The meat of any web site or online store is the story each page tells. This is primarily conveyed through words, images or video. Creativity is key, but so is rightful ownership and, if syndicated, disclaimer information. Content theft – the act of copying and pasting information from one site to another (without permission) – is not only illegal, it’s a good way to lose your customer base.
A few months back an online marketing company was called out for plagiarism quite publicly. The company had copied textual content – verbatim – from a competitor and posted it as their self-generated description of service offerings.
When this happens, victims really have few options:
- Contact the offender privately and hope he/she removes the offending content.
- Hire legal counsel and seek remedy from the courts.
- Let social media take care of it.
The CEO of the plagiarized company opted to go the social media route, blogging about the issue and tweeting a link to the offending content. That’s all it took. Within minutes, dozens of the CEO’s followers blasted the info out to the masses. Soon enough, it wound up in my Twitter feed.
NOTE: I’m withholding identity of both companies because the issue has since been dealt with and there’s no need to re-stir the pot in their professional corners.
Content theft is nothing new. Caching and search engine feedback shows that many companies not only use others’ content, but thousands of “professional” web sites feature a great amount of textual content that is either lifted from other sites, or comes from stock content.
Do you recognize this descriptive?
A verifiable online presence has become indispensable for every company – to lead its competition and to secure a dominant position in the industry.
Sounds professional, right? But original it is not. If you run a Google search on that exact phrase you’ll find that more than 1,600 web pages use it as a means to woo potential clients.
There’s two important lessons here that apply to small business owners:
- You need to research companies before working with them, and that includes checking their content. You’d be amazed how many service sites describe themselves using business speak 101 copied right out of a book.
- You need to understand what’s acceptable to actually copy from other sites and resources.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Manufacturers descriptions are often provided for use on web pages. Check the terms. If it’s stock content, it’s okay to post these. I still recommend, however, that you get creative and expand on those.
- While you may be tempted to use stock content for other pages, don’t. It only takes one person to realize this is what you’ve done and point it out publicly, making you look less professional.
- Many business resource sites provide template content sections like privacy policies and terms of service. Use them only as a guide. While it may be legal for you to simply copy and paste them, these templates are rarely tailored to your particular audience and many times lack key elements you need to address. They’re also, quite often, difficult to understand.
- Original content injected with personal flair (e.g. content that talks “with” visitors rather than “at” them) will garner better results.
- Every piece of writing needs to match the “flavor” of your site and convey the personality of your company.
In the case of the offending company above, word has it an intern lifted content from across several sites, and the owner found dozens of pages that violated the copyright of others. While the owner took action (intern gone, content changed), there’s one critical point remaining:
It matters not who posted the content. The liability lies with the site owner. The powers-that-be should always review any content before it is posted publicly. Many times, the writing style itself is a dead giveaway, but most “copied” content can be validated with a simple online search. There’s no guarantee such a scenario won’t happen to you – and no guarantee one of your own isn’t bending the rules. Still, a little attention to detail can significantly decrease the chances of your company being embarrassed in front of the public.