I’ll never forget it.
I get a call one day from a marketing agency – not uncommon – and they’re interested in subcontracting me for some social media work. Also not uncommon.
The lady on the phone and I share a few laughs and quickly establish rapport.
We get along amazingly.
She gleefully points out how we have the same tastes and the same sense of humor. And – get this – we even use the same stock photo in our promotional materials.
“The defiant baby with his fist up in the air. We use that stock image too. All the time. It’s priceless.”
Yeah. Except, that’s not a stock photo. That’s a picture of my kid. And he’s not for sale.
I don’t remember what happened after that, but I didn’t get the job. In fact, I never heard from that woman again.
I did, however, learn what it felt like to have my content taken without my consent.
I felt kind of violated. Kind of helpless. Kind of stupid.
Having someone steal your content is frustrating for a variety of reasons.
For one thing – as it was in my case with my son’s picture – it compromises your business brand. Your brand is your reputation. And if someone else is out there trying to look like your business, it can confuse your audience and affect your bottom line.
When earning likes, shares, and comments are imperative to your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), you can actually be looking at a dent in your online visibility when someone takes your articles, images, or videos and re-purposes them as their own.
In other words, it’s not just about bragging rights – those Facebook likes can translate into a business brand’s book sales, seminar bookings, product sales, interview bookings, and all kinds of related financial compensation. In business, stolen content is stolen dollars.
It happens a lot in the health and wellness industry, where people before-and-after pictures get swiped by different companies. Now we’re talking about blatant false advertising that damages the industry as a whole – in addition to the loss of product and service sales for the professionals who actually deserve credit for the photos.
And let’s face it. Having your hard work ripped off just feels icky.
If you take the time and effort to write a blog that helps people and is good enough to engage a following, and that writing gets copied and pasted into someone else’s blog or site without crediting you, it hurts because that’s your blood, sweat, and tears going unacknowledged.
But what can be done about this?
After all, plagiarism isn’t new and it’s not going to disappear any time soon.
Here are a few tips on what to do to help prevent plagiarism, and the what to do if your online content gets stolen…
Don’t publish anything you don’t want to share
When it comes to publishing content online, it’s best to approach creating original content with the attitude of “once it’s out there, it’s out there.”
Don’t give away the proverbial cow. Keep the best stuff for your paying clients. Rest assured, you can still offer plenty of value without draining your business’s heart and soul.
Not everyone knows what plagiarism is
Don’t jump to conclusions right away.
Giver the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt.
Believe it or not, some people are just plain ignorant when it comes to sharing stuff on the Internet and giving credit.
I know what you’re thinking, “People steal intentionally. Don’t be so naïve.”
The thing is, there’s this general misconception that if something is on the Internet, it is automatically up for grabs.
The ugly truth is that to many, taking content from others feels like a victimless crime. Think of all the music and movies that get pirated every year. How many people really feel bad about that? Exactly.
Before reaching out to someone who has taken your content without permission, take a moment to calm down and center yourself. Don’t assume the worst – yet.
Brand your content so that it can’t get stolen without giving you credit
If you put out content – any content, be it a written article, an image, or a video – and you don’t add a watermark or website URL or indicate in a very blatant way who the creator of this content is, then you have to blame yourself (just a little) for your material getting swiped.
I remember one time when someone was livid that her picture quotes got shared without her receiving any credit. The problem was, there was no indication that she even created these images. For all anyone knew, they were just property of the Internet. Things get shared on the Internet at the speed of a person’s whim, no one is going to stop to do a reference check.
Don’t be shy – plaster your branding all over your content (in a tasteful way, of course).
Contact the plagiarizer in private
If you see your property posted somewhere on social media or on a blog or website without your consent, start with an “innocent” but tactful private message to the offender.
Think of it as a warning shot.
Give them a chance to bail out gracefully.
Ask that they either take down the content or give you credit and link back to your site or social media profile. Linking back will actually help raise awareness of your brand, in most cases.
Best case scenario, it was an honest oversight and you’ve made friends with someone who loves your work and wants to share it with a qualified audience. If you play it right, this situation could actually expand your reach and help your brand in the long run.
I know it’s hard (trust me), but try to take the emotion out of it.
Don’t immediately go for blood.
Always think win-win.
Threaten legal action for the plagiarism
When you privately contact the person who stole your content, give them a time limit to respond.
If they fail to respond (or don’t respond favorably), you can threaten legal intervention. Most of the time, this will put an end to the shenanigans.
Threats go a long way, but keep them civil. Never forget that your bland is on record. Things may get ugly but you don’t have to stoop to a lower level.
You can find out who hosts the offending website (by going to Who Is Hosting This?) and contact the web host directly, and then they will look into pulling down the site due to copyright infringement. In the United States of America, you can send a DMCA (The Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice to the offender’s web host.
Divert traffic to your own site
I absolutely HATE drama (waste of energy), but if you feel like fighting an outright plagiarist, you can post a screen capture on the offender’s wall or social media platform so that their followers can see that you are the originator of the content that they are interested in.
As much as humanly possible, be gracious and professional when doing this because the main objective here is – believe it or not – NOT to discredit the person stealing your work, but to lure some of their audience to your platform.
Think about it, this new audience is presumably already interested in you, they just don’t know where to find you.
In other words, try to turn this negative event into a positive, as it could actually help you grow your brand’s reach.
Don’t lose focus
Speaking of drama – do NOT get sucked in.
Some people have nothing better to do.
You are not one of these people – you are running a business.
You are representing not only yourself, but also your brand. Never forget this.
Focus more on what you are doing, rather than on what others may or may not be scheming.
Don’t use plagiarism as an excuse to not create content
Above all, do not use the threat of plagiarism as an excuse to not create content.
“What’s the point on creating amazing content if someone’s just going to steal it? Might as well give up. Might as well not try. Might as well do nothing.”
Do not kid yourself in this manner.
Look, creating original content takes guts. You’re basically putting yourself out there. Not a lot of people have what it takes.
The small actions of petty thieves and irrelevant buffoons are not reasons to quit. Forget these people, because you have important work to do.
Seek solace knowing that your work is so hot, people want to steal it. And then stand up for yourself. And protect yourself. Keep the emotion out of it and leverage what you have to turn negative events into positive ones and grow your audience.