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Plagiarism is a common problem on the internet. How many times have you researched something only to find that multiple sites have nearly identical information?
As a professional copywriter, the problem of plagiarism is a bit more personal. It’s one thing to see websites with similar content. It’s quite another to know that you labored over the creation of a web page, carefully considering every word, only to find someone has appropriated your expertly written copy for their unexpertly written website. Even worse if they’re a competitor!
That’s exactly what happened to me. And while I’ve been known to let some plagiarism abuses of my copy go because they’re relatively minor or because they’re not worth the fight, I couldn’t look the other way when I found a competitor’s website that contained OVER 40 PAGES OF MY STOLEN CONTENT, WITH MORE BEING ADDED DAILY!
I routinely check how various pages of my website rank on Google. It helps me to know what SEO techniques are working and what pages might need to be improved.
On one such casual check, I noticed in the search results a website that ranked just beneath mine that had almost the exact same page title and description, save for a word or two. Hmm, that’s odd, I thought.
I clicked through to the page and found an article that sounded extremely familiar. When I compared it with my blog post on the same subject, I found it to be almost identical except that certain words were synonyms for some of my words.
For example, where I’d written, “Compose clear, succinct sentences,” the other author had written, “Write, clear, concise sentences.” Every headline, subhead and paragraph of this author’s copy was taken from my write-up, not to mention every idea and bit of research. A few word substitutions here and there did not original copy make!
Feeling my blood pressure rise, I started to click around this other author’s site and realized she too was a professional copywriter, although her definition of what was “professional” was clearly different from my definition. I discovered not one, not two, and not three pages of my copy stolen, but over 40!
Even the captions on her photos were taken from my captions, and the photos were pictorial synonyms as well. If I had a picture of a woman carrying briefcase, she had a picture of a woman carrying a briefcase, albeit a different woman.
Clearly this person believed one of two things:
Wrong. And wrong!
It was a surreal feeling to see web pages that were so familiar yet slightly different. I was reminded of the time when I’d sold my first house and then 10 years later had an opportunity to return for a visit to that house.
The home’s layout and features were so familiar but instead of my couch and coffee table in the living room, there was a different couch and coffee table. On the walls, still painted the colors I’d painted them, were pictures of someone else’s family. It was the weirdest feeling.
In the case of the plagiarized website, that weird, surreal feeling soon turned to anger as I clicked through more and more pages that had been stolen from me. Perhaps most upsetting was I could see where the writer had left off in copying my site and likely would return to continue adding pages just as soon as she had the time to copy, paste and come up with a few more synonyms.
It was only a matter of time until she’d have created what was essentially a mirror-image of my site, a site which I’d spent years writing, continually adding to and refining its content. And just as I’d done, she planned to build her copywriting business off the back of this site.
To make matters worse, I saw that the writer was based in Greece, even though many of her clients were from the U.S. It was unlikely I could go after her legally, something I would have done had she been operating in the U.S.
I decided though I had to at least let her know I was on to her ways and perhaps appeal to her sense of professionalism. From the contact page on her website, I wrote the copywriter, who I’ll call Emily, the following email:
I stumbled across your website today. Lo and behold, it’s just like my website!
You’ve clearly copied my ideas for 40+ web pages, following my exact style, subheads, organization and content. I realize you sprinkled slightly different words in the body copy, but there can be no doubt you used my pages as your guide.
Looking at your FAQs, you’ve clearly stolen many of my ideas there as well.
Heck, you’ve even stolen my tagline “Copy that tells, compels and sells.” I’m sure there are other parts of my website you’ve stolen as well that I just haven’t found yet. But I’ve seen enough to know that you’re a plagiarist.
I wonder how many times you wrote a page of copy for your site with one of my pages open to guide you.
How often do you visit my site to see if I’ve added anything new that you should copy. Monthly? Weekly? Daily?
I can’t sufficiently express how furious I am. Tell me, do you think it’s ethical to steal a competitor’s ideas? Is that what a professional does? Aren’t you embarrassed that you copy others instead of coming up with original thoughts?
How would you feel if you were in my shoes? You spend years writing 100% original copy. You build a unique website that dominates the search engines. And then some lazy competitor with no moral compass steals all your creative ideas, copies your style, and presents that information as her own. Wouldn’t that infuriate you?
I’d love to go on Fiverr and similar sites where I see you sell your copywriting services and leave reviews that tell prospective customers what you’ve done.
