Archive for the ‘Copyright and Trademark’ Category

Dear Danielle: Can I Use Content from Your Site?

Dear Danielle:

The templates I purchased from your site have been, and continue to be, very helpful. I’m working on my website and I wonder what the policy is for using information from your site if credit is given with a link to your site. There is soooo much useful and helpful information and if I may use some of it (with appropriate credit) then I would be most grateful! —MB

I’m so happy you are finding everything so helpful to you, and I really appreciate you letting me know that!

I’m afraid, however, using our content (or anyone else’s, for that matter) is a BIG no-no.

(It’s also the quickest way to get on my bad side. ;) )

The idea is not to copy other people. Whether you give them credit or not, simply taking content from someone else’s site to use on your own is copyright infringement.

Only the content owner gets to decide who may use what content, if any. Likewise, the content owner may not want her content used in a particular way or on a particular site.

You don’t want to be a copycat anyway. Nor do you want to get into legal hot water because you have used their content or made derivative use of it.

(“Derivative use” is a legal term that basically means plagiarism. It’s where someone takes someone else’s content and changes words or things around a bit to disguise the use. But that’s still copyright infringement and it’s illegal.)

If you want to educate the marketplace with our content, the only way I allow that is by placing a membership button on your website so that those who are interested can follow the link and read our content on our site.

(By the way, as a side note, we have things coded so that the link opens in a new window and doesn’t take your visitors away from your website).

Ultimately, it’s not your job to educate the marketplace about Administrative Consultants. The ACA site already does that.

You need to speak for your business. Your job is to educate your target market on how you do things and how you help them.

Plus, we don’t need an industry where everyone is all using the same words. Clients actually hate that and it frustrates them to no end.

You do nothing to differentiate yourself from the crowd and help them choose YOU by using someone else’s content and repeating the same tired, boring, ineffective industry script that everyone else in the industry is reciting chapter, line and verse.

And think about it… imagine what it would be like if I let everyone use our content.

If I gave one person permission, everyone else would expect to have favors and exceptions made for them as well. That doesn’t do anything to help Administrative Consultants be original and stand on their own two feet as business owners, and we’d have a sea of websites all saying the same thing (like there is already).

Giving people content and doing all their thinking and work for them is against everything I stand for. Without going through those exercises for themselves, they do not gain the important lessons and insights necessary to succeed on their own in business and marketing.

It’s sort of like this:  I’m not here to do the math (or the work) for you, which teaches you nothing. I’m here to give you the knowledge, know-how and tools so you can do the “math” for yourself and be unique.

Everything I do is about encouraging and helping people come up with their OWN content, in their OWN voice. I even have a product to help you do that:  Articulating Your Value: How to Craft Your Unique, Irresistible Marketing Message to Stand Out from the Crowd and Attract Well-Paying Clients Who Can’t Wait to Hire You (GDE-38).

You May Only Share What Belongs to You

I need to bring up a somewhat uncomfortable topic and that is intellectual property.

It’s been brought to my attention that there are people sharing the contracts they’ve purchased from me and the ACA Success Store with others and that is a HUGE no-no.

Those products are my intellectual property. Your license to use them extends only to your business with your own clients.

Outside of that, you do not have any legal right to share them with colleagues, and you will get yourself into real legal hot water if you do.

If you come across posts on listservs and forums where people are asking others to share their contracts, you would be doing the members and the list/forum owner a favor by letting them know that the contracts they are sharing may be someone else’s intellectual property and they could be opening themselves up to legal liability by sharing them.

It’s not ethical and could cost them a pretty penny legally defending themselves. They can also potentially have their assets and bank accounts frozen by Court-ordered injunction if they are found to have misused someone else’s intellectual property in this manner.

It’s a very, very bad idea and list owners (if only out of self-preservation) should discourage those kind of conversations as they can be held liable as well. You do not want to be dragged into costly legal proceedings, especially if you are not the one doing the sharing, so it’s best not to promote or faciliate those conversations.

I know you’re trying to be helpful, but you can only be helpful with things that belong to you. My contracts and other products do not belong to you. They are strictly for your own personal use in your own business.

There is an alternative though, one that will allow you to be helpful AND earn you money at the same time.

Join my affiliate program so that you can refer others to the ACA Success Store and earn 25% commissions on every successful sale you’ve referred via your affiliate link.

