Dear Online Business Owners

I’m writing this because you’re a part of our shared online business owner community, and something has recently come to my attention that I think is really important to address.

It’s about plagiarism and respecting each other’s intellectual property.

I want to start with a story about my own experiences with copycatting and “borrowing” from other people.

When I was first starting out online, I read a lot of blogs. I also wrote a lot of blog posts, and many times my ideas were inspired by other bloggers in my field.

One day I decided to put together an opt-in PDF, and I used an idea I had learned from another blogger in my PDF. I didn’t think twice because I thought it was a great analogy, and it didn’t “belong to anyone”.

I was wrong.

The author of that blog was the first person to come up with that particular analogy, and it was distinct enough that her readers recognized it and let her know about my PDF.

She emailed me with a very stern email telling me to remove the plagiarized content, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I complied quickly. That PDF was off my site within minutes after receiving her email.

My face was red, and I was embarrassed. I felt bad.

It took me awhile to recover from that experience, but I learned a really important lesson that I’ve taken with me ever since and that has served my business well.

I learned that plagiarism is more than just copy & pasting someone else’s words… In school we might learn that if you can compare two documents and there are enough differences in words and sentence structures then it doesn’t count as plagiarism.

But I think it goes deeper than that.

Obviously if you’re outright copy & pasting content or grabbing images from someone else’s website – that is plain old stealing.

The next level is taking ideas and passing them off as your own, without giving credit where credit is due.

At Off The Charts Live, I shared charts and ideas from several authors and smart business owners I admire… and Elizabeth DiAlto mentioned to me that she really appreciated that I gave credit in my presentations.

She said that she had seen other teachers in our space use the same tables without sharing where they had gotten them from.

That’s taking credit for someone else’s ideas and hard work, and that’s not acceptable in my book.

Not just because I’ve been on the other end of copycats stealing my intellectual property… (Not fun!)

But because creating something original yourself is actually BETTER for your business.

No two businesses are exactly alike, and creating unique content, marketing materials, and programs is the BEST way to stand out in a noisy industry… not to mention that it will help your ideal people the most. (We’re not meant to be everything to everyone.)

So this is me telling you: don’t steal.

Be conscious about the actions you’re taking in your business.

There are repercussions, and people do notice when you’re not in integrity.

Dig deep, and come up with your own original intellectual property, and watch how your business will flourish.

I believe in you.

You don’t need to go through the embarrassing copycat blunders I’ve been through.

Save yourself the hassle and put the blinders on when you sit down to create your own materials.

Thank you so much for reading, and let’s keep our communities honest and full of creative fire.

P.S. For more on how to deal with copycats, I’ve got a mini-video training here.

31 Comments

  1. Malene Jorgensen on September 16, 2015 at 10:39 am

    It’s crazy to think that people would downright steal ideas, concepts and strategies and pass them off as their own. I think your example is rather innocent; you didn’t realize that you’d made that mistake and quickly reacted when you were notified. But it’s shocking to think that someone would downright steal content and pass it off as their own. In my SEO course, I created a “Pizza Pie” example and I do say “I created this for you” to let people know that I actually created this chart to help them out.

    But when I learn something from you – let’s say at OTC – or from Marie via B-School, I’ll gladly say; “Oh Nathalie Lussier taught me this cool thing and I definitely think you should try it out.”



  2. Pamela Grow on September 16, 2015 at 10:41 am

    I want to thank you and commend you, Nathalie, for putting this out there. I’ve been the victim of this more times than I care to count. And it’s particularly hurtful because I am so quick to give credit to others. Most ideas in my niche market of nonprofit fundraising have been around for years, so when I contribute something original, only to see it swiped with no attribution, well I am not happy. I had a nearly identical experience to you a few years back http://www.pamelagrow.com/845/be-a-first-rate-version-of-yourself/ In the words of Nelson Mandela: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”



  3. rowan on September 16, 2015 at 10:42 am

    Im down for the training as I think I’ve got an idea so good that ist gonna get ripped off.

    Right on time as usual Nathalie! xo Rowan



  4. Jenna - The Find Your Purpose Coach on September 16, 2015 at 10:57 am

    Nathalie

    What a great post. I created an ebook to help women find their purpose, expanding on an idea I read in a Barbar Sher book from the 1980s.

    Although the concept of “daydreaming” and asking yourself, What do I want? isn’t original, I gave Ms. Sher credit in my book because I felt that the dream scenario I was explaining was basically her approach, simple as it was. The approach was effective for me and it’s effective for those who feel they have a purpose in life but don’t know what that is.

