Ethics Questions: Website Copyright Infringement

safeWebsite copyright infringement is a nightmare. It costs money (in time and/or tools) to chase down the perpetrators, it is potentially a business killer if the theft results in a loss of reputation and loss of sales or clients. Recently, during a two-week period, my website was either completely copied, or, portions of the copy was lifted.

The person who stole the site said it was simply a sample, and would be taken down and destroyed. My question to him was “When is it acceptable for him to have ‘borrowed’ it without my permission?” His reply can’t be repeated.

And the second instance was just a week ago, when a fellow virtual assistant had a client comment on her site identical in all but name, to the one that’s been on my site for years. When I contacted her to let her know that her client had ‘borrowed’ my copy, and that she should reach out to him before I did, she replied that she was unsure how it could have happened and would contact him immediately. When last I checked, the offending comment was gone.

What does the word ethics mean to you? To me, it means not stealing another’s content, pictures, and so on. It means not undercutting a fellow virtual assistant on purpose to ‘land the deal’. It means not contacting another virtual assistant’s clients and trying to lure them away. It means that confidentiality is paramount. It means always trying to under promise and over deliver. 

Many years ago I was proud to be among the first Ethics Checked Virtual Assistant, (Verification # 01-02-00109 by StaffCentrix, former provider of Ethics Check for VAs). It was designed to help strengthen the virtual assistant’s credibility and trustworthiness to potential clients. I’ve lived by this since then. I’m a fanatic about security and confidentiality. To this end I have numerous safeguards in place, such as fingerprint access to my computer, encrypted drives and heavy duty fire proof safes. 

I would no sooner steal someone’s website copy or an image from their site than I would steal from my clients. It infuriates me when someone steals from me! Did no one ever tell them that to steal is wrong?

The company that swiped my entire site was out of Singapore, but that doesn’t mean they are exempt from the law. There is still the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and also the fact that most web hosts will not tolerate their users committing copyright infringement and can be a valuable resource in resolving your case.

Most of the time, people cooperate when I contact them about the infringement.  Sometimes, such as the company in Singapore, I’m forced to take further action such as contacting their web host and proving my case so that they take down the stolen material.

Tools that helped me discover the theft are:

  • I pay for the service to check my pages on a weekly basis.
  • I pay for website monitoring and interactive chat on my site, which has helped find a thief more than once. Plagiarism checker is the tool that helps me identify the authenticity of the content.

When in doubt, just don’t do it!

Thanks, Kathy McCabe

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