Tips on Handling Theft of Your Intellectual Property


It is unfortunate this happens to so many people who create original material – be it writing, photos, logos, products, formulas, websites, or entire online skincare formulation courses (I really wish I was making that last one up, but I'm not).

Someone else comes along and thinks it's ok to take whatever they please and then have the unconscionable audacity to try and claim it as their own.

This year, I have been unfortunate enough to experience theft of my intellectual property several times. And before we continue, you might want to grab a cuppa. This article is longer than usual because the thought of breaking it up into a 3-part series on theft was not my favorite idea.

Feel free to skim and just read the bits you want.

Sucker Punch

It is far from pleasant to discover someone has brazenly stolen something you have put heart and soul into creating.

My reaction each time has been measurable: heart palpitations, dizziness, and instant nausea – a punch out of nowhere that drops you to the floor.

Tip: If you react this way too, taking any kind of immediate action is not advisable. It is instead a very good idea to breathe deeply and slowly until your thoughts stop swirling around and have a chance to collect themselves in some sort of orderly fashion.

The Semi Good News

Fortunately, each of the instances I am about to share with you has had a positive outcome. I don't know whether it has been due to how each incident was handled, whether the thieves weren't going about it cleverly enough, or if it was because I was just plain lucky.

Hopefully, sharing what happened to me will be of some use to you should you find yourself in a similar situation.


Incident 1: Copyrighted Photo Taken



This photo – originally from this 2014 post and visible in the photo gallery on my website – had been 'borrowed' and was being displayed as the profile picture (!) of a company selling Ayurvedic skin solutions.

I was made aware of it by a reader who sent me a link.

The company had 'set up shop' with a page on Facebook. A google search of their name turned up nothing.

They didn't seem to exist anywhere else on the net.

I left the owner of the company a polite-but-quite-firm message explaining they needed permission to use my material. I drew their attention to the clearly marked copyright and requested they remove my photo.

I also called attention to the theft through a post on my own Facebook page that played up the comedic angle of using another company's copyrighted material to promote yourself and added a graphic that looked something along these lines.


Then I waited.

Within a few hours, the owner of the company replied, apologized, and removed the photo. Subsequently, I removed my Facebook post about the theft.

The tone of their reply led me to believe I was dealing with a very inexperienced entrepreneur who was unaware it is illegal to take and use 'whatever you find on the net' as you see fit.

I almost felt sorry for them.

(keyword: almost)

Tip: If you discover your property being used without your permission on a Facebook page, use the regular Facebook channels to contact the person/company. Put in a report to Facebook as well (they have step-by-step guidelines on what to do).

Any company who only exists on Facebook might very well be young-and-inexperienced or without-funding-and-inexperienced and only need a single cease and desist reminder.

Even if the theft is as blatantly obvious as this one, do your best to be civil. Keep in mind that blundering mistakes can be made by well-meaning people.

Incident 2: Article Plagiarized


In April of this year, this entire article was plagiarized and distributed via a skincare ingredients supplier's newsletter – a mere 3 days after it was published on this blog.

I discovered it when someone posted a link to the plagiarized version in a forum. The title was uncannily close to mine.

Reading through the article, it was clear this thief was fully aware of what they had done. Every reference to LisaLise had either been meticulously removed or the reference rewritten to mention the name of the distributing company.

The photos had been replaced, but about 99% of the content was untouched. Whoever did this was probably banking on me never discovering it.

I looked up the company website. They were across the planet in another time zone. I contacted them via the email on their website.

Then I visited their Facebook page and every other social media account they had and posted the same cease and desist message everywhere.

No answer.

I posted a question in several forums along with a link to the plagiarized version and my original: What is the correct procedure when you discover you have been plagiarized?

I googled the question as well.

Several friends offered suggestions and advice on what to do.
'Take screen shots of everything!'
'Contact them via their Facebook page'
'Send them a link to your original post and tell them to remove theirs'
'Get a lawyer!'

I was already doing most of these things, but it was immensely helpful to get feedback, support and encouragement from so many people.

I continued to post the same text on their Facebook page and via every 'contact us' link I could find.

It seemed like an age, but it was not too terribly long before I received a reply.

Here is the message I bombarded them with and their initial reply (black bits added to cover the company name).


