Note: This podcast is produced for the ear and designed to be listened to, not read. I’d love for you to listen to the full audio. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. And as always — any information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute official legal advice.
This is law and wit, episode 11, what to do when people copy your stuff. Welcome to La and wit, creative counsel for entrepreneurs. I’m your host, Brittany, Ratelle, mother of four entrepreneur, naptime, lawyer and attorney for creative entrepreneurs. I’m here to share inspiration and action so that you can tackle your business blocks and confidently own your business in every sense of the word. Thank you so much for being here. Hello guys, and welcome back. I’m so excited that you’re here and here for this super important topic. Honestly, it’s something that I get asked about the most — and it’s what to do when people copy your stuff. I was thinking about what to title this — I also thought of what to do when people steal your stuff or rip off your stuff. And those are all kind of interchangeable. But I just want to preface by saying, when we’re talking about copy your stuff today, I think it’s also really important to get into a little bit of the mindset on what it means to be creative, to make things and actually come up with something original.
B.Ratelle: 01:03 And what’s maybe your original and what’s a little bit of the myth of originality, , because I think that’s helpful as we talk about this and what real world actions and tools and tips and mindset that you can get into that you’re in a better place to make your art and make your business successful and move forward. , and also what the limitations are because we need to be real here. So, , that’s a, you know, kind of a broad overview of what we’ll be talking about today. , I do want to throw my little disclaimer in there while I’m, I, Brittany, am a licensed attorney here in Utah where I live in practice, I’m not your attorney unless you want me to be, in which case, please hop on over to my website, Brittanyratelle.com/services and sign up for a little 20 minute free chat with me. We can do a consultation by phone or skype and we can talk about your business, maybe what some of your problems are, what’s something that’s keeping you up at night? Maybe some myths that you heard on in a facebook group or, , some advice you got from a well-meaning friend or uncle or someone else who’s an attorney and you’re wanting to know, is that legit? Is this something you need to be worried about your business and how can we, how can you work with someone who can maybe help you solve this problem so you can move forward? So anyway, that’s how you, if you want to work with me, those are, that’s the best way to work with me is a sign up for a consultation or you can always email me also. , I’m at hello @ BrittanyRatelle.com. OK, so with that out of the way, let’s get going.
B.Ratelle: 02:25 So what to do when people copy your stuff. The first thing I want to talk about here is that, , I want to be mindful that I’m the first time it happens when someone copies your stuff. And likely we’ve all remember this down from our earlier, earliest days. You know, in grade school when people copy your step, someone copies your homework or copies of joke that you did or something else about you. , it can. The most primal need and reaction is probably anger. You know, we get angry, we get hurt, we take it personally, especially if someone’s doing it. If you think maliciously, , in a way that’s giving credit, that’s not recognizing your creativity or expertise, you know, the beautiful things that you came up with your and your head and then you expressed in some way. , so I think a lot of this goes back to our roots and creativity and especially if you make your money as a creative and you define yourself as a creative that’s part of your identity and who you are.
B.Ratelle: 03:19 I completely understand that. When you, when someone steals your stuff, when someone rips you off, , you can really feel hurt and that can be a real pain that you feel like, , is valid and you know, deserves to be vindicated and have justice and have your day in court and all the rest of the things. So I don’t want to brush aside those feelings because I totally understand that, but I also want to talk a little bit about the realities of creative work and especially the digital age in which we live in, where work creative work can be shared so easily. And we have, , so, you know, we’d have this huge giant database at our fingertips in terms of music and photography and graphic design and , you know, all different mediums and the spoken word and the written word and visual and so much of it that, , I think it’s a little bit.
B.Ratelle: 04:10 We haven’t really quite caught up with the reality in terms of how original your work might be. , and that much of what we consider as original might not actually be, especially in terms of a legal definition. That doesn’t mean that discounted in any way that it doesn’t have your special secret sauce on it. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be making money from it or monetizing. , but in terms of what you should put your energy into going after or in terms of. I’m looking for repercussions in terms of someone copies your work, , that there may be some limitations on that. So I just want at least a preface that, and put that little bug in your ear. I recently read a book that I highly recommend if you are a creative, and you’re working as a creative and it’s called steal like an artist and it’s a really quick read and pretty much the whole thing is highlighted, it’s just one of those books.