    However I’m the one who turned it into a model, created a grid to make it easier for my readers, and of course it’s my words and experience that I’m writing about.

    Thank you for bringing this topic up!



  5. Joni on September 16, 2015 at 10:58 am

    YES!! Thank you Nathalie.

    I find that when I’m NOT coming up with my own stuff, it’s so much harder! But when I’m creating my own new ideas, it feels divinely guided – almost effortless.

    I’m learning to listen in rather than listening out – and that’s hard at first, when your confidence in your own creating is low.

    And a definite yes to crediting sources – I HATE when people don’t do that, and my respect for them takes a nose-dive when I hear them quote something without crediting the source. I stop listening to them because I no longer believe them.



  6. Alisa on September 16, 2015 at 11:22 am

    Dear Nathalie,
    I can not thank you enough for your email.
    I have enormous respect for you, and other business owners with similar missions for example the “Rockin” Marie Forleo who is the reason I now know of your great work and am part of your community.
    You used a phrase “in integrity” and to me it is synchronistic that you used that phrase because that is the exact phrase I always use when describing you and your work to my fellow small business entrepreneurs.
    The work that both you and Marie put out into the world comes from a place of GREAT integrity. You always inform, challenge, enlighten and create positive momentum for those of use following you. You are, to paraphrase Marie, helping me to “create a business and life that I love.”
    Thank you!



  7. Angela on September 16, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I don’t truly understand all of this. I enjoy giving credit, but it’s because I like to thank those who have inspired me. In all honesty, I did not begin creating with the intention to make money from it. Some actually don’t believe that my creating is a job. Which would be why only I created my fundme page to start my business off right. http://www.gofundme.com/8r6p6p6taw
    On another note, I know that not everyone is like me; I have had this happen to me many times. It only proves how sad and really idiotic those who copy are. Although it does have an emotional effect on me as well, and those who do that type of thing knowingly should be ashamed. I’ve had ideas stolen from me that people have made books, etc. from. I don’t even have enough money for food every month, and here people are making books, etc. off of my ideas. That only proves the size of their heart though; I will not let it destroy mine. I don’t think that everyone who stole meant it as a way to hurt me. Still, that’s exactly what it did, and maybe I tell myself that to ease the pain. I just grin, hold up a peace sign, and ignore it. All that you can do in this business is protect yourself to the best of your ability. Anything else, will just be putting a stop to the creative process, and letting those who wish for you to give up on art win.
    Each case, should be looked at individually though, as nobody knows and truly understands anothers situation. There may be reasons for some idiotic behavior, and if so that should be taken into account. I know that NOT blaming others for their mistakes, etc. can be hard. Why let other drag you into their war though? I drag people into my peace instead.
    *HUGS*
    Angela Taylor



  8. Jessica on September 16, 2015 at 11:59 am

    As a former high school teacher I’ve seen my share of plagiarized work and given the lesson on sourcing many times. Now, as a business plan writer, I am sometimes asked to lower my price if I’ve already done a plan for a similar business because I can “reuse some of the same material”.

    Um, no. I don’t even copy from myself!

    I’ve reviewed countless business plans written by others that contain no sourcing of information whatsoever. Plagiarism is absolutely rampant in the type of work I do, and it drives me crazy. Source and credit everything! If you’re not sure, add a source. Always, always err on the side of caution and acknowledge the hard work other people have done to allow you to deliver the value you offer now. It’s so important.

    Thank you for this, Nathalie!



  9. Jo Gifford (Dexterous Diva) on September 16, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks so much for this post, Nathalie, it’s great to get this stuff out in the open. I have had my copy stolen, ideas and whole products taken, luckily it was easily sorted. Original thought is golden and should be respected.
    However, I also see a lot of biz owners claiming to own the rights to entire concepts, which is taking it to the other extreme.
    Great post, I will be sharing with my community. Jo x



  10. Taylor on September 16, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    As a fairly new entrepreneur, I’m glad that I read this. Not that I would ever intentionally steal someone’s work without credit. But because I’ve been pouring over blogs, articles, newsletters, challenges, you name it – for MONTHS for inspiration and guidance. Now that I’m really getting everything off the ground, I’m trying to make sure that I’m really speaking in my own voice and not trying to BE anyone else. It can be confusing in the beginning but I’m trying to tweak as I go. Thank you for the wonderful reminder that being MYSELF is the best thing I could do!



  11. Kelly Garrett on September 16, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    I was JUST talking about this with a client today. Definitely sending this off to them. Thanks for touching this touchy subject.



