i’ve decided that it’s time i start sharing a little more of the behind-the-scenes aspects of scruffy dog for the many photographers (professional and startups) who follow here … some of the not-so-pretty aspects. after all, it’s not all cute, scruffy faces all the time, you know.
a lot goes into running a business, making it successful, keeping clients happy … just as much goes into protecting that business. and one aspect of that which can be a bit of a drain is following up on cases of image theft, and especially trademark infringement and plagiarism.
i’ve offered up blog entries in the past that have touched on protecting your business … and i’ve written about cases of plagiarism. but now i’m thinking that i will start publicizing more of these cases as they rear their ugly, non-creative heads. i mean, it’s one thing for me to spend hours and money to protect my business, quietly in the background, perhaps mentioning it now and again on facebook … but what if i started pointing out some of these cases here on the blog? perhaps this would begin to dissuade those people — who are either lazy or not creative or both — from believing that they can just wantonly help themselves to the content which i and photographers everywhere have worked so hard to build over the years? content that is inherently and distinctly me, not them?
first i will present you with the case and its resolution … and then i will explain WHY it is so vital to your business that plagiarism is pursued.
so, here’s the most recent case … open and shut … you won’t find this photographer in a search because the plagiarized content has now been removed. i’m refraining from naming names … (but certainly reserve that right for a later date should i see fit).
first, i should say that besides a portfolio page of images, a contact page, and a novella-length “about me” page, the actual content on this photographer’s site is minimal. there is a very brief Pricing page, and then “my” Session Info page. i should also mention that, by all appearances, she is a successful wedding and portrait photographer who has been in the industry for exactly as many years as i have (in other words, professional enough to know better, correct?). her pet photography page — based on the portfolio — is obviously a newer addition.
this is a screen-capture of her … or rather my … Session Info page. what you see highlighted in yellow is direct copy-and-paste content from my FAQs page — word-for-word … not a comma or dash or word out of place. complete lift.
in blue highlight is a paragraph which saw some slight alteration on my own site a while ago … so it has been some time that this content has been sitting on this photographer’s site … word-for-word. also, the very first paragraph is not without its plagiarism, however, it is mostly cobbled together from my content here and there, and as the volume and extent of the other plagiarism is so extreme, there was no need for me to go searching for the origin of this.
my letter to the photographer (with a copy to my IP attorney, of course):
Hello Ms. XXXXX,
It is unfortunate that I have to take time out of my busy schedule to write to you today with a request to immediately remove my copyrighted material from your website. While I am flattered that you have found the content on my site to be a clear source of inspiration for your pet photography business, plagiarism is an offense which is taken very seriously within the creative field and most definitely by me.
I have attached a screen capture of your “Session Info” page, with highlighted areas of the directly plagiarized copy. This content is direct word-for-word copy-and-paste. If this copy is not removed by the end of this week, I will be forced to have my IP attorney (to whom this email is copied) contact your web-host with a cease-and-desist to have your site’s content taken down. In fact, given the extent of plagiarism here we could certainly proceed with this protocol at this time; my email to you is a courtesy.
When it comes to rewriting your “Session Info” page, I would strongly suggest that you start afresh and not use the current ‘content’ as starting point; after all, your current ‘content’ is my content. By using this as a basis for your revised page, you may only find yourself facing another cease-and-desist. As someone who also mentors and guides other professional photographers in the field, I highly advise you to set it all aside and start with a blank slate. Look at your own business and your own sessions and write about what you offer and what you bring that is unique to each session … not what I bring to my sessions.
I look forward to your prompt and professional compliance with this email, and am anxious to review your new “Sessions Info” page. I wish you all the best with your pet photography career.
now, trust me, this is far, far, far from my first case of full-out copy/paste plagiarism. and it’s always the same excuses:
- “it wasn’t me! my web-designer/partner/intern put that content together”;
- “i was researching other pet photographers when putting my own site together and must have inadvertently copied your content down”;
- “your site/page was set up so well, and it’s exactly how i run my business!”
- “i’ve been unwell, and you have no idea what it’s like to struggle with your health and have to run a business!” (um, as a matter of fact, i certainly do, and i still work my butt off and i don’t steal someone else’s hard work);
- “you plagiarized me!” (yeah, i’ve gotten that one twice now)
these are all reasons i have been given for blatant plagiarism over the years. needless to say, my partner and i were laying bets all evening as to which ‘reason’ i’d hear back … or if i’d hear back. and i did …
I was shocked and mortified to receive your email. Although pet portraits are not a large part of my business they are still an occasional and enjoyable niche. I’ve been a fan of yours for quite some time. About a year ago I agreed to let a friend’s teenage daughter be my short term “intern” in exchange for college credits. At the time I wanted to set up a separate website for pet portraits and she wrote some of the copy for that, as well as helping with other organizational tasks. Clearly, “wrote” is too strong a word. I encouraged her to review my blog feed, which has since been eliminated, for an idea of how the industry worked. Clearly she misunderstood ‘inspiration’ for a direct attribution. I cannot begin to express how upset I am to realize that there was direct plagiarism from your copyrighted material.
I take full responsibility for the issue and have already removed the page from the website. When I have time I’ll replace it with a page written in my own voice. I have not trusted more creative aspects of my business to assistants or interns….this was an exception and I’m so disappointed to realize that this was the result.
While I’m not sure how it will be received, please accept my profound apology.
now, dear SDP blog reader, perhaps you are less hardened, less cynical than i have become over the years … and perhaps you believe this response from an outed thief? but i’m sorry, as someone who has run a professional business for the same number of years as this photographer, i have a lot of trouble swallowing this. no photographer in their right mind — much less a professional 6+ years into the business — is going to trust the copy of a new venture/website to some teenage college intern on a “short term” stint. you are going to write it yourself! why? because it is your business, your reputation, it is about you! why on earth would you leave it entirely in the hands of anyone else, much less a teenager? …and then not once review that content in a year?
but that is beside the point … the point, dear photographer and business owner, is that regardless of whether the ‘intern story’ is truth or not, the content of this photographer’s site — as the owner and sole proprietor of this business — the content is the photographer’s responsibility. period. if Coca Cola was discovered to have ripped off some marketing content from Pepsi, and even if the culprit was proven to be some lowly intern, do you think the heat would land on the intern? well, ultimately, yes, the intern would take a fair heap of crap from Coca Cola and lose his internship, no doubt … but in the world of business, Coca Cola itself is still legally responsible and accountable for the stolen material.
so … why does this matter to you? why is it so vital to pursue every case of plagiarism if it happens to you? well, besides the obvious — that someone else has stolen your hard work and creativity, the heart and soul behind your business — well, there’s also the matter of SEO! Search engine optimization. if there is duplicate content out there on the great wide interweb and it’s not residing on your domain, you’re in trouble! your hard-earned standing in the search-engine world is going to start dropping … and dropping fast. it has to do with crawlers and search-bots and a lot of tech talk, but trust me, your status drops. and when you’ve worked years to build your business, your business’s name, your business’s reputation, and your business’s SEO, well, YES! you had better do whatever it takes to protect it!
and sadly, even as this blog entry goes up, i am pursuing six more cases of full-on plagiarism today…