People steal from my website. All. The. Damn. Time. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've personally reached out to well over 500 other businesses in the past 8 years - mostly DJs, some photographers and planners - who have plagiarized my website text. Most have taken down the stolen material willingly; others have had their websites suspended by their hosting companies after I've submitted a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (Interested in how to do that yourself? Check this out!)
Yes, it's time consuming. Yes, I could be using that time to work on other things, such as my DJ business or this blog. Yes, there are more positive things I could be thinking about instead.
And yet, I continue to fight the good fight. Because to me, copyright matters. Integrity matters. Stealing isn't okay. Having my site, which I've labored over for 12+ years, plagiarized by lazy people isn't flattering. It honestly doesn't matter to me whether anyone else thinks that reaching out to thieves (and/or their web hosts) is a worthwhile use of my time, because I've decided that it is.
This post isn't about that, though.
See, in calling and emailing various sticky-fingered DJs yesterday, I heard the usual array of excuses, including some new and creative ones. ("I used a Wix.com template and it must have already had your text plugged into it!" was probably my favorite.) The DJ who stood out, though, was someone on the West Coast who had plagiarized an entire page of FAQ. I tried calling him, then left a voice mail, then followed up with an email offering to wait 24 hours before contacting his hosting company to request a takedown. I did this, I told him, as a professional courtesy. I'm very protective of my intellectual property, obviously, but I'm not completely unreasonable!
The DJ's reaction - and, more specifically, how that reaction evolved - was interesting. In his initial response, he complimented my FAQ as "excellent," called me a "natural writer" and expressed his understanding that I'd want to "protect" my site. (Great, very nice.) He also told me he wouldn't be able to "completely" remove the content by my deadline, but that he'd "let [me] know" when he'd gotten around to it.
I replied that I don't know why he'd think I should allow him to continue to hold on to my stolen (intellectual) property until it was convenient for him to delete it. After all, there's no requirement that you have to have a FAQ page on your site. Again, I told him, I had offered the 24-hour window as a courtesy and that's when I expected my plagiarized text to be taken down.
That's when things went downhill, and fast. I was accused of being "drunk off [my] own cool-aid" [sic], called "soulless," and invited to "borrow liberally" from this DJ's page if I "feel the need to inject a little humor."
"I really don't respect your tone of writing after our fun little interaction," I was told. There was some kind of dig about me being a "tightwad," but it honestly didn't even make sense in any form of English syntax with which I'm familiar.
Whatever - it's not this particular DJ that has me riled up. He's a joke; his business practices are, from all outward appearances, shameful on every level.
What's had my wheels turning ever since this exchange is something bigger: the monstrous sense of entitlement that certain people in the wedding industry seem to have adopted, and also how, even in an industry as female-dominated as weddings, women entrepreneurs still are vilified when they try to defend their businesses from theft.
I hear from wedding pros all the time who are dealing with people stealing from them. In some cases, someone else in their market is emulating their very business model (such as their strategies and their product/service concept). Or, the person is trying to poach their team members and/or their clients. Those things can, of course, be very problematic, and they fall under the sometimes-ugly umbrella of "competition."
The problem of stealing someone's marketing, such as website text and photographs, however, seems to be a different animal altogether. Somehow, some people in the wedding industry have decided that it's not only acceptable to copy whatever they want, but that it's actually a compliment. They react with horror when the originator of the stolen material has the gall to demand its removal.
I've dealt with this many times; over and over again I've been flattered out the wazoo. (Apparently, I have a real way with a FAQ - explaining your own setup requirements and contract terms must be tough stuff!) I've been lauded for my business acumen, my website design, you name it. I've also had people, after the compliment-fest is over, ask me if they can just hang on to the material they've stolen, since it's working so well for them.
Of course, the conversation shifts quickly when I'm not interested in letting them keep my original text, or in giving them weeks or months to come up with their own. Suddenly I'm arrogant. Suddenly I'm not that great a writer after all. Suddenly I must have too much time on my hands. Suddenly I must not be happy in my life if I'm trying to protect my intellectual property. The website content that was valuable enough to plagiarize before, now isn't so wonderful.
(I was discussing this topic with my assistant and she made a very fair analogy to the jerk in the bar who hits on you, and then when you politely decline, suddenly tells you you're ugly and he didn't want you anyway. Good point, right?)
It used to mystify me that someone would think it's okay to just go shoplifting their content and images from the Internet. Some folks apparently think that if a website's content could apply to their own business, it's fair game to take it; some people feel if a photographer won't produce images on demand, they're justified in stealing them. Some people believe (erroneously) that text can't be copyrighted; some people believe (also erroneously) that using someone else's text and/or images constitutes "fair use."
Yes, the world is full of idiots. It's not surprising anymore.
It's the entitlement that gets me. It's the seemingly genuine dismay that, when you're asking me for a favor after you've already stolen from me (and potentially damaged my search engine rankings), I'm not interested in granting it. It's the notion that "BUT I LIKE IT" isn't a valid defense for stealing.
And more than that, it's the idea that, evidently, I'm a shitty person for feeling differently. I'm a shitty person for pointing out that I worked hard to create my business and all the content that describes it, and I own that content, and I get to choose if and when and how it's used.
It's no secret that girls, at least in the United States, have long been conditioned from birth to be sweet above all. To be deferential. To be hungry for compliments. To be grateful for what we're given, even when we deserve more. We experience it in school, when teachers ignore our hands in the air and call on boys instead. We experience it in potential relationships, when we're expected to accept crumbs of attention and tolerate all forms of half-assedness. We experience it in the workplace, when we're often paid less, and have difficulty breaking into the "boys' club" environment prevalent in many industries.
Wait, hold up.
Without looking at statistics, I think it's a safe bet that the wedding industry is more female-driven than most. One might think, then, that we as wedding business owners might be exempt from that last bit, that we might not actually have to deal with the same workplace challenges that other women face. Perhaps that's true.
But it's situations like these, when I'm reminded that I'm "supposed" to be moved by insincere flattery and to overlook behavior that's insulting, unethical, and harmful, that I realize our industry isn't all that different.
To those who feel entitled to steal others' words and images for any reason, I say stop. Just stop. Not only is it a violation of the law, a major breach of ethics, and a detriment to your reputation and your ability to form relationships within the industry, but it's also robbing you of the opportunity of actually crafting your own message. That happens to be one of the best parts of working for yourself, and not someone else.
To those who would ask something of a woman in business that they wouldn't ask a man, who would expect a woman to just smile and settle and take whatever nonsense she's dealt, I say wake up. Everyone has the same right to be treated with respect, and to protect his or her business interests and property (tangible and intellectual), without being diminished or patronized or attacked.
And to those who would judge someone for standing up for a cause they believe in, I say consider this: someone else's priorities may just be different from yours. They may be fighting a different battle than you'd choose to fight, but I guarantee there's some issue equally important to you, one with which someone else might not agree. I truly believe that any time someone is taking a stand for integrity, whether or not you'd invest the time yourself, the ultimate result is good. It's worthwhile.
And it's worth our industry's attention.