Plagiarism – What Can You Do If Your Content Is Stolen?
If you run a business, you will have ‘content’ in the form of words that will help you to build relationships with your customers. It takes time to get it right. Writing for your ideal audience and your target customer takes time, effort, focus and persistence. Once you have got it right, customers will come directly to you from ‘inbound leads.’ When they do, you’ll know you’ve got those words right. And yet, there are those out there who are only too happy to take your hard earned work and use it as their own. It happened to me. It could happen to you. Below I will tell you about my experience and what I’ve learned through the process.
My Work was Stolen and ‘Passed Off’ by someone else, what did I do?
Recently, someone I’d trusted, took my work and posted it as their own. They changed a few words, but the formatting was exactly as I’d written it. I’d taken them into my confidence and I’d even asked them to sign an NDA! I was disappointed that my trust was misplaced. I couldn’t quite believe that they’d done it. I changed my original content as I didn’t want to be associated with them in any way. A few hours of my time and work, down the drain. I made allowances for their behaviour as they were in a bad place and I didn’t want to add to their woes. I thought that maybe they didn’t realise that what they’d done was plagiarism. But they knew it was wrong. They probably thought I’d not notice. At that time, I decided not to tackle them about it. I thought it would be throwing good energy after bad. But having spoken to a publisher friend who advised me that I must do something, I realised my mistake. Below I outline the key points which explain why I will never ignore content theft again.
Understanding the Value of Your Content (and why you must never be a ‘Copy-Cat’)
In a world where competition online and offline is fierce, your ideas, your words, your copy, are what can help you stand out from the crowd. This is your IP (Intellectual Property) and like anything else in your business that you have created, it’s owned by you. Your work once created is automatically subject to copyright laws and no-one else can use it without your permission. Whilst there are coincidences in life, e.g. two people publish a piece of work on a given topic, e.g. ‘Leadership’ at the same time. Whilst both publish their work, their words and their take on ‘Leadership’ will be different.
Stealing Content is Theft!
We used to call them copy-cats at school, in the business world, it’s called ‘passing off.’ They are ‘passing off’ your work as theirs. In IP terms it’s called an ‘infringement,’ aka theft. A criminal offence. Like me, you might think there’s too much faff involved in calling them out on it, but first consider the following:-
- What if that ‘copy-cat’ goes on to acquire a client on the back of your work?
- What if they steal one of your existing clients?#
- What if their business and work is so closely aligned to you and what you do, that the client actually thought they were you?
- What if the ‘copy-cat’ does a bad job of things and as a result the mess left behind, travels far enough to tarnish your reputation?
Content is vital for businesses in whatever form it takes. It’s what builds your reputation. The ‘know, like and trust’ with you and your brand; and it represents who you are, what you do and what you deliver. When a copy-cat chooses to take the easy, lazy option of taking someone else’s work they probably think that they are being clever. But they’re not. Whatever the copy-cat does with your work, the internet knows. Google one of the biggest search engine knows. Its algorithm picks up copy-cat data and so if they’ve stolen content what you’ve already posted, it won’t do the copy-cat’s SEO any good at all. There are apps out there that track for plagiarism and they are quite easy to use. I use Grammarly but there are others. Pop your content into the checker and after a few seconds it will show you if there are any duplicates from billions of locations.
How to stop someone using your work
It is your responsibility to protect your work from a ‘copyright infringement.’ Call them and speak to them directly. It’s easy to ignore an e mail or message. Ask them to remove the piece of work. In most instances being called out as a copy-cat by phone call will suffice. However, if your request is ignored, you can then send them a simple ‘take down’ notice letter. This letter will outline what they have copied and where they have stolen it from. If they ignore this, you then have a decision to make about how much time and effort you want to take via mediation or by employing an IP Lawyer. But, tackling it yourself with a phone call in the first instance should be enough to deter the ‘copy-cat’ from continuing. Whilst it’s never an easy thing to accuse someone of cheating, consider the fact that if you don’t call them out, they are likely to quite happily continue.
If you’d like to learn more about IP and copyright – gov.uk does a great job of explaining all of the terms relating to IP and copyright. More information and support services can also be found at the British Library and through your local Chamber of Commerce or the FSB.