Imagine pouring all of your energy and love into your business. Most of us do that, right?
To an entrepreneur, your biz is like an extension of yourself. It’s personal, not just business.
Now imagine what it feels like to discover not one, but four websites, plagiarizing your work. You know what that feels like? Identity theft. Or a roundhouse kick in the gut.
Maybe you’ve never experienced that scenario before, but that’s exactly what I came home to last week after I returned from a fabulous tarot conference.
It all started when I ran a simple plagiarism check and watched in horror as, one by one, those sites popped up with my web copy splashed on their pages, word for word. (One of them also had a Facebook page set up, where they were copying my “Card for the Day” posts verbatim without any credit to me.)
This was not my first run-in with business biters before. I’ve had quite a few unpleasant dust ups with so-called peers who seemed to have no problem helping themselves to my work.
You’d think in a “spiritual” industry like tarot, they’d know about the laws of karma and would operate with better ethics. Not so. In fact, these triflin’ swagger jaggers had the audacity get indignant and were full of excuses when I called them out for their thievery:
- “It’s standard industry practice to model your site after someone else’s.”
- “I wasn’t copying you. I came up with that all on my own.”
- “Your words were so nice. I liked them a lot.”
- And my favorite: “It shouldn’t matter if the web copy is the same if we are not selling the same thing.”
In the past, I tried to be kind and professional. I allowed them to save face. I even tried to understand why they may be tempted to steal my work. (Laziness? Fear? Envy? Lack of originality? Or just bad business practices?) I wanted to help them and remain friendly, only to have some of the same culprits continue to try to rob my henhouse through new, sneakier methods (I still see you and know what you are doing).
These experiences taught me that some people don’t operate by the same spiritual business code that I do. Therefore, it was time to put my tarot cards down and begin protecting my work like a mama lion. (Memo to copycats: I’m a pussycat but you touch my kids, my food, or my business – it’s on.) Thankfully, past experiences have been wise teachers so it didn’t take long to get this handled.
In two days and just a few short emails, all of my web copy was removed, the Facebook page was down, and I was back to focusing on The Tarot Lady hub and “Game of Thrones”, as I should be.
If you have ever had your work stolen, you may find yourself reeling, and not sure of what to do. Here’s what I did and perhaps this may help you protect your biz and keep your head on should you ever find yourself in the same situation:
BREATHE. I know it sucks and you feel violated but the last thing you need is a frantic mindset. Instead, get centered and proactive.
Get support from trusted colleagues. Don’t go it alone. Your friends and peers will be more than happy to encourage you or provide space for venting. (Thanks to all my homies for having my back with this latest round.) It’s also important to alert your comrades so that they can be on guard should the copycat be making the rounds in your community.
Always have an attorney on file. If things ever go sideways, you’ll want a legal eagle in your corner to fight for you. The threat of a lawsuit is usually enough to get a persistent biter to cease and desist. Most of these copycats do not have a lawyer so if they start giving you a hard time, a letter from your attorney will shut that shit show down immediately. This is always the last resort, but if you are serious about protecting your intellectual property, a lawyer will be your new bestie.
Copyright your blog material. Once you put any intellectual property (photos, artwork, recordings, blog posts, etc.) up on the web, it is technically copyrighted and protected. But if you want additional protection and the ability to sue for damages, it’s time to register your work with the US Copyright Office (http://www.copyright.gov). It only costs $35.00 and is worth every nickel. The only caveat: for a blog, you’ll need to do a copyright every three months. That little bit of time may be a pain, but there is nothing better then letting your copycat know that you have a LEGAL registration and you can sue their pants off if they don’t take your stuff down, pronto. (Having a legal, registered copyright helped me with one person who had the nuts to try to haggle with me and wanted “proof” that my work was copyrighted. Bada bing!)
Likewise, consider trademarking your business name, logos, phrases, etc. You can do this at The United States Patent and Trademark Office (http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.jsp?tracked=1). Filing a trademark is a bit complicated and it will cost you some moolah, but it can be easily handled by your attorney. One thing to remember: if you have anything trademarked, you will need to protect that trademark. If someone uses your slogan and you don’t go after them, you can lose that trademark. Be prepared to put the hammer down anytime you see anyone using your registered trademarked material. By the way, if you do not have a trademark for your business name, you cannot just put up a little “tm” and start bullying people around. You also cannot claim that you were “intending” to trademark something. If someone else beats you to it, tough luck. If a business claims that they have a trademark, you can run a search at The United States Patent and Trademark Office and find out for sure.