Here are the details (super, super simple and easy): ACA Affiliate Program

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.

Virtual Assistant Ethics: What Do You Think?

I was contacted last week by the owner of a well-regarded training program for Virtual Assistants.

The owner is not a Virtual Assistant herself, but rather is an expert with an extensive background and expertise in the subject she teaches (exactly as it should be).

It had come to this program owner’s attention via a Google Alert that a new Virtual Assistant training/certification organization was offering a course with the exact same curriculum.

What was particularly disturbing to the owner of this well-respected, well-known training program is that:

  1. The listed instructor for the course at the new training organization is a current student of this program owner.
  2. This student/instructor is taking material from this program owner’s course and converting it to hers.
  3. This new training organization is charging $150 per class, so the four class series is priced at $600, almost exactly what the original program owner charges, which would lead people to believe they are getting something of value taught by an expert.

The student-all-of-a-sudden-turned-instructor in question is a new Virtual Assistant with no background or experience in the course she is now teaching.

What is also interesting and ironic is that the owner of the new training organization has posted in online forums that she would never pay anyone to learn this thing her own new training organization is now offering and charging for.

She stated she would instead do her own research and teach herself, the underlying sentiment seeming to be that she begrudges anyone charging for training, and she presumably thinks they should be doing it for free.

Funny how her thinking has miraculously changed now that it’s her own pockets the money goes into.

The program owner who contacted me about this is not only disturbed that this Virtual Assistant would take material in this way, but also concerned that unfortunate students won’t realize they are learning from someone who is not an expert, but has only taken a course herself–in fact, hasn’t even finished it at this point.

It appears the owner of the new training program didn’t bother to do any due diligence in hiring this instructor to ensure that students were being provided something of value.

One can’t help but wonder what other instructors were indiscriminately hired without any regard to background, qualification or expertise, and whether they might be using another person’s intellectual property as well.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. I know of several instances where this exact same thing has happened.

Besides the dishonesty and stealing, what also bothers me  is seeing new VAs who haven’t achieved any level of success or experience and expertise in their own businesses turning around and selling crap to their colleagues.

Why is it, I wonder, they can’t just concentrate on their own businesses? My guess is because it’s not easy growing a business and God forbid they should have to <gasp> actually work hard at anything.

So anyway, this got me to thinking about how much people understand about intellectual property.

Even outside of that, are there any basic principles of right and wrong that folks easily identify here? What do you think?

Unethical Virtual Assistants: Philippines Call Center

Imagine my surprise to see an article I wrote in 2004 that is well-known throughout our industry published in a release with another person’s name in the byline.

Here is a PDF of the screenshot of the release submitted by one “Johnny Law” from Philippines Call Center which contains just about 100% verbatim content from my article, “How to Succeed in the Virtual Assistant Industry:” http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/infringements/OfficeWire/120909InfringingRelease.pdf

Here is the original link (article has since been removed): http://www.officialwire.com/main.php?action=posted_news&rid=50855&catid=93

Here is my original article: http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/howtosucceed.htm

I tell ya, these Philippine agencies are quickly making a very bad name for themselves in our industry. And it’s too bad because it hurts the reputations of whatever honest, ethical, legitimate Philippines agencies may be out there.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many of them stealing other peoples’ content, committing all kinds of infringements and engaging in unethical practices that I don’t trust a single one of them.

I’ve emailed Official Wire and asked for the release to be removed. Hopefully they will honor the request expediently. We shall see. In the meantime, know that the Philippine agency responsible for posting my content is dishonest and unethical. If they engage in unlawful acts such as this, they are not to be trusted in any manner and should be avoided.

UPDATE 12/9/09: I heard back from the Official Wire site owner, Greg Smith. His comment: “Contact the author.” Um, I AM the author. I wonder if this Greg Smith is familiar with the DMCA? He is as liable for publishing unauthorized copyrighted content as the Philippine agency who submitted it and his site can be taken down. Why do these people need to make it so hard? Why can’t they just be honest? I swear.

If I were you, you may want to also avoid Office Wire. I’m not familiar with them, but on closer inspection, it appears that the site may even be one of those spam/scam sites. Most legitimate sites like this will remove infringing content without too much hassle once it is brought to their attention. You have to wonder why one would choose to favor a dishonest company over the rightful owner and author of the stolen content.

