Archive for the ‘Copyright and Trademark’ Category

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.

Why Trade Name Infringement Is Not a Good Way to Introduce Yourself in the Industry

A new member registered for our forum the other day. Unfortunately, we had a dilemma because this person was operating under the same business name as one of our members.

So, I’m taking this opportunity to remind folks about trade name infringement and our principles and standards around that as a professional association.

Because of the online nature of our businesses, we have no geographical boundaries from each other, which makes having a unique business name more important than ever.

I don’t know how other professional associations handle it, but at the ACA, we believe it’s important to uphold the principles of operating ethically and honestly and treating each other well, which includes not infringing upon your colleagues. We do that by not condoning or enabling the practice of trade name infringement.

Besides just being the wrong thing to do, here’s why it’s not in your own best interests to tread on a colleagues toes in this manner and why it’s important for you to come up with your own unique business name:

  1. You don’t want to get sued. Someone with legal rights and established use of an existing trade name can sue you for infringement. It costs a lot of money and energy to defend yourself. If you lose (which you can by either default or because the Court finds in the plaintiff’s favor), it will cost even more. It’s a can of worms you don’t want to open. You should always expect that anyone who takes their business seriously is going to also protect their business interests just as seriously.
  2. It’s not a great way to be welcomed into the community. Relatively speaking, ours is a very small, tight-knit community. People will know you are infringing on one of their comrades. Think about it. 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, the one you spent blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money!) building, and around which all your identity and marketing has been based? You are going to create ill will and negative energy for yourself by stepping on an established colleague’s toes.
  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 others 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 the person who was using it first. It creates confusion in the marketplace and there are laws in place to protect right holders from this.
  4. You don’t want to have to redo everything (e.g., web site, marketing materials, etc.). If you are caught infringing, your website can be shut down, you can be forced to relinquish domains you’ve unlawfully squatted on, 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 trade name rights of any of your colleagues, there are steps you can and should take:

  1. Search industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the name already or anything close to it.
  2. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifying part of it) in several different search engines. I suggest Google, MSN, Yahoo and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later.
  3. Search the uspto.gov database. Check to see if anyone else in the industry is already using the trade name you’re considering or any form of it. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and would still create confusion. What does all this that mean? It means it doesn’t matter if you are using “(Same Name) Business Solutions” and they are using “(Same Name) Administrative Support.” You are in the same industry and it’s the novel, identifying part of the name that matters.

One thing that people don’t commonly understand about trademark/trade name law is that owners are required to protect their rights or they could end up losing them. That means, the way the laws are written, they don’t have the luxury of ignoring an infringement and letting you off the hook. They HAVE to go after you if they want to protect their rights in the name. So you are just asking for costly legal trouble if you infringe, and especially if you do it willfully knowing full well that someone else was already using the name.

Also, your domain or domain name availability has no relevance. If you infringe on someone’s name rights (and I’m not talking about generic search engine terms), you can be compelled to relinquish the domain.

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

If you think you were the first to use the name, contact the other Virtual Assistant and see if you can work things out. The good will and positive energy you create by engaging in honorable, ethical business practices will serve you well.

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).

Plagiarism is Plagiarism is Plagiarism

There is a very troubling, disturbing trend that has been brewing and building in Internet-land. Clients are trying to engage people in our industry in an activity that is unethical and unlawful. What is this activity? It’s plagiarism, otherwise known as copyright infringement.

Here’s what’s going on… there are clients (and these do seem to be most often from the Internet marketing sector) who are taking the works of others (books, articles and other writings) and then asking colleagues to reword them (“so as not to plagiarize”) into new articles or reports or whathaveyou which they then intend to put their name on as the author.

Um… HELLOOOO?! That IS plagiarism. Said another way, it’s also making unlawful derivative use from the copyrighted works of others, which is called copyright infringement. It’s theft of intellectual property.

A member recently had a client wanting them to participate in this activity and she wasn’t sure how to handle it. (By the way, I absolutely adore our members–we have some of the most ethical, honorable, reputable people in the industry, and they refuse to sell their soul and their reputation just to earn a buck). She asked the client if she had permission from the people whose work was going to be used and the client assured her she did.

But she still didn’t feel right about it. Something about the whole thing still niggled at her. And she was absolutely right not to feel good about it.

Look folks, plagiarism is plagiarism is plagiarism no matter how you dress it up. It’s unethical and it can get you into hot water as well.

If you ever feel funny about engaging in something, don’t second-guess your gut instincts. That is your conscience and intuition telling you that something is not right.

Plagiarism IS wrong and any client who wants to engage YOUR business in activity that may not be lawful or that holds possible liability or ethical repercussions had better be prepared to show you the written permissions before you proceed any further. You have your own back, your own reputation, and your own business to look out for.

And really, folks, don’t let clients get away with that crap, or at least refuse to engage in that activity. Ignorance or not, set them straight. It’s absolutely wrong, wrong, wrong, unless they have clear, specific permission from those authors they are making derivative works from.

There are more and more clients out doing this and I think it’s a very sad commentary on society. I’ve even had my “How to Choose an Administrative Consultant” article plagiarized by some well-known people in our industry as well as several internet marketers.

It takes everyone through their own personal actions and choices to ensure that society doesn’t lose its moral compass. It all starts with what we allow people to get away with and whether we act as complicit partners in those wrong activities by not speaking up and saying “no.” If we don’t stand up and say, “Hey, that is wrong and I’m not going to participate,” we are just as guilty.

