So, someone lifted your website content. And there it is, plastered all over your competition’s website. The more you think about it, the angrier you get. Ok, take a deep breath and let’s consider the options, shall we?
Protecting Your Web Content (PART II)
First, let me make it clear that I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even pretend to be. (Although I
did ponder it long and hard after graduating from college.) Anyway… if you want to prosecute someone for taking your content, contact a lawyer and be my guest. But, you should be prepared to pay and you should also be a patient person. It takes both money and time to secure a legal resolution – even if the decision is ultimately in your favor.
A Writer’s Approach
Don’t misunderstand, I’d spare no expense if someone lifted the portions of my website
content that had kept me up nights scratching my head trying to determine how to appeal to my ideal audience while simultaneously keeping the search engines happy. I’ve been known to write “cease and desist” letters (which usually work, BTW) and have contacted my lawyers for the next steps toward resolving such unseemly activities when letters failed.
So, I’m not trying to discourage you. I’m merely encouraging you to be realistic. Often
the value the competition gets from use of your material is realized during your battle to force them to remove it. For me, it’s a matter of degrees, but I’d sue immediately over use of my articles without written permission. I’m a writer; it’s what I do. Taking it is theft. Period.
A Marketing Approach
I’m also a marketing consultant and I know that sometimes there’s an easier way. Sometimes (if you bridle your ego and indignation for a second) you can find more creative, personally satisfying, and cost effective ways to handle unseemly situations.
This month, I’ll share a suggestion I gave one of my own clients, when the content I wrote
for them was… ahem… “borrowed” by a competitor without their knowledge or permission. The client used my recommendations to leverage his own business and “turn the tables” on his competition.
While doing standard research for a corporate marketing client (let’s call the company “A+
Corp”), I discovered that one of his biggest competitors (let’s call them “Dud Corp”) had
lifted some web content for a section of their own site. The portion (which was lifted
word-for-word) was a section on quality control. The fact that anyone would steal “quality
control” struck me as extremely ironic. The stun factor alone probably helped me think “outside the box” for solutions.
I called A+ Corp’s president (we will call him “Mr. Smith”) and told him the situation. He
was clearly appalled. “How lazy are these people?” Smith said. Then he asked what should
be done. I recommended that he do nothing.
He was surprised, so I explained:
What they lifted wasn’t enough to worry about (it was a paragraph — on quality control, no
less). Sure, it was annoying, but not devastating. And, there were better ways to use that to my client’s advantage.
First, we used the WayBack Machine (www.WayBackMachine.org) to document and prove that we were using the content on our site first – before the competition even HAD a website. The date the competition’s website domain was secured was pulled from my own registrar’s whois information page.
I recommended he print and save to disk a copy of the WayBack website archive of his own site (the earliest where that verbiage appeared) and two of the competition’s site (one dating
before the text was lifted and the one when the stolen text first appeared). I recommended he print off the domain information, and drop that in his legal file as well. Just in case it was ever needed.
Second, I outlined (and delivered over the phone) the following brief concept for him to
pass along to his sales team to keep in mind when visiting new prospects.
New Prospect: We currently use Dud Corp’s product for this application.
A+ Salesperson: Let me show you how our product is better….(followed by calculations,
statistics and hard evidence via number-crunching)
New Prospect: Your cost per use is lower! You really do a better job than they do.
A+ Salesperson: Well, between you and me, they seem to think so too.
New Prospect: Oh?
A+ Salesperson: Yes, they even copied some of our website content and pasted it up as their own. *wink*
New Prospect: You are kidding!
A+ Salesperson: Nah, it’s a fact.
New Prospect: What are you going to do about it?
A+ Salesperson: Nothing. They apparently need all the help they can get. Besides, we consider it the highest form of flattery. So, shall we sign that contract?
And what did Mr. Smith say about my recommendation? “Thanks! Will do.”
Letting plagiarism “slide” isn’t always the best choice. But, in this case, my client will get more “marketing mileage” out of using this fact than they could possibly gain from writing
a threatening letter and getting the corporate lawyer involved.
So, if you find yourself in a sticky situation, always consider new (even unconventional) ways to “make lemonade.” Be sure your own approach is both legal and ethical. Contact your lawyer for advice. Always be civil and never be unkind. Don’t complain to clients
and always keep the conversation about such things “light.” The facts will carry their own
EDITOR’S NOTE: the author of this article is not a licensed attorney and the intent of this article is not to provide you with legal advice. For matters of copyright law you are advised to seek the counsel of a reputable copyright and/or intellectual property rights attorney.
© Copyright 2005 by Angela Allen Parker of Wicked Wordcraft
This article first appeared in the “Word Magic” column at www.epowernews.com in August 2005.