taking down a plagiarist

I had a guy steal a bunch of copy from the Tall Poppy Group Facebook Fan page recently. Pretty blatantly too – he made no effort to spin it, mix it up, or try to conceal it – much less actually customize it to make it suit his own business.

On one level I was flattered, it’s always nice to have your marketing validated by someone stealing it. One another level though, I was less than impressed. The copy that he stole, whilst far from a Shakespeare or a Dickens, was the product of a LOT of agonizing, not just over the words, but over the identity of the company I seem to be birthing at the moment. I felt that for someone to go “yoink, think I’ll take some of that thanks” sort of trivializes the effort I’ve put in. After all, when business is your passion it’s not just about turning a quick buck here or there, it’s about being a part of giving birth to something entirely new.

Anyway, here’s how I found the schmuck, and how I dealt with it.

  1. He emailed me his company profile from a creative network. This was his first mistake, and a pretty silly one. I immediately recognized the copy as mine and set about fixing the problem. Going forward, I have set up Google Alerts to watch the Internet for my brand and my tag-lines and key phrases. I am talking about the sort of stuff where if it shows up elsewhere it’s likely that I’m being copied. Check it out, it’s free and it’s useful for all sorts of other things.

  2. I googled the offending organization and found it’s owner/leader. This is key. You don’t want to deal with an underling, you want to go straight to the guy who’s ass you can kick hardest. The owner of a company is technically responsible for ALL conduct of that company. I used Google first, then moved to Facebook and LinkedIn to find his details.

  3. I got together a backup plan, should he have been non-compliant with what I was about to ask. In this case, he’d set up his companies Facebook Fan Page up as a personal profile, not an actual fan page, which is in breach of Facebook’s Terms and Conditions and generally a big no-no (see my blog post here for more on this). The plan was to use this as leverage should the need arise. I can still use it should he make the same mistake again.

  4. Once I had my evidence (ALL of the places I could find where the plagiarism had taken place) and my leverage (the Fan Page play) in place I contacted the guy.

  5. Here’s the message I sent: “You have used a large amount of identical and nearly identical copy from the Tall Poppy Group Facebook fan page and the tallpoppygroup.com website without permission on your Facebook fan page and page which you own and control. This is illegal. You have 48 hours to remove the copy before i pursue other avenues to have it removed. Please advise by replying to this message when it has been removed.”

  6. Notice the message… I wasn’t specific in my threat, but expressed clearly my feelings on the issue.

  7. I got a VERY contrite message 45 minutes later (even with the timezone difference) blaming, as expected, an underling in the organization for the oversight, and confirmation of the removal of the offending copy. I responded with: “Thanks for resolving it so quickly. I’d suggest strongly that you keep a closer eye on your creatives and designers – as the owner of the company it’s you who’d be pursued.”

All in all I felt that it was a good outcome. At some point, you will have an idea, content, or something else ripped off. It happens. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me… The key is to be ready for it, carry a big stick, and for goodness don’t just lie down and take it.