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Information Theft - when is it not cool to copy words

Stealing words - copyright protectionA client of mine called me last week concerned about some of his information showing up on a competitor's blog. When we looked at the article, it was very apparent that entire paragraphs had been copied and used in the blog. This indeed was plagerism and he called me for advice on his next steps.

My client started blogging at my suggestion and I've been giving him advice on how to properly blog, including blogging etiquette. Playing nice, asking permission, and insuring that he also cited his refernces were on the top of my tips for him. What we did not cover, though, was what to do if someone else violated those rules and used his words.

In one way, it was complimentatry that his words were written well enough that someone wanted to copy him. He didn't want to write the blog in the first place, so I used this moment to "stroke' his writing ego. Then, we got down to business researching what were his options because this was indeed a competitor and what the competitor had written was a form of corporate espionage.

What we found out is it comes down to how much money and time do you have to go after the competitor. Some people consider the Internet and anything found on it as Public Domain - meaning up for grabs. This is not the case. The copyright act says "creators hold the copyright to their work published in digital form, others do not have the right to use it without the creator's permission."

This fell right in with what I had taught my client in the first place. You want people to cite your work, and especially want them to include links back to your site for SEO purposes. You do not want them to steal your words (nor do you want to do the same) without citing them or asking permission.

So what can you do? First off, you need to call the author and tell them they have copied you and to take down the article. This is especially true if they are a competitor. If they fail to do so, you can report them. There is an actual US law, called the Digital Millenium Copyright ACT (DMCA), designed to prevent theft of online data. I found this when doing a Google search.

The other thing I told my customer to do was use social media to report them. That actually turned out to be what worked in his case. After the initial phone call, where the competitor actually hung up on my client, we reported them. The article stayed there still. Then, we resorted to social media saying things like "hm, that article looks just like mine." We also stated they must think my client is really good because they thought enough of what they had written to copy them. This went on for a day or two, and lo and behold, the article went away.

Did the competitor get some "social media" traffic out of our flurry of posts? Yep. Was it good traffic? Obviously not because the article went away.

There were several good things that happened from this potentially bad thing. My client is now inspired to write more articles. If his competitor liked what he wrote, so would his potential customers. I learned some things from this because in the course of discussion blogging, I showed my client how text from blog articles shows up in searches. I used my own articles as examples, and in the process, found some of my blogs on other people's sites. That was the biggest surprise of all.

Several sites with copies of my articles had no references to me at all.  They will get phone calls.  However, one site had several of my articles. In the articles I found I was cited and a link to my website was on the articles. After searching Google Analytics, I found I was getting several hits from this website.

It led me down  a path of consideration. It's a good thing I am getting SEO traffic and recognition. However I was troubled that the person who included  several of my blog articles had never asked permission. And that is where I am right now - do I call them and say, "gee, thanks for using my articles - it would have been nice if you asked for permission."

Everyone thinks everything on the internet is free. It's not. And that message has to be made very clear. This week my social media posts will have a theme - plagerism, data theft, copyright, etc. We do indeed live in interesting times - but we need to remember to follow the rules, and obey the laws, and remain considerate of other peoples' intellectual property.

Patricia Egen Consulting, LLC

803 Creek Overlook, Chattanooga, TN 37415
Main office: 423-875-2652 • Arizona office: 480-788-7504 • Florida office: 754-300-2827