401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

What To Do When Your Content Is Ripped Off

RevenueJournal-CopyrightInfringement-May2012[1]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:

Kristin,

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

 

48 Comments

  1. Sorry this had to happen to you. What an insult and a pain! Plagiarizing includes material sourced from any medium.

    Knowing you, I’m sure it’s “lemonade from lemons.”

    Reply
  2. Thanks. Somehow I wasn’t too surprised, considering I’d been down this road before with this very same person. And making lemonade seems to be the secret to life’s success, as I’m sure you know…

    kz

    Reply
  3. So sorry this happened to you. Three years ago I was astounded to find that two notable “sales experts” blatantly stole from my blog and newsletter, word for word, just taking enough time to strip off my copyright notice before they copied and pasted.

    I called both of them out, on my blog, as did a number of other bloggers. Both immediately came up with excuses. In one case, “an intern was the culprit.” In the other, the person, “didn’t have time to take down the posts.”

    I had a researcher from my firm scour through those two people’s websites looking for unique keywords and searched through Google for other occurrences. Sure enough, each was very, very guilty of stealing from multiple sources. In one case from as many as a dozen other writers and experts. (That person was on the faculty of Tufts University’s business school.)

    We contacted all the aggrieved parties and most went public. Both plagiarizers’ websites came down, then back up again a week later with all the stolen content removed and their names forever associated with that nastiness.

    Reply
  4. Thanks, Dave.

    Good tips in here, as well as on your website.

    Seems like liars always have excuses, which is sort of what a dishonest act is to begin with – an excuse for not doing the real thing, or living a genuine life.

    Thanks for your comment.

    kz

    Reply
  5. IMHO, there is no excuse for what this person did. Reusing content is okay – if you have the author’s permission and give credit. Even if you do not ask permission, you must give credit.

    I’m certainly not perfect. I once used a case study without giving credit, as it did not appear to be original writing. (I was intimately familiar with the case study) But I learned a painful lesson not to ever assume. And I’ve never had a hint of a problem since.

    Good luck, Kristen.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    President, Find New Customers
    http://www.findnewcustomers.com
    Creator and Host of Marketing Made Simple TV
    http://www.marketingmadesimple.tv

    Reply
  6. Thanks, Jeff. You’re right, especially about assuming. Good luck to you as well. Although I’m a little confused about your comment; I’ve never had any problem distinguishing what someone else said from what I said. But nevermind.

    kz

    Reply
  7. Kristin,

    Similar to Dave, I have had people rip off my content more than once. I used to be relatively passive about it but no longer. Good for you for getting tough and calling him out. I’ll be tweeting this post several times over the next few days.

    Cheers!
    Kelley

    Reply
  8. Thanks, Kelley.

    Thanks for the extra tweets. Mostly I just wanted him to stop misleading potential clients, and to help others who found themselves in a similar position – which is unfortunately more likely than it used to be, given how important it is to generate content these days.

    Thanks for standing tough with me! :-)

    kz

    Reply
  9. Wow, pretty bad. I checked out your Google document and it looks like a pretty clear case of plagiarism. Andrew Hunt is making a bad name for himself.

    By the way, thanks again for your super presentation for Newport Interactive Marketers. I learned a lot!

    Reply
  10. Hi, Anna!
    Nice to hear from you. Glad you learned a lot at the NIM event. I had so much fun there – great group of people.

    kz

    Reply
  11. No one wants to take credit for the nonsense that I put my name too.

    Sorry though about having to deal with that. Andrew should be extremely embarrassed. Sadly, his type never learn. Just excuse after excuse…

    Dan

    p.s. Stay being awesome…

    Reply
  12. Dan – I disagree.

    I don’t think you’re putting out nonsense! And the comment about stupidity is entertaining, but definitely not true. And yes, I don’t assume I will teach Andrew much. He’s already decided the kind of person he wants to be.

    Stay awesome yourself!

    kz

    Reply
  13. I feel your pain Kristin. Your after-the-fact actions are appropriate achieved your intended outcome. I purposely haven’t gone to his web site or read the content…I’m wondering if there is a better way.

    What’s going through my mind is that Andrew missed his opportunity to increase the value and credibility of his blog through attribution rather than plagiarism. Citation with attribution is generally protected by copyright law. Many authors who specifically want to share ideas broadly even choose to distribute their creative works with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License which takes copyright a step further.

    Sharing with attribution is not only legal and respectful, it helps the information consumers and the citer alike. The consumer, by clicking on a link or a simple add-on web search, is able to learn more from the original author. The citer builds his reputation for having, editing and sharing knowledge with his readers.