Within an hour or so, the post was removed from their Facebook page, but the damage had been done. Everyone on their mailing list had received the plagiarized version and people had started sharing their latest 'interesting article'.

It wasn't long before the owner of the company contacted me. She was as upset as I was and seemed earnest about getting to the bottom of how this could happen.

As it Turned Out...
The article had been handed in to them by a recently hired freelance writer. As I understood, it was the first article they had received from her.

The next day, I received this email from the freelancer:

Dear Lise,
COMPANY NAME were unaware of my actions until after publishing the article. I take full responsibility for my underhanded tactics and I apologize for using the content of your article without crediting you. The truth is I liked it so much, I didn’t make it my own or alter it enough — I just wanted it to influence my article not steal it — so sorry… 
OWNER NAME has suggested that we send out an email to our subscribers linking it to your blog and the article. 
I truly hope my actions did not cause you too much angst, and although I cannot undo what has been done, this new email can perhaps bring greater awareness to your article, and mitigate the damage. 
Sincerely,
FREELANCE THEIF

The company send out a retraction  to their newsletter subscribers with a link to my original post within a day.

I received several confirmations of this from people who happened to be on their mailing list.

My Thoughts

There seemed to be an earnest effort by the company owner to make things right as soon as they were made aware of the problem.

The freelance thief, on the other hand, astounds me. I am (still) appalled by her obvious lack of ethics in the 'apology' letter she sent:
 "I didn't make it my own or alter it enough." 
(Really? Are you even AWARE of what you are saying?!!!???!!!).

I imagine she is still stealing from others and have a real hard time sending her any forgiving or positive thoughts.

Tip: If you discover you have been plagiarized, it can tempting to assume any and everyone associated with the plagiarized material are guilty. Before deciding exactly who is to blame, try to get as much information as possible.

Also, while enlisting support from friends can be very helpful, do NOT encourage harassment of the guilty party!

A 'cyber-lynch-mob' only makes a bad situation completely intolerable. Despite how gutted and horrified you might feel, it is never a good idea to incite hateful actions.



Incident 3: Entire Blog Copied





Perhaps most shocking incident this year was discovering my blog in its entirety at a different URL under another authors name.

Let me repeat that.

My entire blog.

The thief had taken every photo (clearly marked ©LisaLise) and copied every single post from February 2011 through August 2014.

The thief was using an unusual name so I googled it. I learned that it is the Indonesian word for crackers. (and now you understand the graphic above)

Seemed fitting: Crackers.

Crackers had copied every post down to the page-break and included the 'read more' link. Clicking the 'read more' link on Cracker's page brought the reader to my original blog article.

One wonders what exact intention Crackers had. The copy site had no ads, didn't seem to have any traffic, didn't have a single comment from readers.

There was no way of contacting Crackers - no information on the site, no 'contact me' link.

The google search on the name brought up another 5 blogs by Crackers. Each used the same Blogger template but none had any content. It looked a lot like Crackers was planning to copy a few more blogs.

Since there was no way to contact the author and send a cease and desist, I typed in 'how to report stolen content to Google'.

It brought me to the Google Copyright Removal Page.

There was a lengthy form that needed to be filled out. The various fields in the form had a limit on length, so descriptions needed to be very succinct.

It took me 3 hours to fill out the form. Not because it was mega super long, but because no amount of slow breathing seemed to be helping my swirling thoughts settle. It was difficult to concentrate and I needed to be succinct.

Near the bottom of the form, there were fields for listing URL's of my original content and the URL of the stolen content.

As over 350 posts had been copied, I assumed it was enough to link to one post and then just list the URL.

I signed and sent the form, then tried to forget it.

Thoughts kept swirling:
Google may not get back to me for weeks

Swirl.

It's the internet - everyone does stuff like this and Google can't be bothered with a little blog about making plant-based skincare

Swirl.

Google probably won't do anything

It took over a day to calm down.

In under a week, I got an email from The Google Team. They were removing the ONE post I had sent a link to immediately. They explained they needed links to every offending URL and to every original in order to take any further action.

OK.

The good thing: they got back to me. Breathing returned to normal. Faith restored. There are people out there making things right!

It took me 3 days to put together the list of URL's.

But less than an hour after sending them the list, they got back to me with the news that 'all the content was being removed shortly'.

Bye bye, Crackers.

