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Copyright infringement and your pet sitting website

by Therese on October 18, 2010

in Pet Business Marketing, The Pet Care Biz

Pet sitters should write their own content, not copy content from other websites.Every now and then I run across some content that’s been taken from PetsitUSA and used on a pet sitter’s website. A lot of time, it’s just a small snippet of text, or it’s properly attributed with a link back to the original article. Every now and then though, I’ll see an entire document that’s been used, with a nice little “Copyright Suzie Pet Sitter” on the page, with no mention of where the document actually came from.

Last week I found a pretty good sized document on a pet sitter website, along with her copyright notice proudly displayed at the bottom of the page. I sent a short, to the point email letting the pet sitter know the content on her website was owned by PetsitUSA and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. I offered to let her continue to use it but only with the addition of a copyright notice attributing PetsitUSA, along with a link to our website.

Well, when the phone rang a couple hours later I was shocked to have a screaming lunatic on the other end of the phone. It was Penny Pet Sitter (name has been changed to protect the guilty). She was talking pretty darn fast and not making a whole lot of sense. Some of the things that really stood out in her tirade though were these comments:

  • “How dare you accuse me of stealing.”
  • “Whenever I see something online that I think might help my clients, I take it.”
  • “Anybody could write that.”

I sat and listened, and as soon as she took a breath I told her that it was illegal to take content without permission, and that it was called copyright infringement. She didn’t hear (or wouldn’t listen), and started in again. When she took her next breath, I asked politely if I could say something and she said no, and hung up. That was it, call over. She took the content down later that day, thankfully, before I had to take any further action.

So, let’s go back to her comments. She brought up some pretty important points.

“How dare you accuse me of stealing. I’ve never been to your website.”

She stole. Period. Although I didn’t say “you stole” in my email to her, it’s obvious that she got the content somewhere. I understand that Penny may have lifted the document from Joe, who got it from Ruby, who stole it from PetsitUSA. Regardless of where it came from though, the document was copied.

“Whenever I see something online that I think might help my clients, I take it.”

I thought that was a pretty bold statement. She admitted to taking stuff that’s not hers. That’s called copyright infringement (aka plagiarism), and it’s illegal.

“Anybody could write that.”

Well, yes, anybody could write about the same topic. She’s absolutely correct about that. However, even though I’ve never been labeled a math whiz, I know the chances of someone writing the exact duplicate two page document, word for word, is pretty darn slim. Obviously, pet sitting websites are going to have similar content, but the way it’s worded should be unique and reflect the personality of that particular business.

Some things to know about copyright

Copyright infringement is wrong, illegal. If you’re caught, and don’t remove the content, the person who owns the it can have your website shut down. Of course, the person who owns the document should be sure he or she can prove ownership. Claiming something is yours when it’s not, can have consequences as well.

Don’t be fooled by websites that don’t include a copyright notice. Just because you don’t see one, that doesn’t mean the content on that website is fair game. When someone publishes something  they’ve written, they own the copyright on that work whether or not it says “Copyright.”

Be careful about simply rewriting something. If your version is too much like the original document, that can be called into question as well.

To read more about copyright and copyright infringement, see the U.S. Copyright Office. You can also take a look at this excellent blog post, What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content.

Write your own content

Your best bet, if you see something you like, is to write to the person who owns that website and ask if you can use it. Be sure to ask if they wrote it and/or own the copyright. If not, you want to find the person who does and ask them if you can use it. Do not just take something and assume it’s OK. And, if you are given permission to use something, let others know where it came from with a simple statement such as, Copyright Jane Doe. Used with permission.’ And if Jane Doe has a website, link to it. On the other hand, if the person says you’re not allowed to use it, don’t use it . . . period!

Pet sitters don’t like copyright infringement!

Keep in mind that the online pet sitting community is pretty tight – pet sitters tend to look out for each other. If someone sees something that doesn’t look right, it’s highly likely he or she will contact the person they believe is being slighted. So, avoid getting yourself into a sticky situation from the get-go by writing your own content. In the long run, it’s going to be better for you anyway, because the content will be a more accurate reflection of you and your business. And with the pet sitting being such a personal service, you want your clients and potential clients to get to know you, not some other pet sitter.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie Kaufman October 18, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I have had this happen to me several times regarding my company name, which is legally protected. The first time, I did have to employ my lawyer to have the petsitting company take down their website which was unfortunate. The next 2 times, I discovered that someone was using my company name and I simply called them and they were polite enough to change their names. They just didn’t realize and didn’t know to check. Yes, you have to keep on top of these things and it could be very frustrating, but after all of our hard work, it’s worth the fight to protect ourselves and reputation. I certainly didn’t need a dissatisfied client of one of these businesses to associate the poor service with mine!