  12. Joe on September 16, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Natalie – this is a great piece. The thought of plagiarism is something I think about a lot. As a musician I hear it all the time in music. During the classical period it was consider flattering to use another composer’s motif in a new piece of music – but of course once the 80’s hit and Vanilla Ice came on the scene everything changed. I sniffed out the Sam Smith’s STAY WITH ME similarity to Tom Petty’s WON’T BACK DOWN ASAP – but I think it was truly a coincidence. Not premeditated at all. The is where I find myself at times.

    I would love to share an example. This may sound crazy – but this happened only a couple of weeks ago. I was recently reading a book (made of actual paper) in the personal growth Space. The coincidences kept coming one after another. The example being used were right out of my life. Right down to the name of the one of the people being used as an example. In this case “Jody” and it was a guy. A nickname I was horrified to grow up with, but have come to accept. I rarely come across other Dude-Jodys.

    So here has been MY personal dilemma. I find myself not getting involved with groups and forums – because I am afraid of appearing to plagiarize. The person who wrote this book does not know me. They did not steal my identity. But my goodness the similarities. The struggles, the solutions, etc. were just eerily similar to my own experiences. It was if I had written it.

    However, if I WAS to write about anything that was in the book on my own blog I would feel like I was stealing, even though I know I lived the stories being told. I understand that you are speaking about direct and intentionally using someones work without credit. There is clearly a difference. What I am offering here is not an excuse for taking anyones work – but is more of a dilemma on how to be involved in communities that have similar offerings while maintaining integrity.

    I think Sam Smith and Tom Petty handled their situation with class, as did you, in your examples. I would love to hear what you and others think about how to be involved in groups that share a common message withe their audiences in a way that maintains ethics.

    Thank you for all you do!



  13. Sigrun on September 16, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    As someone who just went through this experience last week – that somebody stole my entire Work with Me page and put on their home page as their own, I really appreciate you bringing up this topic. Stealing is stealing and copying word for word is a crime and nobody should doubt that for a second.

    Being inspired and creating material based on that inspiration is trickier. I’ve had people come to my weekly webinars and shortly after they are teaching that same topic and not mentioning where they learned about it in the first place. Sometimes it feels like copying and sometimes not because these topics are taught by so many people and everybody has to learn it somewhere.

    On the other hand if I create something unique from scratch, then yes, that is something I would want a credit for if somebody else uses it. At the same time we should remember to give credit where credit is due.

    Again thank you for writing about this, last week I felt there were too many who didn’t want me to talk about the subject, like they were feeling sorry for the copycat….



  14. Gillian Lewis on September 16, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    I experienced this with somebody I had met networking and considered to be a friend. They lifted the text I had written for my discovery sessions, changed and added a few words so it wasn’t a downright copy and paste, and put it out as the invitation to a course they were selling.

    What was so upsetting about it was that I would have helped them to write that copy if they had asked.



  15. Alison Miller on September 16, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    I love this essay. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience, and insights, with us.

    The line of integrity is not always crystal clear when you’re alone in your writer’s garret. This brings the issues into high relief and helps all of us to be especially careful with the work of our colleagues.



  16. Lara on September 16, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Nathalie

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. Only yesterday I discovered that someone working in the same space as me has taken the content from a free e-course I offer and turned it into an e-Book “gift” for her newly revamped website. She has also used another concept I share on my site as her other opt-In.

    Last night when I came across this I was in shock, then felt hurt that another member of the well know. on line business school I am in would act in this way.

    Your training has helped and inspired me to take action.

    Thank you



  17. Christi Daniels on September 16, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Thank you, Nathalie, for such a graceful response and for channeling the focus into an inspired and creative approach. I appreciate the kind of leader and teacher you are and feel so lucky to be part of your community.



  18. Holly on September 16, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    It’s pretty common for folks to say, “I would never do that!” Yet, it’s much easier than you think to use someone’s work inappropriately. Never presume you are above this mistake–always double and triple check your work and cite your sources. Plus, it aids your own credibility when you give credit where it’s due, and you present yourself as well read and studious.



  19. Lynan on September 16, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for the great reminder. We are all unique, and we cannot be everything to everyone. I love your quote, “When you steal other people’s work, you steal from yourself.” The world needs your unique opinions and creations. I think that allowing yourself to take a risk and let your true self shine through your business, rather than relying on old methods done before, is a key way to make your business successful. There is nothing wrong with getting inspiration from others, but I agree that we must make sure we take each piece of inspiration to heart and share our unique stance.