    Hopefully the citer has more to say than a simple duplication of the original idea. If so, the citer could have opined in additional paragraphs with:

    a case study that explains the original ideas
    an add-on thought: “Yes and…”
    a contrarian point of view: “No, because…”
    Let’s all commit to the virtue of attribution as a way to lead others from the dungeon of plagiarism.

    Reply
  14. Hi, Bill.

    Thanks for your suggestions.

    kz

    Reply
  15. Hello Kristin,

    Over the past five years – as Dave and Kelley know only too well – we have had to deal with a number of these characters, and still more arrive on a regular basis.

    The only way to really deal with them is to ensure that anyone doing a Google search for their name/company finds an article or blog post exposing them on the first page.

    Let’s see what we can do over the next 48 hours.

    I feel certain that you have everyone’s support on this.

    Jonathan

    Reply
  16. A lovely idea. Acutally, it occurs to me that if we put his name in the tweet, it will end up on his own feed (which is what happened when I first outed him). Given the blatant nature of this instance, that’s a good thing. I will tweet that out.

    Thanks!

    kz

    Reply
  17. Amazing, Jonathan!

    kz

    Reply
  18. Nice work, Jonathan.

    I’d expect other plagiarizers are rushing to get stolen content off their blogs. Hope they all got the message.

    Reply
  19. As you and I know only too well Dave from all of our conversations on this issue, it is impossible to police the entire web, but what is important is that we all remain vigilant and expose these people whenever they surface.

    Reply
  20. I take a little different slant. At the end of the day, the “Andrews” of the world don’t really matter. They are intellectual thieves and liars. Emotional leeches. And it’s waste of our collective genius to obsess about “putting them in their place”.

    It is emotionally crippling for us. Do you think Andrew is losing any sleep over this? Like as with revenge or selfishness, we as shining lights lose our flame when we tussle vigilantly about to vindicate ourselves of those who do us wrong.

    We do need to stand up for ourselves. YES. Poor behavior needs to be spotlighted and rebuked. But help needs to be given to the hurting. That’s why we do what we do. That is our reason for existence. Right?

    That travesty of this is not that Andrew has flagrantly and inexplicably stolen from the genius of our friend, Kristin. Rather it is that he has caused us all to be momentarily distracted for our mission of helping people and changing the world.

    Dan Waldschmidt

    p.s. Kristin: I spent a half-decade building a legal services technology firm and have relationships with some of the best attorneys in the world. You want to sue this guy? Let’s do it…

    Reply
  21. Dan,

    If you had been a victim of “text rape” as often as I have, I think you would share my philosophy that complacency is not an option, but rather a cop-out.

    Reply
  22. Sue him? Nah. (Although my “ex”-Marine husband might disagree, LOL!) For the very reasons you say in your comment – why waste precious working time on a jerk?

    I really pay little attention to jerks these days, outside of seeing them as a minor annoyance, something one just has to deal with, because they’re part of life. I lost no sleep over Andrew – maybe because he had done it before, so it didn’t surprise me at all. I just went to work on what I had to do next.

    Yes, I had to call him out, and yes, we all have to stand strong together when this sort of thing happens. But I agree with you with every fiber of my being – that our job is to help people, to make the world a better place for everyone, for the good people. Not to “go after” anyone. We can leave that for the jerks to do – they’re good at it. There are so many CEOs and entrepreneurs who need help growing their businesses, and that is ALL I care about.

    But thanks for the offer!

    kz

    Reply
  23. Dan,

    If a plagiarists practices are prominently displayed all over the web, it effectively puts them out of business. Perhaps more important, it puts a dent in the mentality of those who think blindly copying material is somehow OK.

    Sunlight is the best disinfectant, they say. Makes sense to me.

    Reply
  24. Presently I am working on udating owner’s manuals for an industrial product. As I look at competitor materials and see them copying from each other, it is tempting to join in. Afterall, I’m not being Shakespeare in this effort. Still, I’m doing a lot of extra, to be largely unnoticed, work to avoid even a hint of plagarism.

    I’m liberal with credits for info, and inspiration too. Such credits are not only fair/courteous, but also improve the usefulness and positive impressions of the product.

    I appreciate the effort you’ve expended in calling out and advising on plagarism. Astounding that somone with that much visibility did not even bother to re-word/re-work the copy–which can still be plagarism, but less easy to spot and call out. The laziness is to be condemned as well as the theft.