B.Ratelle: 04:58 So I think I got it on my kindle, but I think I’m gonna have to buy it because it’s just my notepad of, you know, my online, one of my phone that has all the stuff I copied from it. It’s just overflowing. But there’s a couple of great quotes in there that I wanted to share. , and one is from David Bowie, rest in peace, David. And so we’ll, we’ll quote him and he says, the only art I’ll ever study is the stuff that I can steal from. , and I think that’s such an interesting idea, you know, and we’re talking here stealing like an artist in the aspect of you don’t take someone’s work, you don’t take someone’s photograph online, do a screenshot and put it up on your website. Like it’s your work. That’s not what we’re talking about here. , what we’re, what we’re really talking about is the, I’m being inspired and studying and using the influences of other people to try to influence your work.
B.Ratelle: 05:51 And I think we can all agree that that’s part of being a creative is, you know, being exposed to different mediums and art and ideas and philosophy and architecture and color and light and all of that. I think that’s what I’m, you know, in this book he talked about a lot, is recognizing those influences, celebrating those, making sure that you’re exposing yourself to it, but then when it comes down to actual workflow that you be careful about, , how you’re using those influences, meaning, , and a lot of the tips that I thought were, were really helpful, especially in the creative realm where when it comes down for you to do your own art and your own work, , you know, maybe step away even from having a digital space. So, you know, browse and do all this stuff online, have an inspiration folder. But when it comes time to sit down and illustrate something, maybe just have pen and paper and be outside, you know, step away from your desk when it comes down to write something. , you know, certainly research and think about things and talk it over and whatever your process might look like. But when it comes to write your blog post, make sure that it’s a blank word document or even better, do it on pen and paper. And then type it up afterwards, and I think there’s something to be said for looking for those analog ways of connecting to our work that can really protect its integrity and making sure that we’re being authentic and we’re using all of our census and not relying too much on copy and pasting other work where we get in trouble even, , the, if we’re, if we’re not trying to be malicious and copy other people’s work.
B.Ratelle: 07:20 So, those are some of the tips that I got from the other quote from the book that I really love is that I’m from T.S. Elliot and he says, “immature poets imitate mature poets, steal bad poets to face what they take and good poets make it into something better or at least something different. The good poet welds his, the stepped into a hole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that which it was torn.” I think that’s the place that we want to be at where you have so many influences. You have woven this amazing tapestry of everything altogether that at the end it is completely unique and separate from any other influences from any of those little strands of yarn that you originally sought out more inspired by other people. So those are kind of some thoughts as you go about creating your own artwork.
B.Ratelle: 08:08 I want to talk about what to do if you’re on the opposite side of the coin. Basically what if someone has taken your stuff and here what we’re really talking about is like full out people ripping you off, copywriting infringement, stealing, , it’s known by all of those things. People copying you. And this is where someone is. I’m not clearly being inspired or you know, trying to flatter you with their work, but is, is, you know, wholesale copying what you have and trying to sell it and pass it off on their own in order to make money usually. So, , and here I want to talk about there are six steps that you can do in terms of wearing the timeline that you can do to respond to this. So, , and the first is that, , I want you to take a deep breath and relax.
B.Ratelle: 08:55 I know as I talked about your initial reaction, you’re going to be angry, you’re going to be mad, you’re going to take it personally. Maybe, it probably you’re gonna think that like, how could someone do this to me or especially if it’s someone you know, even if it’s someone you don’t want some stranger on the Internet, like it can feel like a real violation of yourself and your privacy, especially depending on how personal your work is. You know, if you have a personal brand and someone has ripped off your bio or your headshots or you know, your sales copy from your page word for word, you know, these are all, , incidences of things that have happened in clients of mine. And it can really hurt. You know, I, I, I can understand how can that really feel like the core. , but I want you to, , you know, dig deep, take a step back and realize that this will pass.
