Archive for the ‘Intellectual Property’ Category

Dear Danielle: May I Use Your Content?

Dear Danielle: May I Use Your Content?

Dear Danielle: 

As I don’t want to infringe and knowing that your ACA Success Store materials are copyrighted (e.g., the business plan template), am I on the right path of thinking that I cannot utilizes your sentences, that my freedom is to understand the essence and create my unique words and format? —BF

You are exactly correct. My words are there for your eyes only, to instruct and provide examples to help get your own creative juices going. They can’t be used on your website, marketing collateral, etc.

Doing your own work is part of the learning process. It’s what helps you gain that deeper understanding about the concepts and ideas I teach and try to impart.

That said, there’s a certain sensibility that has to be applied individually to each product.

For example, you don’t have to rewrite the contracts. They are provided for you to enter your own info and details in the blanks and adapt/adjust as you see fit for use with your own clients.

However, they may not be shared or provided publicly in any format on your website or anywhere else because that violates my terms of use and interferes with my business expectency. (I once had someone do that and had to tell her to take them down.)

With regard to the business plan (as an example), no one else is likely to see your business plan except you. Which is the most important thing because its first and foremost value is that the exercise of completing a business plan gets you to think through everything more thoroughly and gain clarity and direction in all aspects of your business.

So as you read through it, you might have changes you want to make to it for your own personal path in your business. And if not, that’s okay, too. Because really, the only person it’s for and who is ever going to see it is you. Rarely do people ever use it to try to secure funding (these aren’t the type of businesses that get “funded”).

However, if you wanted to use it to try to do that (with your own details and adaptations, of course), you could do that because it would just be between you and the bank/funding source. (Business plans should also always be marked “Confidential & Proprietary” and come with a non-disclosure clause.)

What would NOT be okay is if you shared the business plan with colleagues and others.

For instance, say someone asked on a forum if anyone had a business plan they would mind sharing as an example. It would be illegal for you to send them the business plan you purchased from me (or any of my products), adapted or not, because it violates copyright law, is against my terms of use and would interfere with my business expectancy. They would need to purchase their own copy.

That’s when you’d say, I got an AWESOME business plan from the ACA that’s helped me so much, and you can get your own copy at the ACA Success Store.  😉

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.

Stealing Is Not Love

What does love mean to you?

How about in the global sense, toward people who aren’t your family or friends? Strangers even.

I mean, we probably don’t “love” people we don’t know in the same way we do our family,  friends and those closest to us.

But isn’t it safe to say that most of us wish our fellow human beings well? I think so.

If you spend any time on the internet, you really gain an overall sense of what I think is a predominant sentiment — that we are all here on this earth to help each other and do good.

Get to the core of anyone’s passionate purpose and my bet is you’ll see that as the root (well, most of the time maybe, lol).

Fame and fortune aren’t what make people truly happy.

They are often byproducts of finding one’s passion and purpose, but it’s doing something good and helping others where people find their true purpose and sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

Would you agree?

This is how I see the world. That we are all here to help one another. It’s a form of love, if you like. It’s what makes the world go ‘round.

Those of us who have been in business awhile, who have actual expertise and success, often create products and training that we charge for. And rightly so.

There is nothing wrong with making money from the expertise and intellectual capital you have fairly and squarely earned and want to share. In fact, it sets a good business example for those who would like to become successful in their own businesses as well. Catering to the poverty mindset is not helpful to anyone whatsoever.

Unfortunately, there are many folks out there who aren’t experts, who have no background, who haven’t accomplished any level of success in their own business, who haven’t in any way, shape or form put in the time and sweat to earn and develop their own intellectual capital, and will stoop to stealing from those who have and offering their work as their own.

Stealing is not love, folks.

It’s not a form of flattery. It’s not a compliment.

It’s theft of the recognition and remuneration of the rightful owners.

Stealing breeds distrust and dishonesty. And we can’t tolerate that kind of thing in the world, much less our profession, if we expect to make it a better place.

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:”

Here is the original link (article has since been removed):

Here is my original article:

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 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.

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle:

I have a question regarding my business name. I started my business on August 17, but just found out that there is another business in our industry with a name similar to mine. I know that this probably won’t matter, but I am in one state and she is in another. My long term goal is to go international, but right now, I am concentrating on local clients. By the way, I have business cards, a business license, etc. Should I be concerned about this? If so, what do you suggest I do? Thank you in advance for your advice. –FT

You are right in assuming that it doesn’t necessarily matter that you are in two different states.

This is especially true in our industry where we don’t have any geographic boundaries from each other.