    Reply
  25. Kristin,

    A few decades ago when I was struggling with a novel I was working on (it was quite a learning experience), a woman I highly respected challenged me with a great question: “Do you truly want to write,” she asked, “or do you just want to be known as a writer?” Mr. Hunt needs to ask himself, Do you truly want to be a sales expert, be the real thing, or do you just want to be known as a sales expert? Are the outward trappings of the “success” you seek so important to you that you’re willing to steal to get them? Is that really who you want to be?

    Success is like a succulent strawberry in season, but only if you’re worthy of it. If you’re not worthy of it, if you don’t earn it, if you can’t be proud of yourself for how you went about attaining it, what’s the point?

    Reply
  26. Thanks so much, Robert.

    What a great point you’ve made, especially in this day and age when people are mistaking “attention” for revenue. It reminds me of the folks who have hired people to increase their followers, quickly, by following thousands of others, who then automatically follow you back.

    I have not succumbed to this; I would rather know that all of my followers are there because I brought them something of value. Does it take longer? Of course. Does it matter? Not to me.

    kz

    Reply
  27. I did major national advertising work for many years and experienced this first hand. We kept our offices locked and carefully mutilated our trash for fear of thievery.

    I remember one client meeting where another copywriter stood up and presented my exact storyboard as his own work. When it was my turn, I said “I can’t beat that.” and left the room. I left the business. He stayed and, eventually, ran the creative department.

    Reply
  28. Sorry you had to go through that, but it’s a fact of life on the Internet. I’ve had articles stolen and copied by public school systems! I’d call them and complain and found that some teachers think it is perfectly legal to do this and to remove the author’s name!

    I find one of the best ways to combat this is to bring it to the attention of the ISP who is hosting that web site. They surely don’t want to be sued for copyright infringement and will often remove the offending material immediately.

    Reply
  29. Andrew removed the article pretty fast when I first contacted him about it. I’m also noticing that he may be checking his Twitter feed now. This is just me checking every so often, but at first my “shame on you” tweets were showing up in his own feed on his blog, and I don’t think he noticed. Now I’m not seeing them. However, one can’t be sure he won’t do this again – since he has done it twice now and always has an excuse.

    Thanks for bringing up the ISP option, however, which did occur to us as we were deciding what to do.

    kz

    Reply
  30. Kristin, as with many of the commenters/tweeters, I’ve had my content stolen a number of times. Each time, it’s critical to fight back and to call out the offender. One of the wonderful things about this “community” is there are so many aligned with you. Each calling out the offender and putting the offender on notice.

    I’ve been fortunate, each time I’ve discovered it, with the help of the community (and a nastygram from my lawyer), I’ve been able to have the content removed. I continue to be on the lookout for this–not only for my content, but for others in the community. It’s important that we all support each other in these efforts.

    Thanks for calling our attention to this. Hopefully, the posts and tweets are having an impact. Regards, Dave

    Reply
  31. I’m very touched at the amount of support we have gotten on this issue. I am especially grateful to Jonathan Farrington’s blog post, which really hit the nail on the head and has a great picture of the plagiarist (from his blog).

    Those of us who create original content know how much work it takes to write relevant, helpful content – how much learning we have to do, and how much we have to push ourselves every day to stay on top of things, think them through, and then provide useful solutions and new approaches.

    So to all of you, bravo! And i’m glad, ironically, that Andrew did such a blatant job of copying word for word – as I outline in the Google Doc – that this was a very clear-cut case. He could in no way deny that it was an outright case of stealing someone else’s content.

    kz

    Reply
  32. I’ve experienced several instances of people (in the U.S. and in Korea) copying white papers I’ve written and also copying a series of blog posts I wrote. In each instance, just contacting them (even having a lawyer contact them) didn’t help; they ignored me (and the lawyer).

    But when I contacted the company hosting the posted plagarized white papers, they removed it from their site. And when I contacted WordPress, which was hosting the blog that copied more than 15 of my blog posts, they took the plagarist’s site down.

    Kathleen

    Reply
  33. Thanks, Kathleen. You are absolutely right, and we have considered this as an option. There are several people following up on this now, I’m seeing what they’re doing before we take next steps. But I do appreciate your bringing this up, so that everyone knows about this.

    Thanks again!

    kz

    Reply
  34. The reality is plagiarism has always been and will always be. There are people who take the easy road by duplicating the efforts of others and what is so sad they believe it is Okay. Just look at their rationale or excuses.