B.Ratelle: 09:39 That happens to pretty much anyone who makes anything. And especially anyone who gets into business and making anything and you know, as to quote my friend, the Alison Show, , who, she gets copied quite a bit online, is that if no one tried to copy you, you’re not doing it right. So not that it makes it right, because people are responsible for their own choices. But in terms of what you can do and what you can control, which I think going back to those fundamental principles of the only thing we can control in this world, this crazy world of ours is ourselves and our only reaction to stuff. Well, here you go. What can you control? You can control your mind and your emotions and the story that you’re going to tell yourself about when this happens to you. So the first is relax, take a deep breath, don’t do anything rash.
B.Ratelle: 10:24 Our next tip n ber two, step n ber two, which is doc ent. , and the problem that I see is that a lot of people don’t do step n ber one, they don’t take a moment. They immediately get so angry that they j p on the Internet, they start flaming people, they start telling their whole audience, look what just happened there. Posting screenshots, , and they have not. They don’t do step n ber two, which is to doc ent the rip off. OK? Screenshot it, find out where is this being posted, what does the website, what are the social media platforms? I want you to screenshot like crazy. I want you to print them out and create a folder. , if it looks like it’s a big enough problem that you need professional help with this, you hire someone who forensically does this kind of stuff so they can help you doc ent the case.
B.Ratelle: 11:10 Look for other infringement. If they stolen something of yours, it’s likely they’ve stolen something else. Why would they stop their, you know, might as well. , so keep on going. And the reason why is that if you go out publicly, , and let people know that this has happened before doing that step, then this could all disappear. And maybe that’s what you want. Maybe you just want it to go away, but if you want to have any leverage later on, if you worry that they might just post it back up. If you want to take legal action against them, then you certainly need to have that doc entation. So, , so you can preserve the most options for you and to have the most tools in your toolkit. Please doc ent and do it well and thoroughly before you go postal, before you go online and you know, Taryn them, which I understand you’re angry.
B.Ratelle: 11:54 I understand, I totally understand. But first, first, let’s take care of business. OK? Step n ber three is to reach out privately to the infringer and let them know that they have taken something that copying is not OK. And ideally you can attach some of the evidence of what you’ve taken. , and, or you can attach some of your terms. If you have terms of service for your website or terms and conditions, they’re interchangeable. Then that kind of texts would be helpful to be like, Hey, actually I’m, my courses are only for personal use and they’re not supposed to be up on, you know, scribner, like they’re not supposed to be posted on a file sharing website or on your website. So this is actually a violation of my term. So can you please take that down? You’ll see here in this paragraph right here, and you can highlight it for him and make it, you know, idiot proof.
B.Ratelle: 12:42 , but this is a problem. So, or you can show them your copyright disclaimer language or something else. So, , sometimes people are just d b. They really, sometimes people are just clueless and they have not thought it out in their head that that belongs to someone else. , and certainly when called out on it, they feel embarrassed and they’ll take it down or they’ll step back and realize like, oh, that you’re right. That was too far like we talked about. It’s OK to be inspired by someone but like, it’s not OK to copy and paste and rip off completely. , you know, you should come up with your own thing, you know, do the work, don’t steal someone else’s work. , so, , so yeah, I always give people the option of privately reaching out. So if you can’t find someone and email address, , here are some tips to try to find that.
B.Ratelle: 13:26 Look for a do a who is lookup on their website if you don’t know how to do that and you know, go, go google that and look to see if there is a business entity and you can see what state they might be registered and you could try to look that up. So if they have a dba doing business as, or an llc or something else, they will probably be registered in their state, , and that will give some contact information for them or we’re registered agent would be. So those are some ways you can try to find people, , if they’re being sneaky and they don’t have, you know, a clear contact form on the website or something. And that brings us to step n ber four. If that doesn’t get you anywhere and you want to move ahead with, , getting your stuff taken down and getting back to the way it should be is to do a Dmca take down and a DMC a stands for the Digital Millennial Copyright Act.