UPDATE 12/10/09: Well, this Greg Smith was a total and utter a-hole. Seriously. Which again leads me to believe that his “press release” site is some kind of front for other intentions. In an email exchange, it turns out he is in the U.K. and seemed to believe he was outside of any kind of copyright governances whatsoever. He flat out refused to remove the release and it became quite obvious he has a huge chip on his shoulder about Americans, stating that “you Americans think you rule the world.” So I asked him, since I’m always curious about how on earth some peoples’ minds work, what does being American have to do with expecting people to be honorable and ethical? I asked him why he would choose to cater to a dishonest company that submitted a plagiarized release over the actual author’s request when he could simply remove it? It’s his site after all. He had no response other than some circular argument that he didn’t have to remove it and to contact the author.

With some help from the awesome plagiarism removal expert Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, we found that OfficeWire.com is hosted by a U.S. company and thus subject to DMCA provisions. I emailed them today and they very quickly took action and the offending release has now been removed from the site. Easy peasy and also saving my IP attorney dollars for more important matters.

Copyright Infringement: Lorean Tuff

Did my regular monthly plagiarism sweep earlier this week and discovered that a Lorean Tuff has taken whole sections of content from my personal business Home page and placed it on her site here: http://www.myownvirtualassistant.com/Home_Page.html

Here’s a PDF of the screenshot taken (note the yellow highlighted parts indicating the infringing use of my copy).

Here’s a PDF of my personal business Home page with the sections she took highlighted in yellow:

Also noticed she had appropriated EA to VA’s graphic and alerted Syndi Craig Hart to that fact as well, which Sydni was none too pleased about.

I placed a call to Ms. Tuff, informing her of the infringement and letting her know that I expected it to be removed immediately. That was two or three days ago and she still has not removed it even though she assured me it would be taken down that day.

I will be having a DMCA filed to take her site down. In the meantime, you might want to run through her site and see if she’s taken anything from you.

What Would You Do? Newcomer Uses a Colleague’s Business Name

So here’s a sticky situation that is occurring more and more often:

A newcomer to the industry enters the scene and proudly announces her new business name and tagline to the world. Problem is, it is identical or nearly identical to the business name and/or tagline of an established colleague.

Your business name and tagline is part of your brand identity, which is an important and valuable intellectual asset.

It helps creates a unique and distinctive identity of your business in the marketplace. It helps facilitate brand awareness, differentiation and word-of mouth advertising for your business.

When someone copies your name or tagline or uses a derivative, it creates confusion and unfair competition.

While registering your tradename affords you the greatest rights and recourse, it is not required and it’s not the only way to exercise your rights and protect your turf. There are common law protections as well.

You do, however, have to actively protect your name or you lose the right to lay claim to it. It therefore becomes necessary for you to keep a vigilant eye open for infringements of this nature.  The eyes and ears of your colleagues can be critical in this effort.

And you don’t want to be the person who is doing the infringing. You can be easily suedand held liable. Do you really have the time, money, energy and resources to fight a costly legal battle in another state or even country with someone who has every right to go after you and protect their intellectual property and very important business interests? And if you don’t have the money to defend yourself, they can win by default judgment.

Stealing from others and engaging in the unethical practice of infringing on the tradename/trademark/intellectual property of others is a no-win situation.

But forget legalities for the moment.

Let’s look at this from a moral and ethical standpoint.

Sometimes this is difficult, but it becomes less so when you first ask yourself the question: “How would I feel if it were done to me” or “How would I feel if that happened to me?”

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SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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  1. Would you be upset if someone new to the industry started using your business name? Why or why not?
  2. If you saw someone new using a colleague’s business name, tagline/slogan or other brand identity, would you say something to that newcomer? Why or why not?
  3. Would you let a colleague know if you saw someone new using their established business name, etc., a close enough derivative of it to be confusing? Why or why not?

Geez, You Practically Have to Bonk Some People Over the Head

Man, I tell ya… whaddaya gotta do to get through to some people?!

So a someone new registers for our forum the other day. She meets all the registration criteria, but when her site is checked, turns out she’s using verbatim content taken from my personal business website.

I mean, seriously?! Did ya think no one would notice? And then you try to join the professional organization of the person you just stole from?

Honestly, what is wrong with the brains of these people? It just floors me.

