What To Do When Someone Steals Your Shit

Wednesday, October 21st 2015 Thoughts

This post may seem a little silly given the post on Monday about How to Steal Like A Professional was seemingly telling you how to get away with stealing – but this time when I say ‘stolen,’ I mean straight up stolen. Copy and pasted. Blog posts, designs, word for word, image for image, code for code.

It’s been a lot more prevalent as of late with trolls running around under their bridges thinking they rule the world, and more so in a large portion of the people that I love online. Usually, most of them ask nicely for content to be taken down, and then when the thief declines, they feel defeated. Because what options do you have? Ask the offender to take it down, they refuse… what else can you do short of blasting them all over the internet? And if you’re more of an introvert, have an aversion to conflict, or just don’t want your business aired out for everyone and their mother’s to see then that’s not really going to work.

First and foremost

Remain polite. I know this seems stupid because basically, you want to punch them in the face with the sharp end of something, I’ve been there, I know. However, being polite gets under their skin, not to mention if you have to resort to hiring a lawyer, showing that you’ve been fair and even-tempered will help you out a lot.

A Note On Copyright

When you post something on the internet be it in the format of a blog post, a tweet, or a Facebook update (depending on what the TOS for those platforms say at any given time >.>) you automatically without question have a copyright on it.

You don’t have to file copyright, you don’t have to mail it to yourself, you don’t have to have a copyright notice in the footer of your site. You wrote it, you own it. Same goes for designs, photography, etc, etc – although with those items you do also have to pay attention to licenses, and things of that sort if you purchased elements in it from elsewhere or didn’t take them yourself.

What is stealing?

In terms of the internet, stealing is taking something that doesn’t belong to you. Period. This means saving an image off of Google and using it on your site. It means taking elements from a design on a site that you found and saving it to use as something in your work. It means taking any piece of graphic/photograph/element/material/etc that you have not been given permission to use by the original owner (or purchased from the original owner) and using it for something other than their intended purpose.

It doesn’t matter if you plan on taking it down if you’re caught, didn’t really think about the consequences, or a friend passed it off to you and you didn’t think to ask about where it came from. If you don’t have permission from the person who created it, you stole it.

But…

  • It didn’t have a copyright symbol…
  • I found it on the internet/google images…
  • I’m not making money off of it…
  • Nobody has complained, or is likely to…
  • The artwork I’m using is fan-based (ie based off of an movie/book/cartoon/etc)…
  • I didn’t upload it, another user did…

Thanks to my host Dreamhost for this little list…

Stop. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter where you found it, what you’re using it for, or if it was based off of something else originally. The person who created the content has the rights, and you don’t, even if it’s a photograph you’re in, doesn’t mean you have the rights to use it.

What’s NOT Stealing?

Someone writing a review similar to yours, is not considered stealing, even if it brings up the same points/concepts. Think of it like this… if you’re taking a photo of a bridge, and someone is standing next to you taking the same photo, and you get the same composition as them, they didn’t steal your photo – they just had the same point of view. Similar does not equal stealing.

Likewise if someone has a design like yours, it doesn’t mean they stole yours. If someone had a design with flowers in the header, with a pink bar going across it and a cursive font, it might look similar to mine, but it doesn’t mean they stole it from me. Now if the positioning of the graphics were almost identical, with the angled navigational background, and a logo that looks sort of similar to mine, then I might question it. But using the same concept/setup/colors doesn’t equate to stealing.

Someone stole something of mine, what can I do?

As for recourse if someone actually steals something from you, you have quite a few options, and none of them involve you dragging your business out for everyone and their mother’s to see. Which means if you’re a passive or non-confrontational person, you still have options. So let’s take a look at them, shall we?

  1. Ask Nicely. Like I mentioned before, I know this seems dumb. Why ask someone to take something down nicely if they stole it? Because don’t they already know they did something wrong? Yes. More than likely, they already know. The thing is, they probably didn’t expect to get caught. Let them know they were, politely, and ask them to remove it. 9 times out of 10, this will do the trick. Once people realize they’re not invincible, and they’ve been caught, the embarrassment usually sets in really quick and to avoid a larger amount of it, they’ll comply.
  2. Cease & Desist. This doesn’t have to be scary – although I know that making a ‘threat,’ (which what a Cease & Desist can feel like since you’re escalating matters to a legal level) to someone who is non-confrontational can be scary but you don’t have to be all I’M GONNA BEAT YOU UP AFTER SCHOOL! While I would recommend contacting a lawyer and having them draft a Cease & Desist on your behalf, you can do this yourself. A quick google search can give you a bunch of results of free and usable stock C&D that you can send.

    In my personal opinion, if you run a blog or any sort of thing where you’re posting intellectual material on the internet (posts, photos, graphics, etc) then I suggest that you contact a lawyer anyway and have them draft a stock/sample Cease & Desist just so that you have it on hand when you need it. More than likely contacting them in advance will save you money then needing them to do it at the absolute last second because someone stole your ish.

  3. DMCA Notification. If the Cease & Desist doesn’t work and you’re dealing with a special kind of stupid, then you can go straight to their host and file what’s called a DMCA Notification. Legally, this becomes really important to hosts because if there is stolen materials on their servers, even if you’re paying for their service, the host themselves can be held liable for the materials if they’re notified and they don’t do something about it.

    If you didn’t contact a lawyer for the Cease & Desist, it’s worth it to look into hiring a lawyer for this part. Most hosts have very specific filing requirements for DMCA’s and if you’re not specific enough or fill the form out wrong they may not be able to accept your filing.

Wait, what… but lawyers are expensive!

Yeah, they are, but not more expensive than having your brand dragged through the mud, or google thinking your copy is a duplicate and punishing your rankings for it. DMCA notifications are a pretty common and any lawyer worth their salt is going to be able to do it with little to no trouble and without a big hit to your pocket book.

Think about it this way, if you post 3 times a week with 52 weeks in a year, that’s 156 posts a year, and if each of those posts took you 2-3 hours to write? That’s 312-468 hours you’re spending on posts alone in a year, that’s 13-19.5 full 24 hour days. That’s well worth a $200-$500 investment to protect all of your hard work.

In The End

If you’ve sent a Cease and Desist, as well as a DMCA Notification and nothing has been done, unless you’re brand is worth a bunch or you’ve got a rich inheritance from Daddy Warbucks laying around, suing someone probably isn’t in your wheelhouse of options. At this point, personally, I’d probably write a very detailed post letting people know what was going on and who was stealing my posts, because I’m an angry mama bear when you mess with my work. More so because I think people who generally ‘get away with’ things like this tend to continue to do it if they’re not called out about it.

If you’re not that sort of person though, then at this point you might just have to let it go. More than likely that won’t be an issue because as noted in point one, most people won’t test you when you call them out. They know they’ve done something wrong and once they know other people know it too, they’ll back into their troll cave for hibernation.

Just keep in mind though that bad people get what’s coming to them. It’s just a matter of time. Until then, protect yourself as much as you can beforehand just in case the worst happens.

What To Do When Someone Steals Your Shit

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