And thank you, Google Copyright people. Even though you sign every email with an anonymous 'The Google Team', I send each and every one of you a huge cyberhug with my gratitude and appreciation.


Tip: If you discover someone has stolen your entire blog, do not accept it as 'the way of the net'. It is not. Breathe real real deep and then get busy contacting the Google Copyright folks. Take your time. Explain the problem clearly and concisely. Then try your best to breathe while waiting for their reply.


A Final Note to Malicious Thieves

If you steal from others on purpose, then you are malicious and the worst kind of thief because you steal with intent.

You are unethical – a Barbarian.

You will be discovered, exposed, and forever expelled. And, guess what. You will cause this to happen all by yourself.

Do Tell

Have you experienced theft of your intellectual property? Please share what happened and how you handled it in a comment below

Comments

Irene M said…
I’ve had a few issues with this, it’s quite frustrating. I’ve had several instances where people think it’s okay to copy my bath bomb designs and, not only that but they will accept praise for the design as though they came up with it. And, no, we aren’t talking “unicorn horns” or bath bomb mix in a cauldron. These are bath bombs I spent a lot of time designing. I didn’t really handle those. I mean what can you do. When you all someone out for copying a design in the bath bombing groups people tend to turn things around and make out you are being unreasonable or petty. I dare say they have no idea how it feels to come up with something original and have it copied repeatedly. All you get in reply are comments like “we are all copying someone” or “nothing is original now anyway” or even worse, the old “take it as a compliment””. It’s ridiculous.
When you approach the people doing the copying they also react badly and get defensive or angry or flat out deny they copied. I have had friends notice copying in the past and jump in to point it out, which is nice.

I also had one instance where a woman wanted to purchase one of my formulas because she wanted to sell the ingredients to make it, but I had to inform her it wasn’t available at that time. She ended up releasing her own product which turned out to be a prepackaged version of my formula. She started spamming it in the groups and was called out for theft by a few people who recognised my ingredients. She acted innocent, claiming she’d had a chemical company formulate the recipe for her. She then claimed she had them reverse engineer the recipe from my ingredients. Of course I knew this was a steaming pile of lies as the method for the prepacked product she was selling was mine - almost verbatim - down to the timing. A friend of mine ended up contacting the company she supposedly asked to reverse engineer my formula and was informed that they do not reverse engineer anything. If they packed up ingredients for her she has handed them a formula. I told her off by email and she “tweaked” the recipe after a day - basically swapped out a surfactant for a surfactant blend. *rolls eyes*

I have no respect for people who can’t design their own products and people who steal other peoples hard work. No respect at all. Unfortunately it seems to be the norm in these communities.
Lise M Andersen said…
HI Irene, Oh hell you have really gotten the crap end of the stick! It saddens me to hear you have not only experienced theft but then have to experience the unmitigated gall of the thieves acting like it's OK. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it must be to have to witness this kind of behavior.

I do have the impression that the 'bath bomb world' seems to be riddled with this kind of behavior (or maybe it's because people in the bath bomb world are more vocal when it happens?). Regardless, it is absolutely unforgivable and I can hope for the unconscionable people who stole from you are met with a huge dose of karma.