    Thanks for this great reminder, and for sharing your personal story. :-)



  20. Cathy on September 16, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for this, Nathalie. You’ve confirmed the little voice in my head whispering that I should say exactly where I found one of the ideas I share. I may have tweaked it, but she’s the one who started it.



  21. Patricia on September 17, 2015 at 2:47 am

    I blog and I write, so I can definitely relate. Coming up with original content isn’t easy, which is why I try to protect my work as much as possible. I digitally copyright all my blogs via this free software service called Digiprove. I also label all my photos via the renaming tool FastStone Photo Resizer.

    Whenever I borrow a photo or use a quote, on the other hand, I make sure to give credit where credit is due. I also link back to the source if the link is readily available. I make it clear to my readers that that particular snippet of information is from another professional, blogger, etc. Should the owners of the photo/s I use have any problems about my using their photo/s, I of course will have no problem immediately removing them from my posts.

    Thanks for this post!



  22. Mallie Rydzik on September 21, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    Coming from an academic background (not just “I went to school,” but “I’m a peer-reviewed scientist”), I have had a really difficult time figuring out how so many people in this online business space know nothing about properly crediting people. So crazy!



  23. Dr. Kelly Edmonds on September 23, 2015 at 11:51 am

    This stuff makes me shiver… Whenever I create something new I think about how I can protect it. I design e-courses and have quite a bit of education and experience around it. Every now and then, I see some of my ideas float by.

    But I recall Nathalie’s older post on copycats and her best advice was keep creating unique stuff, like we can, and stay ahead of the copycatters. Actually, that makes it all more fun.

    Also, I’m taking a course on protecting my content legally such as submitting copyright and trademark applications.

    It’s tiresome work but worth it.



  24. Amy on September 25, 2015 at 7:48 am

    Literally last night I stumbled upon a coach who was stealing ideas from another coach I follow. It’s ridiculous! Thanks for writing this!!



  25. Thedore Nwangene on September 27, 2015 at 7:48 am

    I couldn’t have agreed more to this Nathalie,
    There are so many forms of Plagiarism and its not necessarily only when you copy and paste another persons work, copying ideas without proper attribution is also the same thing and i love the way you addressed this here.

    Thanks for sharing.



  26. Honey on October 15, 2015 at 8:31 am

    My degree is in Journalism. Not citing a source would be the quickest way to have your butt walked out the door…yet bloggers think it’s ok. Until all bloggers understand that we ARE media and act like the respectable position ito is we’re not going to be treated with the respect due us from brands. (Nor will we be paid asearch a professional.)

    Writing a book, post or article that copies, plagiarizes or fails/forgets to cite another is never acceptable.

    ~Honey

    Btw…GREAT post. :)



  27. Veronica Bower on November 3, 2015 at 10:39 am

    Hi!
    I found you intriguing and interesting as I was reading the “copycat” segment. I couldn’t agree with you more! I am the only paint and color consultant in Palm Beach County, FL. and I am somewhat intimidating to “others” that try to get the right colors for their clients, but with a struggle. My experience comes from owning a paint retail store and having to learn to roll up my sleeves and get dirty with colorants and paint, but learning the right way the effect of color and paint for over 16 years. Often times though, I am finding “copycat” ideas and tips are mentioned and I hold these as trade secrets for my clients and to teach them the right way to look at color. I have paid my dues and not by learning in a classroom. I appreciate respect of which I will give them, if it is also given to me in return.



  28. JANE HERRON on February 24, 2016 at 11:49 am

    To all of the Trainers & Consultants in the group, I have been a member of National Speakers Association for 30 years and am irritated when people pull out their smart phones and start snapping away at my presentation without ASKING first.

    Where did this naughty habit begin of taking a cookie without asking–may I have one please?

    The do not consider that YOU have put in hours on that presentation and they want a copy for NOTHING?

    OR maybe at the end of the presentation, someone comes up to ask you for ALL of your COOKIES — would you mind sending me all of your Power Point Presentation?

    really??

    I am in a group of Power Women in National Speakers Association, and one speaker gave this responding advice to that request . . .

    “If you like my presentation, I’m flattered. Really I am!!

    But my PowerPoint slides are props for my speech and part of my show (my branding).

    I’m just curious, would you go up to a juggler and ask,

    ‘Neat act . . . Now may I have your balls?’



  29. […] making it a practice to include any and all of the sources you’ve used in your presentation is a great way to improve the trust-relationship with your audience…and keep you headed in […]