Some of the VA forums I belong to have recently had discussions about new VAs who are copying the content of more established VAs and placing it on their website, unchanged. It is plagiarism and as far as I know, that isn’t legal. It certainly isn’t moral and can be very upsetting for the owner of the content.
Why does this happen and what can be done about it?
Well, it happens for a number of reasons. People like what they’ve seen and want to copy it as it will make them look more professional from the start. Whilst copying can be seen as a form of flattery, the reality is that copying content is breaking copyright – the right of the owner who owns that copy. We all know that there are probably only so many ways to explain what a Virtual Assistant is for example, but if someone is going to copy the explanation from another site, they should seek permission to do so and then acknowledge where the content came from.
What about when an entire copy of pages has been done, right down to business name, fees and so on? This is not only upsetting for the owner but is going to cause major problems for the person who did the copying. After all, when someone starts out in business they should be doing all the homework that helps them determine why and how they’re going to operate their business. You know, that business plan thing. So, if someone copies the rates of another VA, how do they know that those rates are going to be right for them? Have they verified that their own experience and skills match those of the person they’ve copied? Is their cost of living in their area the same as that of the person whose site they’ve copied? Not only that, how do they explain to prospective clients the way they operate and provide services? Not to mention the loss of credibility they’re going to experience when people discover that their site is a copy of another site elsewhere – this can often be discovered when the source of the website is viewed and that often reveals that the content has been copied from elsewhere.
When you are new in business thinking about how you’re going to operate, what services you’re going to provide, how you charge rates and so on is all part of the process of the business planning and development. If you copy that information from elsewhere and not put the thought and planning into it, you’re going to come unstuck. Not only that, your ethics will come into question, not just from your clients but also from the VA community in general and you’ll find yourself ostracized. Not a good start to your new career!
For those who believe their site has been copied there are things you can do. Firstly, you should contact the owner of the other site – they might not know that what they have up there has been copied from your site – especially if they’ve engaged someone else to do their site, which is often the case. A well-meaning friend or family member is shown examples of sites by the site owner, and they simply just go in and copy and paste content (and sometimes the design) and purchase a similar sounding domain name, and voila! They have an online presence. In most cases the owner will be suitably embarrassed and apologetic and get it changed quickly.
You could contact the web host and advise that a site they’re hosting has stolen content – they might decide to intervene.
But if the owner of the site doesn’t remove the content you might have to contact a solicitor to send a ‘cease and desist’ letter on your behalf.
Sites you can visit online that might help you protect your content are:
Copyscape – You can use this service to see if anyone has copied your content and then elect to use their service to protect your content.
Plagiarism.org – Worth exploring as you can find out about different technologies to assist you.
WaybackMachine – This will help verify the content of your site and how long ago it was up there. My own site has been growing since April 1996 – the earliest it shows on this website is December 1998 – boy am I glad it doesn’t look like that now!
Google Alert – I use this to alert me when content, key phrases or even my name is published on the web somewhere so I can track any references to my business or myself.
Article Checker – this is new and not yet proven, but if it does what I think it does, it will assist in proving who the first was to post content on line.
Your own web stats will most likely alert you to when your website has been copied and saved on someone’s hard drive. It amuses me to see I’ve had registered hits viewing my site, referencing ‘caroline’s c drive’ or similar. They haven’t removed my counter coding and I immediately know what’s taken place and keep an eye out for any new possible site uploads that might mean my website is about to be copied online elsewhere.
And finally, some advice from ‘Random Lawyer’ about copying. He advises not to do it!
Above all, as a website owner, it means we need to remain vigilant and be aware that some ‘copying’ is an innocent action and not full of malicious intent but there are some out there simply in the race for financial gain and they’ll do anything they can to get it. If you are going to follow up someone who has copied your content, it would be best for you to print a copy of their site so you have that for evidence should you need it. KMT