So hold those clients to task, for your own business protection if nothing else. Ask for those written permissions so you can inspect them and know exactly, firsthand, what licenses are being granted and what isn’t. It’s your right and your obligation as a business.

New Category: Unethical Virtual Assistants

I’m starting a new category on my blog here:  Unethical Virtual Assistants.

I think most people are inherently honest. I think others sometimes do wrong things out of ignorance or denial, but if they were made to think about it, they would know in their hearts their actions were wrong, and given the chance will put things to rights.

And then there are those slimeballs who live under rocks and get away with their dishonest, unethical behaviors because no one exposes their actions to see the light of day.

I’m not having it anymore.

It’s a pretty damn sad commentary that the only way to get those kind of people’s attention is to expose them. You can’t appeal to their ethics—because they have none.

So from now on, here’s what happens when someone steals from me and infringes on my intellectual property.

They get one chance and one chance only to make things right as soon as they hear from me.

If they play games or make the choice to not make things right, I will be posting their names and website links and screenshots documenting the evidence of their theft for the the world to see. (To anyone reading, you had better check to see if they’ve stolen anything from YOU).

I will also, of course, then be handing everything over to my intellectual property attorney. And trust me, once you force me to go to that kind of trouble, I’m pretty invested in going for your jugular at that point.

If you have been a victim of thievery by colleagues, I encourage you to do the same.

Take screenshots documenting their theft. Have your attorney issue a cease and desist and file paperwork to have the offending sites taken down. Go after every penny of prosecution and damages that you may be entitled to.

Maybe then not only will be break this growing cycle of thievery, but we can get back to real honesty and integrity in our industry again.

Dear Danielle: I’m Stuck On a Business Name

Dear Danielle:

I have just made the decision to start my own Administrative Consultant business. I’ve been researching lots of sites for helpful info. I’ve started a business plan. I’ve researched software and equipment upgrades I need to make. Right now, I’m really stuck on finding a name for my business. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing but I can’t seem to come up with something catchy. Any tips? MG

Naming a business is an important decision, so I’m glad you’re taking the time to think it through. You’re not making a big deal out of it at all–it IS a big deal. Good for you. 🙂

There are a few things to think about in naming your business.

First, you do want something unique. You want to differentiate your business and stand out from the crowd. And you definitely don’t want to be confused with any other existing business in our industry.

Which bring us to the second point–steer clear from infringing on the rights of another Administrative Consultant’s existing business name use. That will get you into hot water with your colleagues–not a great way to introduce yourself to the community (and trust me, you will need them).

There are no geographical boundaries in our industry due to the nature of our business model and how we deliver our service. We all operate in the same online marketplace so it doesn’t matter if Superlative Administrative Consulting is in another state. If you use that person’s existing business name or something derivative of it, she’s not gonna be very happy with you, and may seek legal recourse. That could be very costly to you, and she’ll probably tell all her buddies in the industry about your infringement while she’s at it.

So once you start to come up with some names, due your due diligence: make several Internet searches, look through all the various industry directories, and double check with folks in your professional communities.

In naming your business, it really requires you to go back a few steps and think about your target market. You need get clear about what you do, who you do it for and what results you achieve for them. Formalizing that thought process is going to help you establish your branding.

Once you know those things, you then have a better idea of who your business name is really for. What do most of their websites look like? Are they a serious or fun-loving group? Do they sell products or services? Are they in an industry or a skilled/degreed profession? Are they going to appreciate cleverness or inventiveness, or is traditional formality going to better appeal to their sensibilities? What kind of name will inspire their trust and confidence in your business? What brand aspects can your name convey to them?

These are the kinds of questions that should come to mind once you decide who your business is speaking to, and will help you decide what sort of business name will best suit their tastes while conveying your brand position.

Be an UN-Cola

As an organization founder, I’m in a position to view lots of new colleague websites.

In the last year, I’ve been noticing website after website using the new, and apparently free, Microsoft Live templates.

Granted, having a website is better than having no website at all, but in this case, not by much.

Folks, I gotta tell ya, this is not the way to go.

If you want to do yourself and your business a favor, at your very first opportunity, hire a professional to design a proper business website for you, one that conveys some uniqueness, personality and professional gravitas.

A custom-designed website (read non-template that is quickly recognized as such and makes you look like everybody else) is one of the easiest ways to position your business apart from the crowd and give clients a reason to choose you.

Clients also correlate the presentation of your business website with your business, skills, competence and what it will be like working with you. Presenting a lazy, template-based website makes them think your work will be like that as well.

If you are serious about your business and getting clients, it’s one of the smartest investments you can make.

And since we’re on the topic, stop plagiarizing each other, for gosh sakes!

Not only will you find yourself in hot water with your colleagues, but I can’t tell you how many clients have complained to me that “all their websites look the same and same the exact same thing!”

Blending into the crowd and conforming to the pack is NOT what is needed in business.

You give no reason for client’s to choose you when you are parroting the same message over and over. They are looking for your unique value proposition. When all you do is say the same thing as everyone else, you become invisible to them, just more noise.

To stand out, you’ve got to start thinking for yourself, creating your own brand and putting your own unique personality and voice to what you do.

Stop looking at everyone else’s website for words to copy. Be an un-cola!