B.Ratelle: 14:14 , and this is a tool that’s been around for almost a decade now. That’s basically his, it’s a procedure that a online service providers have to honor when they, when you approach them and say like, hey, Google, , I noticed that in your search engine results, there’s one of your results is someone who is copyright has, has clearly infringed on my information. , I’d like you to d index that result. I’d like you to take it down. So this applies to any of your major online service provider. So anyone like facebook, Google, instagram, a reddit, anyone youtube who is providing a platform where people put content on his interacting content, , our government, the United States government has told them, look, you have a responsibility to create, , a safe environment and you know, we’re going to give you safe harbor and meaning we’re not going to blame you if there’s bad stuff on there, if there there’s copyrighted stuff, , as long as you respond to people when they tell you, look, this is a problem and here I can show you, this is my stuff.
B.Ratelle: 15:19 You shouldn’t be posting this, this is illegal. It’s infringing on my copyright. You take it down. So I’m, and most of those websites, they, they have, , if you google or go to, like, you know, the support, , you’ll find tabs and they’ll have a really clear procedure in terms of what you need to write out, what information they need to have. , and they’ll do it within like a day. You know, Google claims that it can get most of their stuff off. They can respond to requests within six hours. So it’s a really fast expedited procedure, , in order to quickly, you know, stop the bleeding in terms of, , people are going to this, you’re losing traffic, people are being confused and you want something to happen immediately. , so that, uh, you can stop the problem. So, , it’s also sometimes called D indexing, so it’s a very similar procedure.
B.Ratelle: 16:03 And as a side note, if you had been the victim of one of these, if someone took down your stuff and claimed it was copyright, there’s also a counter notice procedure, kind of like an appeal process that you can do. So know that that’s an option. If that happens to you, then you can also appeal it and say, look, actually, because of these reasons, , I don’t believe this is the copyright information. So, , and there’s been a couple organizations who have kind of looked into is this chilling speech, meaning our people kind of taking advantage of this and abusing it, , on. Well, that’s always been a worry and a concern. The research says that, , it doesn’t appear to be that, , you know, the, there’s been a few, there’s been some requests and , it’s funny because Google will actually has listed a couple of those were like a movie studio claimed that I mtb where the Mtd page for a new movie and the poster was copyright infringement and Google said no, it was like go home people like, come on, what are you doing?
B.Ratelle: 16:55 So, , and I love that. I love that they just pushed, pushed back on that. The studio was like, no, that’s not copyright infringement. That’s a legitimate page if someone linking to your movie, which is probably creating more buzz for a movie, but it’s, maybe it was, you know, they wanted to control the release or probably what most likely happened. It has had negative reviews on it and , they didn’t want people to be googling that for that to be what they were reading about. But sorry, like, sorry, movie sucks. But sorry, not sorry. So yes, uh, you know, own up to it. So, OK, a little bit of a sidebar. All right, so we’re up to step five, so step five and our process is to send a cease and desist letter m. This is sometimes also called a demand letter or a cnd letter, but, , basically this is the kind of scary letter that you send to someone that kind of s marizes our previous steps in terms of, , that you’ve reached out.
B.Ratelle: 17:48 We have a problem, Houston, you did this. , this is why it’s a problem because of this policy or this copyright that I’ve registered or this trademark that I have and are these user terms for this product or service, digital product or service or website. , that’s where you would include all the information. , and this, you can do it yourself, , you, you certainly can. And I know people have and they’ve gotten some, some good reasonable results from it. You can also hire an attorney to do it for you. I will give you the caveat that most of the time people get better results when they hire an attorney. I’m not only are they able to cite the law usually in a more coherent way. , that’s a more intimidating and more, uh, it has, you know, it’s more forceful, but it’s also taken more seriously by the recipient and you know, this makes sense if you’re the one who got a letter and it looked like it was homemade or do it yourself or it had, you know, it was on attorney letter and it had a real real attorney at the top that you of course googled and it looks like, oh, they just do, they do, do work in business or copyright law and they probably know what they’re talking about and they cited a, you know, a statute here, , you know, which would you take more seriously.