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Therese October 21, 2010 at 11:55 am

Sorry to hear you’ve had to deal with it too, Leslie. But you’re right, it’s something one needs to stay on top of.

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Terry Albert October 19, 2010 at 9:29 am

This has happened to me as well, with both my writing and artwork. Most people blame the webmaster, and claim they didn’t know. It is infuriating. Someone once posted a link to her new site on our internet discussion group, and the site featured my photos on the first page. Keep after people who steal. If you don’t fight it, your work becomes part of the public domain, and you’ll see it everywhere. And you didn’t get any payment for it.

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Therese October 21, 2010 at 11:54 am

I’ve heard the webmaster excuse too, but it’s no excuse. If it’s on their website they’re responsible.

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Leslie Ray October 20, 2010 at 4:49 pm

It’s truly unfortunate that some individuals feel that they have a “right” to anything they find on the internet. I don’t have a problem with this, provided the person who copies the content gives credit to the creator of the original content with their full business name and/or a link to the site where the original information/image is posted. But, even so, it is common courtesy to ASK PERMISSION to use copyrighted content.

My website has been copied many times since I first uploaded my site to the internet. I check for copyright infringement about every two months, and invariably, there is at least one site that has copied a portion of my content. On one occasion, a pet sitter in the same state I do business in copied my entire website, verbatim. When I contacted her to inform her that she had infringed on my copyright, she was very nasty. She wasn’t the least bit apologetic. On the contrary, she said, “Oh, great. How do you expect me to write content for my WHOLE website just like that?” Hmm…the same way I did? It takes a long time to create original content for one’s website. I spent months coming up with the content for my site, and spent hundreds of dollars having my site designed around my content. Maybe now that the pet sitter who stole my content has had to spend hours, days, weeks, maybe even months writing original content for her site, she can appreciate how upset I was that she stole mine.

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Therese October 21, 2010 at 11:57 am

That’s a shame the woman had to write content for her “whole website!” I wonder how she’s feel if it was the other way around.

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Joshua Cary - APSE October 21, 2010 at 8:52 am

Excellent article, Therese, arising under unfortunate circumstances, though. Thank you for sharing your story along with examples.

You wrote: “When someone publishes something they’ve written, they own the copyright on that work whether or not it says “Copyright.””

This is so true and important to understand. Once you publish something on your website (original, of course), you basically automatically own the copyright to that published piece. Therefore, no one, as you mentioned, should feel it’s ok to republish anything on their site without first acquiring permission.

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Therese October 21, 2010 at 11:53 am

Thanks, Josh. I already had this topic on my “blog posts to write” list, but she pushed me into finishing it! Hopefully it’ll make someone thing twice before ripping off content.

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Dan & Kelley Young October 21, 2010 at 11:12 am

Don’t forget “copyscape” – a great website to help you find people that may have copied content from your website: http://www.copyscape.com . The first checks on a website are free every day.

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Therese October 21, 2010 at 11:48 am

Thanks for the reminder Kelley. I should have put that in the original blog post. Copyscape is an excellent tool!

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Jody Smith October 21, 2010 at 11:41 am

Great article Therese. I am just starting to Blog and this is the precise information I needed to know.

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Therese October 21, 2010 at 11:59 am

Great, glad it helped. Welcome to the world of blogging!

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Dan & Kelley Young October 22, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I particularly like the part about “How dare you accuse me of stealing. I’ve never been to your website.”

I actually purchased something on Ebay once that included some clip-art files as a ‘bonus’ or something. It said “public domain, free for redistribution”. WRONG – it was taken right off other websites (I removed it immediately when notified!). Now that I know that happens, I can find lots of examples of that everywhere.

Moral of the story… don’t even trust sites & sources that say they offer free stuff UNLESS you actually talk to the person who created the text, drew the art, or took the photo.

Plus, much of the “free” use stuff you can find has very specific terms – like you can’t use it on a business website. So investigate thoroughly.

And don’t trust your webmaster to not ‘borrow’ from other sites. I hear “oh my webmaster must have done that; I didn’t know” all the time. Ask for sources.

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Robyn Carter November 9, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Great article. I think alot of people assume anything on the internet is their’s to “borrow”. Somehow they don’t think it’s the same as stealing the words from a book. And considering how vast the internet is, they probably think the proper owner will never find out. But what they’re stealing are someone’s hard work & thoughts. In my experience I’ve found that if you just ask permission to use someone’s copy, they’ll usually say yes. It’s a compliment because you like what you read. They just don’t want to feel violated by someone taking something from them without asking. I don’t have a problem helping out a fellow petsitter with my ideas, as long as they politely ask permission.

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