Does This Hurt Our Relationship?

As you may know, I frequently have to deal with new people in our industry (as well as some who are not so new who damn well know better) who have stolen or plagiarized content from me.

It’s my policy to give folks one chance to make things right.

Beyond that, I hand it over to my intellectual property attorney.

If I am particularly offended by the thief’s attitude and lack of accountability, I let folks know about it here on my blog.

Recently, yet another newcomer had content on her site that belonged to me. Now, as I’ve said before, I don’t go out of my way to hunt for this stuff. But when it comes right under my nose, when they have the balls to steal from me and then register to belong to my community, that’s a personal affront.

She eventually made things right, explaining that her web designer is the one who wrote up her content and she had no idea he was taking verbiage from other colleagues’ sites. She “thought it was funny” when he emailed her to take a look once it was done. As she read the home page, she thought to herself, “Wow, this guy sure knows a lot about the industry.”

She hoped that this hadn’t hurt our professional relationship in any way.

I could shine her on and be all fake and phony and tell her, “Oh, of course not!” But that would be a lie.

Once you steal from someone or do them harm in some way, they are naturally going to be distrustful of you.

I mean, I don’t know you from Adam and this is my first experience with you?

If you didn’t demonstrate integrity and common sense in the first place, what reason do I have to think you will in the future?

And since we’re being honest here, “my web designer did it” is what they ALL say.

That excuse is only ever really the truth maybe 1% or 2% of the time. It’s not my problem to figure out which is the case.

Life is too short to waste your time on people who have broken trust, particularly when you have no prior relationship with them in the first place.

Why would I want to have a relationship with someone I felt guarded around and like I’d need to keep looking over my shoulder with them?

I wouldn’t. Not when there are millions of other people in the world to be friends with who don’t start our relationship out by stealing from me. You are the one responsible for creating my view of you as someone who is untrustworthy.

I do appreciate her efforts to mend the relationship. But she’s going to have to keep in mind that having made me wary of her, it might take awhile.

Who knows, it might not happen at all. I don’t feel any obligation to extend any extraordinary benefit of the doubt to people who start our relationship out like this. It’s just too much energy.

So the real answer to her question (and I write about this here because there are lots of people out there who need to hear this) is that yes, it very much affects your professional relationships when you steal from people or engage in any other unethical conduct.

Sure, people can and do make mistakes. But when you make a mistake, you still have to accept the consequences of your actions. And that might include the fact that you have cost yourself some opportunities and relationships.

To the 1-2% of folks where “my web designer did it” is actually the case, what you need to understand is that web designers are not copywriters (generally speaking). Whether they took the content or you did, you are still responsible for what’s on your website.

No one knows our industry like our own people so if you marvel at how much someone who isn’t in the admin support business knows about our industry, chances are they really don’t. They just took stuff from other people.

Write your own content. Or hire a real copywriter. Either way, anytime someone writes something for you, ask them very directly if they took content from any other sites. And if you find out that a web designer or anyone else writing on your behalf simply took or plagiarized someone else’s stuff, make sure you inform them loud and clear that that is copyright infringement, that it is unethical and illegal, and they have opened you (as well as themselves) up to legal liability.

And by the way, there isn’t one good reason you can’t come up with your own, unique content. In fact, I’ve written a very simple, comprehensive guide that walks you step-by-step through the process of crafting your very own unique and compelling marketing message. It’s called “Understanding Your Value.” Get that guide you’ll never have to “borrow” from anyone or use tired old industry rhetoric ever again.

7 Responses

  1. Well said!!! It can be scary to write your own web content, but since my website reflects me and my business I think it’s important that I write it. More importantly, that way I know the source of the information.

    Thanks for another great posting!

  2. Judy Reyes says:

    It is never ok to steal someone’s copy or material. I’m in total agreement. When it’s a verbatim lift out of someone else’s material, that’s clearly plagiarism. Let the chips fall where they may, if one dares to do this. Like lying on a resume, it’s not easy to recover your reputation and could have more serious consequences.

    However, I think that there are many common ways to describe our business and the work that we do. It is possible there can be some coincidential uses of the same turns of phrases or partial descriptions in various people’s documents. I realized this in searching for business names and reviewing trademarked phrases. My ideas weren’t original! Someone thought of it first! LOL

    I love writing and wouldn’t have any problem coming up with my own copy or editing someone else’s attempts. However, when I do my website I will DEFINITELY ask for a signed declaration that the web developers have not violated any copyrights. Thanks for the warning.

  3. Very well said, Danielle. Writing my own content was indeed a challenge…initially, but it turned out to be a fun exercise as I critiqued and and perfected it over time. If it proves so big a task that one would have to copy from someone else, then it begs to wonder just how well that person can perform otherwise.

  4. I began to read this blog as I do with many of yours. With a smile on my face and excited to keep reading. Then I got to the part where you said “She thought it was funny when he emailed her to take a look once it was done.”

    Ok – had she not seen your website? Surely she must have? I read the rest of your blog with my jaw nearly on the keyboard. What a shame that someone who wants to be associated with you and your community you worked so hard to put together would steal from you!

    That girl must have some big bollocks!

  5. Maria says:

    Plagiarism is a serious matter to be dealt with. I’m a VA and it is sad to hear such news. Yes, writing an article requires research and challenging. And we all know that there’s always the ‘original,’ but does she know about paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting? A picture is worth a thousand words so if it hasn’t been written a thousand time, write it the nth time.

  6. Hi Maria 🙂

    Paraphrasing and summarizing isn’t okay either. There’s verbatim infringement and there also what’s legally termed “making derivative use of” and they are both forms of illegal copyright infringement. You are not allowed to take someone else’s content and just change some wording or move things around to disguise that use. That is still infringement and it’s the very definition of plagiarism.

  7. Pattie says:

    Sadly, the “my web developer did it” line is all too common when it comes to online plagiarism. I’ve had a couple of instances where people have lifted my copy and then come up with that pretty poor excuse. It’s a complete cop out. If it’s your business and your website, take responsibility and don’t pass the buck.

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