While a pessimist would say, “Nothing is original.” an optimist would say, “We're all inspired by each other.”
In the creative industry, there are times when someone's “inspiration” is a pain in the ass. They may create a similar blog, or start a similar event and target your readers. Some might even take your photos and republish them claiming ownership, or even scrape your content completely from your blog. So where do you draw the line? And what can you do about it?
While the obvious advice would be to tell other people to stop copying you, get lawyers involved, and to start a crusade. Our ideas are precious right? Well, the reality is you have to have a bullet proof case before pointing fingers and shaking heads. If it's merely a misunderstanding, then maybe it's something that can be fixed easily by a friendly email. However if it's more sinister and damaging, then action needs to be taken.
Determine if it's just competition
It's natural to ruffle your feathers when seeing someone starting to do something you've been doing for a while, or maybe your instinct is to be welcoming. If you're in a small niche, growth can be a positive sign for both you and your new competition. Small niches can benefit by traffic sharing and working together to build stronger communities. If you were the first, great! But that doesn't mean you will be the only forever… take it as a sign of doing things right.
People deal with competition in different ways, but there are benefits to competition, one of the biggest being innovation. Having someone out there to compete with only makes you work harder to be better, this can create a win-win situation with your readers and the satisfaction you find with your work. Try to make friends with this new competition, you might find a new partner in crime.
Determine if it is the sign of the times
Have you ever noticed content comes in waves? These waves might center around news events, the Cathy Horyn open letter saga, or the Instagram/Twitter fight. Or how everyone started talking about Grumpy Cat at the same time. They might also be more subtle, and centered around a trend of unknown origin. The truth is, inspiration comes from a lot of places, and if you see another blogger that might be on the same wave length as you, it might be frustrating or flattering… but before jumping the gun, perhaps think about how ideas get into our heads, maybe we all take inspiration from a multitude of places too. It's give and take in the internet world.
Determine if it's plagiarism or copyright infringement
Plagiarism isn't just copy and pasting, it's when the author presenting ideas as his/her own when they are not. While plaigarism's not necessarily illegal, it is unethical to do this. And it's certainly illegal to infringe on someone's copyright. It's also blurry because in order to prove you had the original idea you, it must be a unique idea. Say if you wrote about black pumps on Monday, and someone else wrote about black pumps on Tuesday… that's just a trend. But if you wrote about how black pumps enabled women to break the glass ceiling and provided data to prove it on Monday, and then someone else wrote the same thing on Tuesday you might have a problem.
Ug, Content Scrapers
Content Scrapers take content off other sites for their SEO or spamming value. Battling them is about as fun as battling spam. It really depends on how much you want to protect your content from these scrapers. Most people put watermarks in their images and sign off each post with an “Originally posted on orignalblog.com” but you can go deeper by contacting the registrar through the WHOIS database, but more often than not you'll have to resort to more elaborate tactics to get scraper sites taken down. Luckily there are tools like ScrapeShield and the DCMA protection plugin to help identify when your content has been copied. ScrapeShield also has tools that disable the right click copy and paste and image save from your blog.
When to take action against copycats
There will come a time or a place when you do have to take action. First of all, before you take any action at all, ask yourself if the copying is important enough to you to see it to the end. Is the copying costing you money? Is it hurting your business? Is it damaging your reputation? Once my father (who is an attorney) said to me, “How much money is this problem worth to you?” because all courts can do is tell people to stop behaving badly, and fine them money. If you have to take legal action, that will cost money, if you have to get a site taken down, unless you are willing to put hours of work into finding out how to do it, will cost you money to have taken down by someone else. If the cost of taking action is greater than what the work is worth, then you have to decide if it's a worthy investment.
If you decide to take action, and you have an attorney, speak with them before doing anything. It may benefit to talk with them about your concerns, and before you approach someone about stealing content or ideas, make sure you have legal grounds for your suspicions.
First send a friendly note to let the other party about your concerns with the copied content. Do not accuse them of doing anything wrong. Just stick to the facts. See if there is a way to solve the problem. If they do not cooperate, then speak to your attorney about further steps.
There are services that take down content the DMCA has a service you can subscribe to, or if it's particularly bad, they can do it for about $199.
Either way, copying can be annoying but try to not let it get in the way of creating new and amazing things!