What To Do When Your Content Is Ripped Off
The other day I stumbled across a link to an article entitled, “10 Questions You Should Ask Your Customers to Understand Them Better.” Of course, you know I had to click on that article, which appeared on Andrew Hunt’s Inbound Sales and Marketing blog.
The minute I began reading I knew I was reading words that I had written. I quickly scrolled down to the “10 questions” – and there they were, the very same questions that I developed conducting thousands of customer interviews.
It’s a bad feeling when this happens, when your copy – especially copy that came from so many years of hard-earned experience – is staring back at you from a website or blog, and your name isn’t anywhere to be found.
In this case, the entire article was lifted directly from my book, Roadmap to Revenue. Unfortunately, this is the second time this has happened. Andrew had done the same thing with another article, last year, copying a sidebar from my book and making it look as if it were his own. In that instance, we had exchanged emails and talked on the phone; he assured me it would never happen again. But it turned out he had also copied my content and another author's content (Ardath Albee) and put it in one of his guides, without attribution.
There are some lessons here, which may help you. But first, let me just list my questions in this article, so there is no doubt that these are my questions, the very questions that have turned out to be so effective in helping my clients – and any company in any industry - determine the buying process of their customers.
These questions uncover not only the what and the how (which you can sort of glean from social media and metrics), but the WHY – which is the most important thing to know about your customers’ buying process. Knowing WHY makes it possible for you to reverse-engineer your successful sales and create new sales in quantity, while eliminating guesswork and pain from the entire marketing process.
Here are the questions, listed in Chapter 3 in my book:
- What do you think of our product or service?
- What problems were you trying to solve with our product/service?
- How did our product/service help you solve your problem?
- Have you had any interaction with customer service? How was it?
- If you were the CEO of [our company] tomorrow, what’s the first thing you would focus on?
- What was your buying process – what were the steps – and what questions or concerns did you have as you were considering our product/service?
- If you were looking for this type of product/service again, and you didn’t know about us, what would you type into Google?
- What to you think is a fair price for this product/service?
- What is your biggest challenge right now?
- What trends do you see with this kind of product/service (and in your own industry)?
- What do you think of our competition? Is there anything we can learn from them?
- Is there anything I should have asked you, that I didn’t ask you?
What to do if your content is ripped off
1. Take immediate action. I immediately tweeted the fact that my copy had been ripped off, in Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. The article was dated a few days before; thankfully I found it fairly early. It’s important to establish that the infringement has been discovered.
2. Contact the infringer and copy your lawyer. I sent an email to Andrew, copying my lawyer, telling Andrew that I had found the article, that it was a direct copy, and to cease and desist.
3. Document the plagiarism. I built a spreadsheet, showing how the entire article was a direct rip-off, showing each paragraph in the article and the corresponding copy in my book. Here’s a link to the Google doc showing how the copy was lifted, word-for-word. As you will see, we’re not talking a vague, fuzzy infringement. It's blatant. I sent a second email to Andrew with this spreadsheet attached, again copying my lawyer.
4. Tell your followers, as I am doing now. Your own blog is always the best place to set the record straight in any of these types of situations.
Andrew responded to my "cease and desist" email, saying that they had done a search on the title to make sure they weren’t copying anyone’s writing:
We are putting the article under review, can you please provide the links to the content you deem it to be “word for word” copying of? Before any article is published we run a http://copyscape.com/ check to make sure that there is no similar content on the web. Here are the results for this search - [link to a search results screen, which is not reachable anymore, showing one non-relevant result].
But their search only covers the web – not books. So their method of “checking” generates an alibi. They aren’t checking where they know the copy came from. Not to mention blaming someone else when they get caught. This is serial plagiarism.
I know none of my readers would knowingly plagiarize. But in the rush to populate your site with as much content as possible, it’s tempting to make heavy use of outside ghostwriters. Assuming this is what really happened, as Andrew claimed in his next email, you can be putting your own reputation at risk. If your ghostwriter has no problems literally lifting copy from copyrighted materials, you are going to find yourself in an embarrassing and legally dangerous position.
As for Andrew, if he knew what he was talking about, he’d write it himself. I feel sorry for anyone who reads his blog and thinks they’ve found someone who can actually solve their problems. There’s a lot more to it than he’s plagiarized.
The big lesson? Write all of your copy yourself (meaning you and your employees), and hire vendors who wouldn’t dream of plagiarizing.
Update, June 7, 2012: Andrew Hunt has issued a formal apology on his blog, in an article entitled: The Scarlet Letter. Thank you, Andrew, for the apology. Accepted. - kz