Use an online plagiarism checker like Copyscape.com to find where your work is being used without your permission. This is how I discovered the latest batch (in the past, I had sharp-eyed friends who alerted me when my content was stolen).
Take screenshots of the offending sites immediately. You’ll want this for your records in case you need to sue, but also to protect your good name if your copycat starts talking smack about you to your colleagues. Keep those indefinitely.
Find their DNS/host through Whois.com: Whois Lookup and IP. You’ll need this info if you need to get hardcore and issue a DMCA take down to their webhost.
Your first contact should always be firm but kind. Write a polite note asking them to take your material down. In many cases, this is all you’ll need to do. After all, it’s pretty embarrassing to get caught. Most right minded people will apologize and remedy the situation immediately. (One woman who was using the same name for a copyrighted product was happy to comply and we ended up becoming friendly with each other.)
If they refuse to take it down or ignore your first email, give them a stronger note with a deadline. Make sure you let them know that you are prepared to file a DMCA takedown notice with their web host and sue for damages if they do not comply.
Still no answer? Or perhaps they are being resistant? Issue a DMCA notice to their web host. Their hosting company will take the site down pretty fast. To add an extra layer of boom, send a DMCA notice to Google and other search engines as this will remove their sites from the search engines and cripple their online business.
If the problem persists, it’s time to turn it over to your attorney and get ready to rumble. It will be rare that you need to go that route, because most people will take the material down after you’ve contacted them. (In my case, most of my business biters were indignant rather than apologetic – but they still took it down swiftly after only one or two emails.)
Once it’s over, let it go as best as you can. You’re going to be angry and hurt for a while. You may find yourself asking “why me?” and perhaps you may be tempted to front their shifty bitch business moves out in public. Instead, you’ll need to put your energy into moving on rather than feeding this negative energy. It’s not worth your time. (Spoken from a woman who has brooded and stewed far too long over this crud.)
Finally, continue to do good work. Don’t let your bummer experience sour you on the internet, or creative a climate of “I can’t trust anyone.” It’s the rare few who resort to this tactic, not the norm. Go on like the pro that you are, and keep it trill, playa.
And now, a memo to copycats and business biters:
I know you probably didn’t think you would get caught. After all, there are millions of sites on the web. But surprise, surprise – there are ways for good business people to find out when and where their work is being stolen. Sooner or later, you WILL be caught.
I’m not sure why you poached my work (laziness, desperation, envy, bad business advice) but here’s the deal: if you are using my words instead of your own, people can smell that vibe a mile away. And they won’t want to do business with you. That’s because people are not stupid and they prefer to do business with those they know, like, and trust. And no one trusts a thief.
You may have thought that what you were doing was not theft, but it was. I worked hard on my material or paid my copywriter handsomely for that swag. So yeah…it’s theft.
The thing that boggles my mind the most is that I am actually very friendly and always out to help my peers. If you liked my work, why not reach out to me and be a colleague instead of sneaking into my henhouse? I would have been more than happy to point you in the right direction so that you could learn how to make your site better, blog like you mean it, or hire the right people to get your stuff polished. Since you took this route, I’ll always be decent to you (I’m all about saving face), but I’ll never trust you again, will never do business with you, nor will I ever refer you to anyone else. And that is a shame because I love supporting my peers and doing business with them.
The next time you are tempted to use someone else’s material as your personal swipe file, pause. Think about how hard they worked on that stuff. Think about how paranoid you are going to feel every day as you worry about getting caught. Think about how shitty you will feel when you are found out in your community and your reputation takes a hit. Think about the potential legal drama you might face. Think about how that vibe will affect the quality of your work. And then put yourself in my shoes and think of how you would feel if this happened to you. You are better than this. So please, do better.
A few resources just for you.
Learn about online copyright infringement:
© Theresa Reed | The Tarot Lady 2014 <-see this? It means don’t steal my shizz, homeslice.
image from stock photography
(Special note: You’ll want to check with your attorney on copyright and trademarking for International Law as different laws may apply to different non-English speaking countries.)