PLAGIARISM & INFRINGEMENT: WHAT TO DO WHEN SOMEONE STEALS YOUR WORK

Plagiarism. 😡 Copyright infringement. 😠 Intellectual property theft. 😭

As business owners, none of these words fill us with joy, but the reality is that as your business grows, so does your visibility.

The more visible you are, the more copycats will come find you and copy your work.

And if you’ve never been infringed in any way, just you wait. It’s coming. That’s not really a threat; it’s just reality. Womp womp.

The more visibility you get as a business, the more you open yourself up to being copied. To plagiarism. To infringement. It just comes with the territory.

The good news? There’s something you can do about it.

And in this blog post, I hope to give you some action steps and a few mindset shifts so if you are the victim of infringement, plagiarism, or anything else on the Copycat Spectrum (as I like to call it), you know what to do and how to move forward.

plagiarism - what to do when someone steals your work

Of course, if you have been stolen from before, you know. It. just. Sucks. There’s no cutesy way to say it. It suuuucks

To see the fruits of your labor, your time, maybe even your money stolen, as if it’s nothing more than a stick of gum. Ugh.

It hurts.

And honestly, it makes me pretty mad. 

And if you know me, you know, I don’t really get mad. 

But when I do, I like to process that anger. 

In a whimsical way.

In song form.

🎶If you want to see this blog post in SONG FORM, check out the video episode here! 🎶 It’s one of our most popular episodes EVER.

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What to do When You Are a Victim of Plagiarism 

So, when you’re faced with a copycat, what do you do?

The saying goes that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

But what about when it’s not imitation? Because imitation might be flattery, but plagiarism and infringement is stealing.

First off, we have to acknowledge the full Copycat Spectrum: 

On one end, we’ve got instances when someone is heavily influenced by something you’re doing or they very specifically emulate part of what you do. We’ll talk about those instances in just a sec.

But on the other end of the Copycat Spectrum, we have outright theft. Someone stealing a name, an image, copying your copy — literally.

Now, some people might say: 

“Take it as a compliment! “

“Just ignore them!” 

“If you are triggered by someone copying you, then that really speaks to your insecurities.”

Boo. NO, it speaks to my knowledge of the law. Okaaaay?

And if you’re stepping back and letting people steal from you, you should know (and I say this with love):

You are part of the problem. You are enabling that person to do it again. To someone else. Which sucks. 

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So listen: Plagiarism and infringement are forms of theft. Plain and simple. 

If someone breaks into your house, you don’t say:

“Just ignore them. Let them do their thing.” 

If someone steals your car, you wouldn’t say:

“Oh, don’t pay them any mind! They can never drive that car like you!” 

If someone steals your identity, you wouldn’t say: 

“Oh they’re flattering you, they just want to be you!”

Um, NO. Of course not.

You wouldn’t just be ok with people doing those things.

Don’t just let them. 

Defend your work. Don’t allow thieves to take what’s not theirs without repercussions. Because again, they will steal from others in the future.

How to (Legally) Defend Your Work

The good news is this doesn’t have to be some big confrontational thing. In fact, I would say it shouldn’t be. You can (and should) detach yourself from the whole situation. You can get a lawyer to reach out on your behalf. Often, just the threat of legal action can get the job done.

Then, you can stay proactive by getting legaled up from the onset:

You can have collaborators sign NDAs, you can get trademarks or patents, heck, even just tacking on the copyright or trademark symbols with a warning in the footer of your website can deter some people.

Emulating vs. Plagiarism

NOW, let’s get back to the Copycat Spectrum. 

Going over to the other end, you have instances when people are heavily inspired by your work, your products, or your services. Maybe they didn’t literally copy and paste, but some things might be really similar.

When that happens, you really have two options: You can confront them… or ignore it.

Emulating… or being heavily inspired is more of a gray area, so there are less options available to you from a legal standpoint. And it’s way more complicated.

So for those gray area situations, my recommendation is… to move on. 

Give above-and-beyond service, wow your customers, and blow your copycats out of the water. 

They’ll never be able to do what you do in the way that you do it, and while they’re struggling to figure out how to better copy you, you can be moving on to the next thing. 

Rather than curse your copycats, thank your loyal followers and customers. Let the experience encourage you to keep moving forward. 

While some may copy some of the things you do, they’ll never get it right because they can’t copy YOU. No one is as good at being you as you are. They never will be. They never can be. Take heart that YOU are the only you in all the world. 

So, copycats might copy, but you can keep creating and innovating.

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One final thought:

Maybe you are you reading this and worrying…

“Am I copying someone?” 

If you’re genuinely asking that, the answer is probably YES. So, cut it out!

Of course, it’s never ever ok to copy and paste or to steal a name, a logo, or an image — that’s pretty black and white. 

There are some exceptions (like the concept of Fair Use and song parodies), but outright stealing? Nope. 

After all, would YOU want someone stealing from you? Copying all your hard work? And acting as if it’s theirs?

Definitely not. So don’t do it.

If you’re heavily influenced, then give credit where credit due, cite everything you use, and if in doubt, get permission first.

But if you’re asking yourself at any point “Am I copying this person?” Chances are, you ARE. So don’t.

It’s ok to be inspired, but it’s not ok to infringe. 

YOU do you. (Not someone else.)

And finally, once more, if you are infringed, if any of your work is stolen, if any of your words or ideas are lifted or copied, do something about it. Not just for yourself, but for others in the future.

Take action. Get a lawyer.

And if you’re really feeling sassy, sing it out (like I like to do).

It works.

(The lawyer part. Not the singing.)

HI, I’M COURTNEY!

I’m here to help you build, grow, and scale your business.

Check out my show here:

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