On top of that, before she’s gotten any confirmation or word from us, she’s placed the organization logo on her website.

Now, while I appreciate the idea that she wants to be affiliated with us, you can’t just go placing logos and membership buttons on your site unless have permission and/or you are, um, an actual member.

Hello, this is planet earth. In what world is it honest or ethical to mislead site visitors into thinking that you’re an official member when you’re not or have certain official credentials when you don’t?

So I email this person (who’s of an age and generation that she damn well knows better) and I tell her I realize she’s new to the industry so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt. I proceed to give her a primer on copyright infringement and content theft.

I also explain that she can’t willy nilly place logos on her site without permission, that she isn’t a member yet of our organization and that it isn’t an authorized nor permissible use of our logo. I show her what she needs to take down from her site and ask her to email me when she’s done so that I can put the matter to bed.

Well, I get an email back from her and she’s taken down our logo, but all she’s done with my content is simply change a few words!

I’m fed up at this point and I just call her. She answers and I explain (gasp) the concept of plagiarism to her. You can’t steal someone’s content and you certainly can’t just change some words around when you’re caught. That’s the very definition of plagiarism is. Duh.

I inform her that it must be taken down completely and she’s going to have to come up with her own, original content. I again ask her to email me when she’s complied with this.

I get a message back from her. She’s taken down the infringing verbiage completely (finally), but here’s what she says to me:

“I have read a gazillion sites in the past few weeks getting ideas for my site. Your slogan must have stuck in my mind. I was not aware that I copied it verbatim. I have several operating sites and have found infringement of my copyrighted words, but I take the position that it is a compliment and just let it go.”

It wasn’t a slogan she stole. It was a whole paragraph of content. And you “remembered” it all, word for word, in your head a week later? Yeah, right.

This is what I emailed her back:

“It isn’t a compliment. It is stealing. And it’s illegal. You don’t get to benefit in your marketing from using other peoples’ content and intellectual property.  They developed that content for their own benefit.”

And I should have added that just because she may choose to view it as a compliment, doesn’t mean that I am going to nor that I have to. That’s why they have these laws on the books, dodo brain. I don’t take stealing from me very kindly, especially in view of the fact that I give so freely of all my knowledge to the industry in the first place to help Virtual Assistants build their own equity and collateral.

Oh, and how ironic is this… our guest speaker for this month’s guest expert teleseminar is Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday.com, LOL.

If you’ve ever had your content stolen or want to know what to do if it should happen to you in the future, you’ll definitely want to attend! You can register here.

Unethical Virtual Assistant: Your Virtual Admin

Here’s another thief who has stolen, verbatim, my home page text: Your Virtual Admin at http://yourvirtualadmin.blogspot.com/

Here’s my site:  http://www.therelief.com.

Here’s a PDF of their blog home page with my stolen content:

http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/infringements/YourVirtualAdmin/012409Home.pdf

This Virtual Assistant’s name is Maria. She was contacted about the infringement to give her a chance to remove it from her blog/site before being posted here. She chose to hang up abruptly.

Here’s a hint, guys. Stealing content from other Virtual Assistants is copyright infringement. It’s against the law and it’s also not a great way to make your introduction into the Virtual Assistant world. It’s even dumber to steal it from an industry leader with a widespread audience.

So take a hint, Maria, if you want to save yourself some grief and possible lawsuits: quit stealing and remove my content from your site immediately. Otherwise, you will be hearing from my intellectual property attorney. And once I have to go to that length and you waste my time and money to get you to do what is right, I go for blood.

Laurice L. on oDesk

Does anyone know someone by the name of Laurice L. who is offering her services as a Virtual Assistant on oDesk.com?

She has stolen my “Meet Danielle” text from my personal business site:

lauricel2

If you know this Virtual Assistant or have heard of her, please let me know how to get in touch with her. Thanks.

UPDATE 12/5/08: I emailed oDesk and also posted on their forum about the infringement. A user there flagged the offending account and offered condolences, but I never heard from anyone officially from oDesk. However, when I messaged oDesk earlier this week via Twitter, they said they “were on it.” Received an email today from Stephanie Crull of oDeck who informed me that the offending profile has been deleted from their network. Big thanks to oDesk for their responsiveness (although, it would have been nice to hear from someone directly a little bit sooner).