Plagiarists, Thieves and Copycats, Please Read This

WeddingIQ Blog - Plagiarists, Thieves and Copycats, Please Read This

I’ve written before about copyright infringement as it pertains to websites (here and here), yet it amazes me how it continues to be such a pervasive issue among wedding businesses.  Sure, search engine functionality wasn’t as good 10 years ago, nor was their social media to allow infringement claims to spread like wildfire — but now, in the age of public “outing” and the increased awareness of intellectual property rights, why do so many people continue to steal from others’ websites?  Just in the past few weeks alone, I’ve heard of planners, caterers, florists and more plagiarizing website text and images, sometimes from their direct competitors!  (I myself sent out no fewer than 12 takedown notices to other DJ companies last week.)

So, in an effort to debunk some of the most common myths concerning online copyright, here are my Top 10 Excuses for Copyright Infringement, all of which I’ve heard personally over the years:

10.  “I hired someone to create my website and thought they wrote the material themselves.”  This might be understandable except for one important fact: you, as the business owner, should be supplying your designer with the content for your site.  I’ve been a freelance writer, I’ve written web content for other companies, but never once did I come up with those companies’ answers to their “Frequently Asked Questions,” nor did I invent their company history, their corporate values, or their team members’ biographies.  If you’re using a contractor for writing/design, and that person comes back with a comprehensive site that includes such specific information, then you can bet they’ve stolen it from somewhere.  It’s your responsibility to check to make sure any “original” content is, in fact, original.

9.  “That text was only meant as a placeholder while we came up with our own material.”  FAIL.  Period.  If you can’t come up with your own text before launching your site, you don’t get to steal someone else’s just so that your site isn’t blank.  Lorem ipsum, fool.  Learn it, love it.

8.  “Your text could describe any business.  I operate my business the same way, so the text applies to both of us.”  For one thing, I can guarantee you don’t operate your business the same way as I do, because you’re lacking in something pretty damn fundamental: ethics.  Now, if you’ve decided that my company’s philosophy and approach and general practices are that good that you’re willing to model your own business after them, great; you’re welcome for the inspiration.  However, you don’t get to steal the specific way I’ve described that philosophy and approach and those practices.

7.  “I understand that I need to take the text down, but I’m busy with events/on vacation/have no Internet/insert other excuse here.  Can it wait?”  No, sorry, it can’t wait.  You can take the material down, or instruct someone else in your organization to take it down, or ask the aforementioned rogue web designer to take it down, or I can have your hosting company take it down.  That’s the thing about stolen property, tangible or intellectual.  When you get busted possessing it, it’s not up to you when to return it.  If I steal a car, do I really not need to return it on demand because it’s just not convenient timing?

6.  “Can I use the material if I give you credit?”  Nope.  See, duplicate web content can have a very high price in terms of search engine placement.  Your “credit” just isn’t worth losing page rank, so you’re going to need to find your web content elsewhere (or, you know, write your own.)

5.  “I would change it but I can’t find the password and don’t know how to log in.”  This falls squarely in the category of Not My Problem.  Bill collectors aren’t assuaged by the fact that you can’t find your checkbook.  As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to manage your records and files and be able to put your hands on information that you need.

4.  “You can’t copyright words, only images.”  On what planet does that even make sense?  Can I just reproduce the entirety of the books on the New York Times’ bestseller list and make millions?  Written texts, both in print and online, are 100% copyrightable.

3.  “If you didn’t file for a copyright, your work isn’t protected.”  This is one of the most common myths, and has been a shield used by thieves for years.  According to the United States Copyright Office, “…Registration is voluntary.  Copyright exists from the moment the work is created.”  You do need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office if you wish to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit against an infringing party; however, you own the copyright to your work when you create it, and it may not be stolen.

2.  “How can you prove that you didn’t steal the text from me?”  This is probably the funniest excuse I’ve heard.  Besides my own copyright registration certificate (because I did take the time to register my website), and the years’ worth of revisions and fine-tuning visible on Archive.org, and the years of draft documents in my possession, I’ve got something else.  I’m going to beat you in filing a DMCA notification with your hosting company, swearing it’s valid, and your only defense will be to file a counterclaim in which you claim the work is yours, under penalty of perjury.  Are you really willing to do that?

1.  “Maybe you should spend more time working on your business, and less time worrying about what other companies do…”  This isn’t an excuse, per se, but rather a hostile reaction borne of embarrassment.  What plagiarists fail to realize, however, is that looking out for your intellectual property is working on your business.  It’s protecting your search engine rankings and your originality within a competitive marketplace.  Any smart business owner would believe this is important.  The people who really need to spend more time on their business are the thieves.

I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but will say it again: I would be more than happy to provide general advice (I am not an attorney) on protecting your site from copyright infringement, including information on how to submit a takedown notice to the infringing party’s hosting company.  Please feel free to reach out if you need help.  The protection of intellectual property is a worthwhile pursuit, and deserves to be a priority.


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Jennifer Reitmeyer

Jennifer Reitmeyer is the founder of WeddingIQ and the owner of MyDeejay, Firebrand Messaging, and Authentic Boss. She is also a WeddingWire Education Expert, a small business coach and a professional speaker on the event industry circuit.


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