I’d like to let the world know how unoriginal, unprofessional and unethical you are, but I never want to be responsible for having damaged another person’s livelihood, even if it’s justified.———-
Having said that, you might want to take a look inside yourself and figure out if you’re comfortable with your actions. Yes, you can justify your behavior to friends and to yourself by saying, “I didn’t use her exact words for each of the pages I copied,” but you and I both know all of the ideas for your copy came from me/my website and that stealing ideas IS a form plagiarism.
Ask yourself, does it feel right to steal from someone else? I know if it were me, I would hate myself for doing what you’ve done. And I’d be ashamed to have been caught by the person I victimized.
I am asking you right now, today, to please end this. Of course, I have no way to police you, but I am appealing to you as a fellow copywriter, a fellow freelancer and a fellow professional, to stop visiting my website and plagiarizing my ideas and content.
Thank you for getting in touch – I’ve put my website into maintenance mode for now while I investigate this so this situation stops now.
I actually outsourced much of this and haven’t been paying attention, so I am horrified by these accusations as I am concerned. I take it that you own https://www.susangreenecopywriter.com/?
I will need some time to go through this to check/compare the articles manually, as while I had been checking for plagiarism using CopyScape, the writer was doing a great job that wasn’t showing anything.
Despite that, I do accept that any responsibility for plagiarism is entirely mine, as I am the one who should have been on top of this – I understand your upset completely.
I don’t really know what else to say at this juncture – I will get back to you later in the week when I’ve had some more time to go through this all and speak with my writer.
It’s a very regrettable situation, and again, I can only apologize and get this mess fixed as soon as possible. The site will remain offline in the meantime.
It’s nice to meet you. I very much appreciate your taking the time to respond to my query and to offer an explanation regarding your website.
Yes, my website is www.susangreenecopywriter.com. I hadn’t bothered to provide the URL because I figured you had to know my site if you’d copied it.
Honestly, when I looked at your website and your body of work, I was confused as to why you’d suddenly decided to copy so much material from my site. It’s obvious you’re talented and abundantly capable. So your explanation about outsourcing the copy does make sense.
The reason your writer’s copy passed through Copyscape is that she’s skilled enough to change up words here and there, even if all of the ideas are stolen. In the attached document, you’ll find plenty of examples of my web pages and your same web pages so you can see how similar they are.
I’m hoping after you review this document, you can understand why I was so upset when I found your website.
I know you are in the process of investigating the situation with your writer. Again, thank you for taking my plagiarism complaint seriously. I would welcome your response after you speak with your copywriter. I’d love to know how she explains herself if you care to share.
Hi again Susan,
I’ve just republished the website, and you should see that the issues have all been fixed (you may need to open another browser or refresh your cache if not). If you do have any further concerns, please do let me know, and I’ll deal with them.
As for my writer, the evidence is/was damning, so there was very little argument. She did say that she thought it was okay if it didn’t come up in Copyscape and other plagiarism programs.
She did, however, accept responsibility for taking ideas, as well as entire website sections and presenting them as her own. In fact, those very ideas were the reason I initially gave her the job, as I was impressed with how she came up with such a fluent SEO and keywording plan.
And from then on I was pleased with the quality and reliability of the work, not to mention the speedy turnarounds. Of course, it’s easy to crank out copy fast when you’re really just copying, pasting and substituting some synonyms.
I told her this was not a good approach for a professional writer to take, as well as being dishonest to me when hired for original work.
I let her go and told her that what she had been doing was never going to be a viable long-term strategy for her business, and that she needed to learn to rely on her own words and ideas if she wanted to grow and develop as a successful writer in her own right. Whether she’ll take that to heart I don’t know, but hopefully she will.
Overall, I think this is just a bad situation with no real winners – you’ve had the unpleasant experience of being plagiarized, I’ve had the unpleasant experience of losing a trusted writer and now have to re-evaluate my hiring processes, and she’s had an unpleasant experience of losing what was a steady job and references from me. At least, that’s how I feel now the dust has settled somewhat.
So, as I said, please do feel free to contact me if you have any further concerns and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
I can’t thank you enough for following through on my plagiarism complaint. You handled the situation with diplomacy and grace. And I appreciate your letting me know about your conversation with the writer. I had been wondering how she would explain her actions.
You have a great website. And you clearly have numerous completed projects and satisfied customers. You’re a true professional in every sense of the word. I wish you continued success. And thank you, once again, for being so honorable in resolving this situation.
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