B.Ratelle: 19:00 So something to think about. I understand when, when money’s tight, , but just something to think about in terms of if this is a major product of yours, this is something that means a lot to your business, then it may be worth it to at least talk to attorney and price that out and see a, what would that look like for me to write, you know, a, a couple page. This is these, the issues I have. This is what I’m concerned about. , and uh, and hopefully find someone who can do that reasonably for you on. I do do these few people. So if you’re interested in, unfortunately this has happened to you, again, reach out to me like I talked about in the beginning of the episode and we can, , we can talk about some of your options are in terms of getting this taken care of and the n ber sixth step is if it’s serious enough of a violation and you didn’t get a good response from your cease and desist.
B.Ratelle: 19:49 And basically this is what the last kind of paragraph, the meat of your cease and desist will have is to move forward with, , mediation, arbitration and litigation. You know, I’m taking you to court. I will have my day of justice. , now I will let you know here that, , if you’re experienced with the legal system has been judge Judy and John Grisham novels than , I’m sorry to have to burst your bubble that the timeline that you presented in those and maybe lots of law and order episodes is not probably very realistic. , of the timeline and the expense involved with taking someone to court in Modern Day litigation in 2018. So I will say that while it’s an option and you should be prepared to use that option and certainly a good a well drafted cease and desist letter will list that as an option and it should have real teeth behind it.
B.Ratelle: 20:36 Otherwise, you know, what good is it, , know that it’s an expensive course of action. So, , it’s not wanting to be taken lightly and certainly it’s not what you want to just bandy about, like, oh, I’ll just take them to court and it’ll be no big deal because it’s, it’s, it’s usually expensive, especially the discovery process is so expensive and has a long timeline, especially depending on how extensive violations are and what you’re talking about, but it’s still there. And there are people who file copyright infringement lawsuits everyday in federal court and because it is actually federal law, , uh, and so, , it happened. So don’t think that like, oh, I could never do that. You could, you certainly can. And there’s, you know, attorneys like me and others who work in that area, but , but no, yeah, it’s, it, it is the end of the rope and unfortunately we, we hope we don’t have to get to that part of the rope.
B.Ratelle: 21:25 So, , the other options that you might not be as familiar with or mediation and that’s where you sit down with the other party and you try to work out a solution. , most mediators, ones that I like to recommend when we do mediation are attorneys or former attorneys, a lot of, , , it could be former judges. It was usually the best mediators because they know and are so familiar with the law that they can do a really good job and coming up with reasonable solutions and honestly reality checking people and calling them on their bs, which has a lot of what mediation is. And honestly, what a lot of going to court is, is that people think that, no, I, if I just told him my story is surely I will prevail. And honestly, the judge isn’t really care about your story. He doesn’t, , he or she doesn’t, they, they care about the statute and what does the law say and do you have evidence, and this is, you know, this is a sad story, but he said this and she said that and I don’t know, and throwing up my hands in the middle.
B.Ratelle: 22:16 So, , it’s, it’s really good to have as much concrete if you have, again, which is why we talked about doc enting the rip off, having those policies and contracts, procedures in place so that it’s very clear. This person willfully disobeyed the law and they stole your stuff. , and the other one is arbitration, which is similar to mediation, but it’s binding. So basically you agree with this other person that you’re fighting with that, look, we’re going to go to this person and it’s going to be binding. Whatever they say we’re going to do. So it’s almost like litigation, but it’s quicker and it’s cheaper. And again, the best arbitrators are usually, , judges. So former judges. So. OK. , so that’s kind of a quick rundown again, of those six steps. So I’m now no note that nowhere in there did I recommend publicly shaming or blaming on facebook or ranting about the issue and a super public way, , you know, going on your instagram stories and doing all of that.
