As a lawyer, there’s quite a few things that I hope you never have to experience (like getting sued), but as a business owner, there’s one thing that comes to mind that I REALLY hope you never have to go through…
And that is someone stealing your content.
Yep, content theft is real and it’s actually way more common than you may think.
It’s frustrating and annoying as a creator and it’s a straight up nuisance to deal with, but hey… no one promised that being a business owner was all rainbows and sunshine, right?
But that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared to know how to deal with annoyances if they ever happen to you to make the process a little bit smoother.
In this blog post, I’m going to map out the exact steps to take when someone steals your content so you aren’t left pondering your options – because yes, you have some!
So, let’s get into it. ⬇️
The Steps To Take When Someone Steals Your Content Online
As mentioned, I truly hope you never know that sinking feeling when you realize someone is riding on your coattails and taking away from the success of your business by copying your materials.
But if I’m being honest with you, as a successful business owner, it’s likely you’ll experience this problem at least once in your business career… and maybe even more than once.
It’s not fun and it’s definitely wrong, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it. So, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist or waiting until the worst happens, I want you to be prepared NOW so you can confidently take action when the time comes.
First things first, if you think your work is being copied you should ask yourself two questions right away:
- Is your work entitled to copyright protection?
For small business owners and creative service providers, copyrightable content refers to original works you create that are fixed in a tangible form.
This could be anything from written articles, marketing materials and software code to graphic designs, photos and even music.
Once you create these, you automatically have the exclusive right to use, distribute and modify them. Others cannot do the same unless you give them permission, typically through a license or by selling the copyright.
Copyright helps protect your investment in these creations and can be a valuable asset for your business.
Prior to publishing any digital content, you have hopefully implemented a copyright notice, which essentially says, “hey! I’m claiming the rights to this, so if you infringe my stuff, you’re doing it willfully.”
Including a copyright notice is the first step in being able to take legal action if needed.
- Is your work really being copied?
It’s important to differentiate between “this is similar” and “this is exactly like mine.” The best way to determine this is to read through and examine the other person’s work and identify if they are using the exact language as you.
If so, there’s a good chance that yes, your work has been copied.
When you can answer “yes” to both of these questions, THAT is when you can take legal action to stop the copycat in their tracks.
If you’re unsure if the work meets this criteria, you may need to get a lawyer involved to review the situation for you. A trusted professional can help you review the details at hand and properly advise you on an appropriate plan that’s unique to you.
Steps to Take For Copyright Infringement
Once your work has been copied or stolen, this is where the legal action comes into play.
Before you do ANY of the following, the most important step is to collect receipts of the copycat!
This includes gathering all evidence and screenshotting everythingggg before you ever reach out to them just in case they delete the content or block you.
Once you’ve gathered all evidence, you can take the following approaches!
More often than not, a lawyer would advise one (or all) of the following in this order:
- A friendly letter or email
It’s smart and very common to start small and that typically looks like sending a friendly letter or email that addresses the issue, provides proof of your claim and asks the copycat to fix their mistake.
This mode of legal action is usually done first with the hope to avoid things getting out of control.
Sometimes this is enough… and unfortunately sometimes it isn’t.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find that the copying isn’t malicious, but rather from an uninformed action of a fan or student who doesn’t know any better.
But in the instance that you have a real copycat on your hands that’s not willing to follow your request, further action will be needed.
- Cease and desist letter
When a friendly letter or email doesn’t do the trick, a cease and desist is typically the next step.
A cease and desist letter is the same premise of a personal letter, but holds more legal authority as you typically will need to work with a lawyer to help you draft this letter to demand that the infringement stop.
(Psst: The Boutique Lawyer can help you with this!)
- DMCA takedown request
Next, if the letters aren’t working and the copycat continues, you can file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown request to serve as another form of legal notice.
A DMCA takedown request is typically sent to an online service provider, such as a website hosting company or a social media platform, to request the removal of copyrighted material that is being used without authorization.
The DMCA is a U.S. copyright law that provides a framework for copyright owners to protect their intellectual property rights online.
- File a lawsuit
Lastly, if you’ve exhausted all of your options and the copycat is not adhering to your requests, you have the legal right to file a lawsuit and take the infringer to court over the issue.
Most lawyers will likely suggest that you use this as your last option since so much is involved in a lawsuit and it tends to take a lot of time and money.
But if you’ve done everything else you can and your content is still being ripped off, this may be the best solution.
How To Legally Protect Your Business and Avoid Copyright Infringement
Overall, if you don’t legally map out exactly what people can and cannot do with your content and products, they’re essentially free to do just about whatever they want.
They can send them to friends. They can ask for a chargeback or refund even if they used them already. And they can COPY them. 🥴
These are all crappy situations we HOPE no one would do, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a lawyer, it’s that not everyone approaches things with a good heart. There are bad apples out there and they could be shopping your products as you read this.
That’s why I’ve made it my job to help you legally protect yourself and your business, so you can make sure none of this nonsense happens to you – or at the very least, if it DOES, you’re legally protected and prepared to take action!
This legal protection typically includes things like:
🖋️ Terms of Purchase for Digital Goods + Services
🖋️ Copyright Notices
Every business owner selling ANYTHING online needs these (all of them).
And instead of making you track down each policy, I’ve taken the guesswork out of it for you and bundled them into one convenient place AND created a no-fluff course teaching how to use these templates to protect your sales funnels.
My Landing Sales Legally Toolkit includes EVERYTHING you need to safely sell your products and services online, so you can sleep soundly knowing your IP and profits are well protected!
Take it from someone who’s seen the nasty side of online business – you don’t want to go another minute without the right protections in place.
Get the toolkit details here so you can get back to spending more time on the things you LOVE in your business!