    Allowing such actions to continue is ill advised as it gives the person engaged in plagiarizing an unchecked approval and yet to focus too much attention on that individual as Dan mentioned takes the victim away from moving forward.

    Through the collective efforts of those who are aware and who also share high ethics, they can reduce this distraction and return the victim, in this case, Kristin, back on her path to supporting others. I too will retweet and maybe include in today’s blog.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

    Reply
  35. Thanks, Leanne.
    I appreciate your support. This is obviously a big problem; content marketing has become the norm. Those of us who can generate original content don’t have a problem; it’s just work, but it isn’t impossible.

    Those who cannot generate original content would be better off quoting others with attribution – there are plenty of great sources of content out there that deserve more exposure than they tend to get on their own. This is not the path that Andrew Hunt and others like him have taken, obviously.

    Bravo to you for generating original content and for being one of the good guys/gals. :-)

    kz

    Reply
  36. I recently had a guest writer contribute to our blog, and he had completely copied an article he had written on 2 other blogs. The funny thing is after I told him that he would need to re-write with original content, he disappeared. I feel bad for people who don’t take the time to establish trust, as they can reap long term rewards. I suppose it’s the side effect of the ease of publishing on the web. Thanks for reaffirming that original content rules!

    Reply
  37. I think this whole thing is a reflection of what’s happening in our world today. There is so much fear, including fear of retribution if we stand up for what is right. Interesting how your content copier just slithered away. That’s a good thing for all of us to remember when we are faced with one of these “confront the liar / cheat / crook” situations.

    I agree with you about trust. It takes time, though, time that cheaters often don’t have because they’re in a mess of their own making. I have purposefully avoided “buying” Twitter followers or “following only to gain followers,” and I have also avoided the book-selling scam where you offer a ridiculous amount of “free” stuff, asking a bunch of people to buy your book on ONE day on Amazon, thereby shooting you to the top that day. Ever after, authors who do this claim their book was “#1 on Amazon,” without mentioning it was only for one day. Just another scam.

    The honest way takes longer; it takes more work; it means you have to avoid temptation to cheat even when so many people do it that it has become the norm. I don’t care about the norm. I care about all that matters in the end: Love and truth.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Nick. A very good thing for honest folks to know.

    kz

    Reply
  38. I’m sorry this happened to you, but thanks to the Internet we can now expose these rip-off artists for the thieves that they are. Through my Google alerts I discovered that a blogger (who had mentioned our company in her post), was plagiarized twice (from two different companies). I sent her the links and she contacted both parties…One removed the article entirely, and the other ended up crediting her original blog post.

    Great job of getting the word out through all your networks. I agree with Dave Brock, we all need to help each other to expose these people.

    Reply
  39. Yes, this appears to be a very important issue for original content creators. The Internet is still “ours,” at least for now, one of the biggest communities ever. We need to be our own sheriffs, obviously, and take appropriate action, to keep the rip-off artists from taking over. Because the Internet is both a commercial and conversational community, the greed factor can kick in and poison the community pool.

    Thanks to all the response to this article, including yours, I’m more determined than ever to fight the good fight.

    kz

    Reply
  40. Kristin:

    Your excellent article should get wide-spread attention.

    If you have a Bitly or Tiny URL, I’ll post it on Twitter and, with your permission, on our Blog.

    Jacques Werth

    Reply
  41. Kudos to all your efforts to call out Andrew. It is such a shame as if anyone asks to use one of my articles I never say no. So the fact that he lifted it without permission is a shame.

    Strength in numbers.

    Steven

    Reply
  42. I just wanted to share a silver lining that has come from this plagiarism situation. I came across the link to your article exposing Andrew and his atrocious behavior via twitter. Your article was a great read and I agree wholeheartedly with you.

    As a result of find your article I have ordered your book (it should arrive next week). I look forward to reading (and learning) from the original.

    Hopefully a silver lining!

    Morag Barrett

    Reply
  43. Thanks, Morag. Very nice of you to tell me and thank you for ordering the book. I hope it takes your revenue needle and points it to the skies.

    kz

    Reply
  44. I find one of the best ways to combat this is to bring it to the attention of the ISP who is hosting that web site.

    Reply
  45. The editorial professional must be aware of the negative aspects of plagiarism and they can use a plagiarism check to make sure that the write-ups are not copied from the various other resources.

    Reply
  46. It is meaningless to use duplicate content on your website, because it will create a negative impact in the eyes of common readers. Furthermore, the giant search engine, Google is much concerned about originality of content, and it will be against its set rules to plagiarize while writing web content.

    Reply

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