It’s a total bummer, right?
You spend a ton of time creating something glorious only to find out that someone has taken your stuff – word-for-word – and is selling it to their audience as if they came up with it.
The thing is, if you’re sharing stuff online, chances are that at some point you’re going to find yourself having to deal with a copycat.
But as terrible as that sounds it’s not going to ruin you, or your business (unless you let it).
So whether you’re just starting out and you’re worried about someone copying your stuff at some point, or you already know that someone has passed off your hard work as their own, in today’s post I’m sharing how to deal with copycats.
Now before you read any further I need to make it extremely clear that I am not giving you legal advice. I am not a lawyer. I’ve never been a lawyer. Nor do their Matlock white pants suit wearing ways entice me to want to be a lawyer.
So if you’ve got some serious copyright infringement going on that needs to be professionally dealt with, it’s time to hire someone who actually is a lawyer (whether they wear a pants suit, or not.)
In the meantime, here are my thoughts on copycats…
There are 3 things to do if you feel like someone’s ripping you off.
1. Ask yourself if they’re really, actually copying you…
Ever heard the saying “there’s no such thing as an original idea anymore” (or something like that)?
The truth is, unless you never read another person’s blog post, take any other person’s programs, and basically just quarantine yourself in a windowless room for the rest of your life, you’re going to be influenced by stuff around you.
Think about the last time you heard a great idea and decided to put your own spin on it and teach it to others?
Or when you came up with an awesome idea and after some Googling you realized someone else is doing something pretty similar?
Or you read someone’s blog post and it inspired you to write a blog post on that topic too?
It happens to everyone.
We all find inspiration in other people and ideas.
And sometimes our stuff comes out sounding similar to other people’s stuff.
And while copying every single detail is definitely not cool, there will probably be some overlap between what you’re doing and what someone else is doing. Whether it’s you being similar to them, or them being similar to you.
So keep in mind that you’re not the only person talking about green juice, or organizing a closet, or getting rid of credit card debt.
I’m absolutely not saying that it’s cool for people to steal your ideas – especially if they’re just copying and pasting without giving you any credit – but what I am saying is that people are going to talk about and sell stuff similar to what you’ve got going on.
And the truth is, policing the internet is a full-time job.
There are going to be times when it’s totally worth it for you to go after people with cease and desist letters – like when they take your $500 program that you worked extremely hard on and start trying to sell the exact same thing to their audience.
But there are going to be other times where you’ll just have to do an Elsa and let it go – like when you write a blog post about what kind of almond milk to buy and someone else comes out with a post about almond milk a few days after yours.
(P.S. You’re welcome for getting that song stuck in your head. Again.)
Of course, it’s going to be up to you to decide what you’re cool with letting go, and what makes you all boiled up inside to the point where you absolutely need to do something about it or you’ll go bananas.
So how do you know when to take action and when to shrug your shoulders and move on?
Because you’re not going to want to spend all your energy chasing after people you think are copying you.
So before you get all fired up and start sending out cease and desist letters like crazy, first stop and ask yourself…
1. Is this person actually copying me? Or are they just doing something similar and an impartial person (someone outside the situation – like a judge, for example) would say it’s not copyright infringement?
2. Is it worth it for me to go after them? Do I have the time, money and energy to spend getting them to stop?
If you answered yes to both questions, move onto my next point.
If you answered no to either both questions or the second question, then hit a yoga class, go to the boxing gym, pet a puppy or do whatever else you need to do to help move past it. Then keep putting your creative genius out there.
2. Ask them to cite you as a reference and stop stealing your stuff copy-and-paste style…
If you know someone is blatantly taking your stuff and slapping their name on it, and you’re ready and willing to fight for your (copy) rights then it’s time to bring in the big kahuna.
Side Note: Before you even get to this point, might I suggest you do yourself a favour by being pro-active and having your legal kittens in a row beforehand – i.e., fill out the legal paperwork and have your copyright info clearly laid out in a terms and conditions page on your website.
That way when you come across someone who’s trying to clone your ideas and take the credit, you’ve already got the foundational pieces in place to help get them to stop.
You can use sites like LegalZoom, Legaldocs and Rocket Lawyer to get started (full disclosure: I haven’t used any of those. Just found ’em on a Google search. So do some research to make sure they’re the right fit for you).
Or just hire a lawyer who lives in your city.
Whatever works for you.
Now, before we call up Judge Judy, I’d like to think that the average person is relatively decent and willing to have a conversation without lawyers needing to be involved.
(Side note: Again, I’m not lawyer so I can’t suggest that in your particular situation you should or shouldn’t communicate with the copycat-er with or without a lawyer present. Use your best judgment and decide when hiring a lawyer is the right choice for you).
If you notice someone unabashedly copying you perhaps all you need to do is just ask them (nicely) to either…
(a) Give you credit.
(b) Stop using your stuff unless they want legal action taken against them.
The truth is that most people aren’t out to ruin your life and tank your business. They just want to be successful too and sometimes the wires get crossed in their brains and they slip up and do something they know they shouldn’t do (like be a copycat).
But if you point it out to them, most decent people will feel sheepish and want to do the right thing.
Then there are the people who are just total jerks and don’t care about anyone but themselves and will stop at nothing to make a buck.
Those people are the kind of donkeys who really won’t care about your kindly worded email or phone call.
And that’s when you need to bring in the big guns.
Which brings me to my next point…
3. Hire yourself an intellectual property attorney…
If this is serious stuff you’re dealing with and you know someone is doing something – like selling an exact replica of a program that you’re offering as if it were their own brain child – then you better call Saul (or another lawyer who’s actually a real person).
Keep in mind that every country (and even state if you live in the good ol’ U.S. of A) has different laws about copyright protection.
And – as we’ve established several times during these proceedings – I am definitely no where near being a lawyer of any kind (including intellectual property lawyer-ness).
So it’s not my place to give you legal counsel and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. What stuff of yours can or can’t be copyright protected. Or who you should or shouldn’t sue the slimy moustache off of.
That’s where professional help comes in.
So hire that legal help if that’s the right choice for you.
What are those steps again, Jenna?
Dealing with copycats is never fun.
But it’s easier if you have a plan in place before you ever even come up against one.
So do the legal stuff you gotta do when you first set up your business and website so you can protect yourself from the get-go.
Have a terms and conditions page on your website.
Trademark things you want to protect.
Help make it easy for people to cite you as a reference.
(Maybe you even say something like this somewhere on your website, “It’s totally cool if you want to share my stuff with others, just please properly credit me by sharing my name and website URL”).
Then, when you come up against a stuff-stealer, make that judgment call and decide whether you want to actually do something about the copycat.
And lastly, hire a lawyer if schiz is getting serious.
But don’t let it ruin your sunshiny day.
Seriously. Don’t stress too much about this stuff. Especially if you’re just starting out.
There are always going to be people who copy others. It’s just their style. And you can spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to stop them. Or you can just do your thing.
Me personally? I’m choosing to do a little bit of column A, little bit of column B. If it’s serious, they’ll be hearing from my lawyers. If it’s more minor, I’ll probably just let it go (unless it keeps happening).
The choice is ultimately up to you and what feels right for you.
I just urge you to not let it stop you from creating, helping people, and growing your business.
Because if you don’t put stuff out there out of fear you’re letting “them” win (whoever those ominous “them” people are).
So get your stuff out there. Share. Post. Distribute.
And let the copycats fizzle out when people realize how amazing the original (that’s you!) is.
P.S. Have you ever had to deal with someone taking your stuff and passing it off as their own? What did you do about it? Tell me in the comments below.