Thanks for sharing.
Anonymous said…
Such a well written account and extremely valuable information shared here. I am so sorry there are such dishonest people out there but for all of them, there are still honest people like yourself who are happy to share their passion with others. I admire your work and dedication and have benefitted from your ebook! Please don't let this deflate your enjoyment of what you do, I guess this reality is just part of the entire process. I am glad things worked out in your favour, you obviously followed correct procedures and it paid off. Thanks for sharing your pain with everyone to bring awareness to online theft and what every original artist/entrepreneur faces regularly when sharing their material electronically.
Lise M Andersen said…
Thank you kindly Anon! I do try and keep the negativity down to a minimum, which is why this post turned out so long.. I wanted to 'write out all the negative stuff' in one post. Your kind comment is truly appreciated.
Che said…
Wow! Lise! I totally relate to this!! And cannot believe how you’ve had so much of your content plagiarised! Completely agree with tigon the audacity/ AMAZEMENT of the freelancers response that she “did not change it enough” - is it not taught anywhere anymore that this is not an acceptable form of “creating content”. Blows my mind! Thank be also had my entire blog plagiarised before funnily enough - back when I was writing a very personal blog - which was EXTREMELY weird as someone else was basically pretending to live my life! I’m really glad that the company resent out a link to your blog after the article went out! Awesome thing for them to do to try make amends. I suppose we just have to look at it as “flattery” and keep in creating great content that is deemed worthy of stealing! ;)
Lise M Andersen said…
Thank you Che. OMG - I cannot even begin to imagine reading someone trying to 'live your personal life' by stealing a personal blog! I know I shouldn't be shocked, but it is shocking to read some of the things people have been through because of callous, heartless thieves! Wishing you the best and thanks so much for sharing!
Mickey said…
Excellent article Lise. I can't imagine going through that. Shocking but not surprising.
Knowing how people feel shielded by anonymity, the same way online bullies do.
Along with how people are self centered and entitled, it just makes it too easy for them
to steal and get away with it.....just a scummy thing to do. Also knowing what Susan
went thru this year, with a scumbag profiting from her work for years!!! Wow.
If there were stiff financial/legal consequences, people wouldn't do it.
Tell me, what steps do you take to prevent this, or protect your work as much as possible,
before publishing? Is there anything you have added or changed as a result of these
unenviable experiences?
Thank you for your articles. I enjoy your clever writing style!
M
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Mickey - Thanks for your comment. I suppose the 'it's on the net so it's free' mantra has a lot to do with how some people think (or don't think). I wish I could tell you how to prevent theft. I think if someone could answer that one, the rest of us would breathe a huge sigh of relief! Thanks again for your kind words and show of support.
Hana said…
Hi Lise!

It must have taken a lot of breathing exercises to write your experience into such a level-headed and informative article! Thank you for that. The Internet is a Wild West of information, and makes it easy to pretend you are the originator of something, however it is great that there are steps you can take and that fighting for your rights is worth it.

We have recently dealt with a case not unlike the freelance writer in your story. Said person regularly posted blogs "inspired" by other people, often changed, sometimes misunderstood. It was a pattern that few people observed, as this crafty author didn't focus on one person in particular. The last drop was when that same person was hired by a company to supply content for their blog - and started reusing other people's material to get paid for. To be precise - when a yet unpublished article (sent by a friend to comment on, as we do with people we trust) was mined for another paid for blog. And some of the blog material was also sold as a book on Amazon.

Since then, the culprit was sent several notices to remove other plagiarized content and the company (after having to remove several more articles because they were also plagiarized) ended the cooperation. The content has been removed, but the writer has taken the stance of "not doing anything wrong". A more subtle copy-catting can still be traced in the works of said person.

None of this has been made public, as nobody wanted to unleash a social media storm. However, I now maintain that such behavior should probably be called out in public, especially if no genuine steps are taken to remove infringed material.

But to end on a higher note - it seems that there is much more awareness in terms of ethics, thanks to the cases and articles like yours. As you said, sometimes people are just not aware that you cannot simply take a picture found on Google and use it in your own materials, but now they will be more and more so. Hopefully...
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Hana - thanks so much for sharing this. The gall and complete lack of ethics of this person you describe is astounding. It saddens me to learn that some people apply so much energy to dishonest behavior of this nature. You'd think with all the time and effort spent on hunting for and stealing from others, they might just as well have written their own material.
I debated for a long time whether or not to write this post, but it kept nagging at me and - as you point out - needed saying. I hope it is help to some. That 'sucker punch' feeling of seeing your work stolen is not something I would wish on others.
nina said…
I have been organizing workshops in cosmetics making, aromaterapy and perfumery for 6 years now and it happens constantly that some of my workshops are copied, as well as my philosophy and approach to natural cosmetics.

But what happened to me about 6 months ago is hard to believe. I have been working on a skin care line which was started by my student, later friend. I am the author of all the fragrances for about 12 products, as well as the author of product names and description. We had no written contract but there are lots of e-mails about our cooperation. One day I received a letter from her that she is the author of all the products and that we were talking about cooperation but it never came to that point.

I thought I will just get over it but I think the law suit is appropriate in this case.

