The nature of the Internet makes it easier than ever to steal. Couple that level of ease with this generation’s notion and understanding of new media (digital, software, computer, Internet), and sense of morality, and you can see the trouble brewing. Increasingly more companies as well as bloggers trying to make a name for themselves are being ripped off. The costs in time, finances and other resources to fix the problem may pay-off in the long run.
Note that I’m talking about very particular types of theft. My focus is on the theft of text, graphics, and images/photos. I’m not referring to items that have gone viral such as videos. For example, many companies completely miss the point when they try to control videos of their popular commercials that have gone viral. In today’s world, you want that kind of publicity. What I would have a problem with is if I took a photo that was uncredited or worse, credited to another photographer, that went viral.
Keep This in Mind
Content producers want to be rewarded for their hard, creative, original work while content thieves tend to disregard the effort and rationalize away the theft. For instance, they’ll argue that it’s okay to copy the text from an industry-leading competitor’s website because “it’s just business” or “they make enough money so it’s okay.”
It’s one thing to be inspired by a work and produce a creation (text, graphically, photographically) that resembles or pays homage to the original work. It’s another to steal it outright. It’s my understanding that legally you can’t call someone a “criminal” if they haven’t been to court and been proven guilty of a particular crime. That’s irrelevant in practical reality. If you steal, you’ve committed a crime and you’re a thief, making you a criminal.
Internet Intellectual Property Laws
Internet laws are far behind practical reality and have many inherent problems, not the least of which is international adoption, implementation, and enforcement of the laws. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act which makes it easier to force thieves to stop using stolen material has gone a long way toward alleviating many of the problems with respect to Internet theft but enforcement on a small scale is still barely feasible and hardly practical.
For example, if you’re a photographer and someone steals a small photo from your photography portfolio, do you know how much work it could be to get them to remove it. I say “could” because it may be relatively easy if you know what you’re doing (although it will still take time).
Ultimate Compliment or Painful Loss?
It’s the ultimate complement that someone’s work gets copied. It’s also a major slap in the face. If you’re a victim of Internet theft, you know what I’m talking about.
Here’s why I don’t want you to steal my website text, photos, or graphics.
(1) My Great, Influential “Salesy” Text was Years in the Making
I have very high standards. If I wrote the text that’s been published on a website, it means that I spent a lot of time learning to write on a university level, getting papers back from professors with red ink all over them, sucking up my pride on my way to becoming a great writer, practicing, and practicing some more.
(2) I Created It
The shear creation of the product brings me pleasure. I love to write and I certainly love to take photos. I may put it up on display for my own purposes but I don’t have to let the world take it from me. If I wrote it or photographed that person, place, or thing, I may not want to share it. Period.
(3) Inherent Value
The act of creating something has value. The act of producing something that is in demand has that much more value.
(4) Direct Financial Loss
I run several websites for which I’ve been writing content since the 1990s. As a pioneer in the web and SEO world, I was able to write great articles that have stood the test of time. After all, writing timeless articles is one of the keys to Internet riches. Over the years those websites have achieved traffic in the tens of millions and I’ve placed advertising on some of them. If I were to syndicate some of that content and allow other websites to offer the same content, I would lose the advertising dollars that are generated.
(5) In-direct Financial Loss
One source of in-direct financial loss is with search engine rankings. Even though Matt Cutts implies that Google can differentiate original works from copied ones, this is a serious issue that still hasn’t been fixed. I still see prominent text that I wrote over 5 years ago that was recently stolen and outranks some of my own sites. If my business sites can’t be found for certain terms, I get fewer inquiries and leads. That’s in-direct financial loss.
A second case of in-direct financial loss occurs when someone copies my website’s text onto their website, blog, MySpace page, or other site, and takes credit for the work. In the case of blogs and similar sites, I’ve noticed commenters praising the work. When a prospective client sees that article or photo and all of the positive feedback, they may be interested in hiring me… except I won’t be hired, the individual who stole from me will!
What’s worse is that the people who steal from my company website won’t even be able to deliver the goods because they stole mine!
(6) Professional Photography Has Value
Even though everyone and their grandmother thinks they’re a photographer these days, the reality is that most people with a $199 point and click camera doesn’t know the first thing about taking photos. I’m a professional photographer and I enjoy taking my own photos for my websites (even though I’m too busy to do so these days). A few years ago, before the age of low cost stock photography websites, I did some of my own stock photography and placed the photos on my sites. You can imagine my surprise when I found my photos all over the Internet.
So why don’t I want you to use my photos on your website? My equipment is expensive, I search for people with the right look and pay these models for their time and likeness, I did all of the legal work to get permissions and documents written (such as model release forms), it took time, ingenuity, a creative eye, hours of Photoshop work and more to get the precise image that I wanted to use. Why should you profit from it? Seriously. Why should you profit from it if I don’t want you to?
(7) Mental Anguish
I do not enjoy the feeling of frustration that comes from my work on unauthorized websites, especially when my work is passed off as someone’s else’s. I generally avoid going out of my way to look for stolen copies of my work but sometimes I stumble onto it while searching for other things.
People have actually stolen my content but kept my name within the text. I find it kind of funny to see that I’m the SEO training expert for a company I’ve never heard of that’s based in India. It turns out they were quick to steal my text but too impatient to actually read enough of it to see that my name was still listed when they published it on their website. For reputation management purposes, that has to go. Even worse, I’ve found people who’ve done a find and replace of my name or my company’s name but who left the rest of the text intact. They often claim that the theft was an accident. Riiight.
For now, I’m not publishing the list of SEO consultants, companies in India, businesses in Europe, Middle Eastern thieves, UK thieves and others who’ve stolen from me. Perhaps, I should but I won’t for now.
It’s incredible how so many companies seem to have had the exact same history as mine! From looking around I can see many LinkedIn profiles (yes, even other people’s LinkedIn profiles have MY carefully creafted bio on there!), blogs and other sites that have my bio and company history. If you know your website rocks, try looking for sites with detailed descriptions of services and products that you offer. I bet you’ll have a similar experience.
The Future of Copyright Law & Theft
In a future article, I’ll write about how to find these websites and what you can do about it. I’ll give you one bit of advice as food for thought. I read somewhere online (I can’t recall the reference) where someone pointed out that people are more afraid of Google than they are of you. In other words, the threat of getting kicked out of Google means more than a Cease and Desist notice to so many people. Until Internet laws change, the future of copyright law as it pertains to small business owners is left to each one to defend themselves.