Friday, 13 February 2015

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Can you take words from one website and use them on your own?

We've all seen the anti-piracy advert at the start of DVDs - all edgy music and grainy images with shouty captions: YOU WOULDN'T STEAL A CAR... Ed Byrne does a good bit about it.
The message is, it's not ok to download films, because it's stealing.

We probably all agree. But then we've probably all downloaded something illegally at least once in our life - an mp3, a film, some software - it goes on.
What also goes on is the theft - yeah, I'm going to call it theft - of images and words online.
I've already blogged about the photos thing, but this week I've been driven over the edge by the words.

I'm a journalist by trade (not that you'd know from reading this blog, right gang?) so I'm a bit more precious about my words than most. I accept this. I also accept that not everyone has had to sit through libel and copyright training many, many times, so I think I try to be quite forgiving when I see some of our original content being used by someone else.

It has happened five or six times since we launched the current incarnation of our website: I've found words, written by me for, lifted wholesale and used to sell someone else's painted furniture on another website. Sure, sometimes they've changed the odd word here and there, but not enough to make the words their own.

"So what?" you might ask. It's only words. To that, I say: "Who are you? Cat Stevens?" (one for the kids, there).

Those words were crafted in my mid-range brain specifically with the intention of promoting and selling Reloved Vintage. They are personal to me and the business. If you just copy and paste them into your website, it says two things about you:

1. You're a bit lazy
2. You don't have anything original to say about your business.

Going back to illegal downloads for a second, if you illegally downloaded a film, and then you got caught bang to rights when the owner of that film showed you proof. You'd admit it and apologise, right? If they then simply asked you to delete that film from your hard drive, you'd probably do it straight away.

Yeah, me too. And I'd consider myself lucky that they didn't sue me or tell my mum.

Most people I've contacted do just that. They apologise and remove the offending words immediately. Some blame whoever built the site for them, which may be a cheap excuse or, more likely, it reveals there are a number of unscrupulous website builders out there.

These people, by and large, are just like us. They run a small business. Some do it full time, some do it in their spare time, but none seem to be vindictive. They've gone about their word-pinching with innocence and act quickly to put things right. They're alright as far as I'm concerned. Decent people doing the right thing.

Which is why it's very strange when something like this happens.

Extract from the Commissions page of another website
Extract from the Commissions page of

I was doing my roughly quarterly check to see if our copy was being used by anyone else (my highly technical system? Pasting phrases into Google) when I found this website.

A lot of the wording has been changed, but key phrases, written especially to reflect the stye and approach of Reloved Vintage were there, word for word.

This was also the case on the About page:

From the other site's About page

Extracts from our About page

I sent messages via social media to the owner of the other site, expressing my concern. They replied to say they had never even seen my site and that, most definitely, nothing was plagiarised. I pointed out the similarities. They replied. No apology, just a note that they were off to work and would have a look later. Then nothing. I chased them up a few days later. A full week later, after another nudge from me, they said they were too busy to look at it. I said that wasn't good enough. I've given them a deadline.

The owner of the site has a full-time job on top of the furniture side of things. So do I. So did Laura until a month and half ago. We get it. It's hard. You're always busy, but it doesn't take much time or effort to delete some words from your site.

While all this was going on, I Googled again. I found another website using our words. Seriously! You should try this yourself.

It wasn't word-for-word, but it had definitely been copied and altered slightly. I sent off an email and got a reply the next day. They apologised and said their site had been created for them by an external website builder. It seems there really are lots of lazy website builders out there.

If you're reading this and you have a website you paid someone to create for you - words and all - perhaps you should do a quick check on where those words came from...

I worried that I was being too precious and whingey, but everyone I spoke to about this was outraged - perhaps more than I was. They had no idea this kind of thing went on. Colleagues, fellow small business owners, friends - they were all "Call your solicitor!" "Some people have no shame" "That's unbelievable".

I get it though, not everyone is confident with words. It's easier to 'borrow' someone else's than write your own which might not be very good, or pay someone to do it for you. It's certainly cheaper, and for a lot of people, the furniture's just a hobby, or it's their livelihood and times are tight.

Doesn't make it right, though. Just like that downloaded film.

I'd love to hear what you think. Am I over-reacting? Should we just accept that once you put something online it's going to get stolen? Or does more need to be done to protect our intellectual copyright? Let me know below...