Thanks for your blog!
Nina
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Nina - Thank you for sharing this shocking story. I am at a loss for words. I hope you are able to get with a good lawyer and see justice served here. This is absolutely horrifying - having someone you were working close with turn around in this way. I am sending you my best wishes for a satisfactory outcome to this situation. Absolutely gutted for you!
Ilhem said…
Hey Lise! As I said to you on Instagram, I see more and more cases of thefts on the internet. That is sad. I follow a French blogger who obviously had the same problem and she is now using a copyright protection service. Obviously, they can't prevent your intellectual property from being stolen but there is a little sign on her website that looks very legal and dissuasive. Plus they register your site, your articles and photos and you get a legal assistance. I think that I will be using the same service and I'm putting a link here. It's in French but there are most probably other services like this one in the world. Hope it is useful.

http://www.copyrightfrance.com/phtml/index.php
Lise M Andersen said…
Hello Ilhem - thank you kindly for this link! I will most definitely be looking into some of the options now available. :)
Angie said…
Thank you for going to the effort to share what you learned from the school of hard knocks. Glad you were vindicated in each case, even if the process may have given you many sleepless nights and a few wisdom hairs.

An ex friend used to come to me for advice on how to overcome various painful experiences in her life. I later learned that she had tweaked the free counseling e-mail sessions I sent her so that she could pump out a series of "How to overcome xyz" articles that were published on Mind Body Green. Not once in those articles did she credit my time or any of the thought and care I poured into these emails. I meditated and prayed before writing each email in an attempt to tap into whatever it was that might be helpful to her at the time.

The experience was very painful and confusing. Everyone in my life told me to stop communicating with her because they felt like she didn't care about me, she was only using me. I ended up telling her that I didn't want to stay in touch and explained why. In that case, it wasn't so much about intellectual theft as much as having old wounds of being exploited and betrayed come up. The advice was given from my heart, therefore it was hers to keep. It's just to bad that she did not honor the gift and took my kindness for granted. I chose to let it go rather than embarrass her.

A year or two later, someone gifted me a book called, "How to Steal Like an Artist," because for some reason it was one of her favorite books and she assumed that I would love it too. Seeing this book combined with the experience I had with the former friend turned me off from the idea of posting articles online. I don't want to brag, but if I had a dime for every person who told me I should write a book or a blog, I would be able to do laundry in my own apartment. LOL - Seriously, I just cant stomach how widespread of a problem this is. I'm also afraid thhat if I published something I may make the mistake of accidentally including a thought or phrase which could be mistaken for plagiarism. I do believe that intuition comes into play when many people write, and sometimes the universe gives people who don't know of eachother's work the same ideas. There have been papers written about this with regards to two people in different parts of the world inventing the same things at roughly the same time prior to the invention of telephones, telegraphs, or even snail mail.

Anyway, If she had not been my friend, I would have tried to remedy the situation in a practical way like you did.
Lise M Andersen said…
Thank you Angie for this comment. It is heart wrenching to read someone took advantage of your emotional state to write and publish material without at the very least being up front about it and getting your consent.

If you are holding yourself back from publishing your writing online for fear of being stolen from, you may be depriving not only yourself but a great many others of enjoying your writing.

For all the thieves have experienced over the years I have blogged, there is a veritable ocean of appreciative, positive people who have not only told me what I wrote was of use to them, but have reciprocated with inspiration and support.

Write, my friend - please share your talent and voice with the world! In my experience, the good guys FAR outweigh the bad ones.
Lise M Andersen said…
HI Angie - Excuse my hasty reply. I just realized it is not your emotional state but the 'friend' - please forgive!
Angie said…
Hi Lisa, thanks so much for the kind words of encouragement. I'm really happy to hear that you've felt appreciated and loved by your readers! That is so wonderful!!!! ! :-) No worries on the miscommunication. :-) I think you may have been picking up on the fact that she took advantage of my low self esteem at the time, and she assumed that this would prevent me from speaking up.

I actually felt bad for my own miscommunication. I got a lot of silver hair at a young age from stressful events, and this was why wisdom hair metaphor popped into my mind. However, I didn't mean that in a literal sense, and it wasn't directed against you as any kind of a put down in any way if you do happen to have some wisdom hair. ❤️ After I uploaded the comment, I was worried that you thought I was being literal or somehow implying that there was something wrong with white hair, but this was definitely not the case. I love the way wisdom hair looks and love when women are confident enough to rock that look! Have a great day or evening Lisa! 🙂
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Angie - I’m absolutely cool with wisdom hairs! I sport mine proudly 😀