B.Ratelle: 23:09 I know people who’ve done that. I know, I’m sure it probably made them feel better in the moment that they could call and they got lots of support from their crew, from their followers of like, I’m so sorry. And Dang it. That must be frustrating and whatnot. , and, you know, I’m sure there’s a place for that, but I, , I can also see how doing those reactions, especially having that kind of reaction initially in the process can be really damaging to your options later on, especially if you haven’t doc ented what’s going on or really researched the issue in terms of, Huh, you know, that’s interesting. Why is this my artwork showing up here? And I’ll give you an example. And I was tagged in this, uh, this happened a couple months ago that I’m an artist who makes these beautiful floral prints. , went on her instagram and said I walked into a local, you know, actually [inaudible] like a chain, you know, home furnishings store, and I found my artwork in like the frames, you know, is like a stock photo that comes with a picture frame.
B.Ratelle: 24:05 And I was just floored that they would have stolen my artwork and put it in there, you know, she was just Super Mad. She took a picture of it, posted it online in our account. Everyone went in and, you know, agree with their, like, that’s horrible. I’m so sorry, I’m never going to shop at that store again, you know, Yada Yada fist b p for you. You can do it. I’m all, you know, normal reactions to that. So, and , then, uh, someone reached out to me and said like, Brittany, can you help? And so I did. , and , but what I found after doing a little digging into the store and to that particular print, which she actually had some copyright protection for, was that it was released from a company that she had licensed some of her work too. , and because of just a communication error and talking to her agent who was the one who was working with that licensing house, , she didn’t know that they were doing basically a run of these again.
B.Ratelle: 24:56 , and so it really wasn’t copyright infringement. , the store wasn’t stealing her stuff. The person who was making the stuff which is actually different from the store, who’s selling it on their shelves, you know, obviously as you realize, you know, if you walk into target, target doesn’t make all that stuff, you know, the other people, you know, tiny little stores in and around China are the ones who make that stuff. So it’s good to calm down, have some clarity in the moment and think about, is this really the reaction I want to have against this retailer? Do I want to make claims? Do I want to turn a problem of copyright infringement into a bigger problem of defamation? Which is, , when you say something about someone that can be, , untrue, and that can be labeled as actually malicious because you’re making claims that aren’t obscene, cheated or that can affect their business or business goodwill.
B.Ratelle: 25:46 So, and when you’re talking about major retailers, that could be some serious damages there. So anyway, just something to think about. , and also think about how it might effect any contracts that you might have with people in terms of disclosure, if you’ve ever seen a non-disparagement clause, , those clauses basically mean that you can’t bad mouth people. So those are all things to keep in mind when you have, , one to have that visceral reaction is to take some deep breath to some yoga, breathing, meditation, scented candle bath, whatever it needs to for you self care to try to regulate a little bit about that and then come up with a game plan and hopefully involve some of these steps. So with that, we’ll close up today. I want to remind everyone that if you haven’t, I’m giving me a review in itunes yet.
B.Ratelle: 26:32 I’d really, really appreciate that. , I’m still a new show and that’s the best way for people to be able to find me and for me to be able to spread this content to other entrepreneurs who might at other creatives who have these kinds of questions and concerns and their businesses and are wondering what can they do. So that’s my whole goal here is to give you digestible content to keep on making this stuff for free so that it’s available for you so that you can get the help that you need and move forward with your business and confidently own your business in every sense of the word. So thanks so much for being here. , if you’re interested in show notes, I’ll link those on the page. So it’ll be brittanyratelle.com/11, as in episode 11. So yeah, we’re in double digits now guys. So that’s, that’s legit.
New Speaker: 27:17 I’ll link any of the links I talked about in the show, and any other resources that might be helpful as you’re talking about these issues. So, you know, I talked about the DMCA, takedown and steal like an artist and all linked to all that stuff from there. So please visit the show notes. Page more info, especially if you’re the type of person who likes to have things written down, , so that you can check it on later on. If you love the show, share with a friend, , rate me in itunes and I’ll see you next week. Thanks a lot!