As a small business owner myself, I never considered the thought of ever having material that I developed infringed upon from a copyright perspective. On one hand one might consider that we should have been flattered. Instead, I have never felt more violated in my life. We spent the last 3 years developing consulting and marketing material and working on our search engine optimization. A lot of time, money and effort was invested and in the end - it is ultimately our brand.
When most of us think of copyright infringement, we think of large corporations. With small business, this is a greater problem than with big business. Big businesses have a legal department to look out for this and go after violators, but what do you do when this happens to you as a small business owner? What do you do when someone basically "steals" your intellectual property without your permission and uses this to promote themselves and their business? Having just experienced this, I wanted to let small business owners know how protect themselves and also how to prove copyright infringement has occurred.
I was attending a networking event, when someone approached me and mentioned in passing that they thought they had seen a website that had copied a lot of my material from my website. I initially didn't think anything of it until a friend of mine mentioned that I should use a a web tool called Copyscape and just check. When I did, I found someone that was trying to pass themselves off as a consultant in close proximity to our business was using a lot of our written material on our website. In fact almost every page on their website had copyrighted material from our site. It was not even altered, it was verbatim. I contacted the owner, and asked them to take down the material and to contact me before I contacted a lawyer. I did not receive a response, so I proceeded. I contacted a copyright and patent lawyer who I knew and the process started. Here are some steps to follow before this happens:
You need to know and understand your rights and not let others take your valuable content, brand, and work and pass it off as their own. For small business owners, there is so little time already, so when you either develop or pay to have content developed for your business, you want to make sure it is protected and that your competitor is not taking your work and your intellectual property and trying to compete against you with your own material. In our particular case, this individual used our material on multiple websites to advertise themselves. They were selling themselves as a consultant using our copyrighted material in close proximity to our business. If not for someone that knew us and happened to see this content, we would have never known and this individual would be selling themselves and our services using our material. You have invested in building your brand, your reputation, and your content. Protect yourself, your business, and your brand from potential competitors that are using your work to build their business.
RK Fischer & Associates