If the person with the pre-existing, established use of the name takes their business interests seriously and is intent on protecting their trade name rights, you could be in for some legal problems and expenses.

In fact, the laws governing trademarks, trade names, trade dress, etc., matters requires them to defend their rights or they forfeit them.

When you’re in business, there are lots of important areas you have  a responsibility to understand.

They may be boring, complicated and not so fun, but they are imperative nonetheless because they protect us and the marketplace, keep things fair, and give us some parameters to ensure we can all play nice and get along with each other.

So the first thing I advise you to do is go to and study up on the trademark and copyright information listed there.

I’m going to post some info we share in our forums on this topic and why it’s in your best business interest to come up with your own unique business name.


In our industry, we have no geographical boundaries from each other. Therefore, having a unique business name is even more important.

When starting an administrative support business, beyond just the impoliteness of stepping on a colleague’s toes (someone who was there first), here is why it’s important for you to have a unique business name:

1. You don’t want to get sued. A colleague with established first use of an existing trade name has legal rights and can sue you for infringement, and possibly even damages. It costs a lot of money, time and energy to defend yourself. If you lose (which you can by either default or because the court finds in the complainant’s favor), it can cost even more. If they win a judgment against you, they may be able to go after your personal assets, garnish wages, get an injunction to freeze bank accounts and force you to disgorge any monies you earned while using their IP (intellectual property). This is not “mean”; it’s business, and every business has a right to defend its rights and its turf if it feels it’s been infringed upon. Likewise, every business has a duty and self-preserving interest to make sure it is not infringing. It’s just not a ball of wax you want to even potentially find yourself in.

2. It’s not a great way to be welcomed into the community. Ours is a relatively small, tight-knit community. People will know you are infringing on one of their comrades. How do you think they will look upon you? And imagine if it were you… how would you feel if someone new came into the industry and started using your business name, the one you’ve been using for X years and around which all your identity and marketing has been based? It would not feel good. Trust, good will and polite society can not exist where we allow this kind of thing to occur. It’s just not cool, much less professional or ethical.

3. You don’t want to be confused with another business in the same industry. It’s going to be really important to differentiate yourself from everyone else, and that includes having a unique business name and identity. It doesn’t do you any good to be using someone else’s established business name if traffic and name recognition is going to be diverted to someone else who was there first.

4. You don’t want to have to redo everything (e.g., website, marketing materials, etc.). If you are caught infringing, you can be compelled to relinquish domains, destroy or hand over other intellectual property, and it’s going to be a lot of work and more money to start all over again.


So, what do you do? A bit of homework is in order. To make sure you come up with a unique name and do not infringe on the established trademarks and trade name rights of any of your colleagues, there are things you can and should do:

1. Search industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the same or similar name already.

2. Search the database. Check to see that no one else is already using the same or similar trade name. Bear in mind that while federally registered trade names have even further protections and recourses, a name does not have to be registered there to be protected. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and/or would still create confusion.

3. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifier) in several different search engines. Use Google, MSN, Yahoo, Chrome and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later. Example: If you want to use Dizzy Admin, you should search for  “Dizzy Admin,” “Dizzy Administrative,” “Dizzy Administration,” “Dizzy Administrative Consulting,” “Dizzy Administrative Consultant,”“Dizzy Business Support,” ““Dizzy Virtual Assistant,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistants,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistance,” etc. If someone else in our industry, regardless of where they are located, is using “Dizzy” (which is the relevant novel/ substantive part of the name), forget about using it.


Once you find a name that is unique and that in no way can be confused with anyone else’s existing, established trade identity in our industry, you’re home free.

If you think you were the first to use the name, contact the colleague and see if you see if you can work things out.

If you know you were not the first, contact the colleague with the same or similar name, and see how they feel about it.

And then consult an attorney about whether it would be a wise course of action to pursue the name anyway, what the possible ramifications are, and what it might cost to defend or protect yourself. ;)

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:

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 legal 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 that protect intellectual property owners.

The law does require, however, that you actively protect your trade name (business name), trademarks, servicemarks, etc., (e.g., taglines) or you lose the rights to lay claim to them.

What that means is you must go after those who infringe upon your business name, tagline and other trademark property or you lose right to them. And if you are serious about your business (it’s your livelihood after all), that’s not something you take lightly. It, therefore, becomes necessary for you to keep a vigilant eye open for infringements of this nature.  The eyes and ears of your colleagues are often very helpful in this effort.

Which also means you do not want to be the newcomer who is doing the infringing on someone else’s tradename and/or other intellectual property. You can be easily sued and held liable and ordered to pay thousands of dollars, on top of having to start all over from scratch.

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 this happened to me.”


  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, 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.