If you do find your content on a share site, you should immediately notify the hosting website, and request that the documents be removed. The terms of use of these types of sites do generally spell out that users may not post plagiarized or copyright materials. But it is up to you as the copyright owner to notify them of the stolen content because in general they are not policing this type of thing themselves.

3. Try a plagiarism checker

There are many options on-line to check a document for plagiarism. Many of these require the original content to be on a web page, but some allow you to copy and paste in a few paragraphs of text from your document. These sites do a more thorough check of on-line content to see if the content has been shared, and most can also search PDF and other types of files, rather than just other web pages. Another nice thing about this option is that most of these tools can find even a partial match, so if the content was altered slightly to try to cover the "pirate's" tracks, you'll still find it. There are many options available; one to try is Copyscape.

Of course, the very best way to protect your intellectual property is to prevent anyone from sharing it in the first place. You need to deliver training materials securely. Tracking usage, controlling access to printing and/or forwarding documents, adding identifying watermarks to prevent public posting, and enabling expiration dates to erase documents after use are all useful security functions that you should ensure your eBook provider is able to provide with their delivery solution. As they say, "prevention is the best medicine."

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