Avoiding Piracy: How and Why

In a meeting last week, a client said that he’d heard from the guys that websites like his were just made by taking pictures and information from other websites.

I hastened to assure him that we wouldn’t do that. We are committed to the highest standards of integrity. I felt confident telling the client that he need have no worries about copyright violation when he worked with us.

It didn’t strike me till later that this might not have been what the client was saying at all. Some people, after all, are very casual about copyright laws. Maybe the client was thinking that it would be a timesaving measure, and thus a moneysaver, to lift stuff from his competitors’ websites. He might not have known that there was anything wrong with that.

For him, and for you, here are some reasons not to join the pirates:

  • It’s stealing. Bottom line, when you use someone else’s words or images without permission and credit, you’ve stolen their work.
  • You may lose customers. Copyright law, like cheating on taxes and driving over the speed limit, is one of those areas where many people feel some moral flexibility. I know that many people honestly see nothing wrong with freely using other people’s intellectual property. Are you sure that all your customers and clients feel the same way? The problem with those gray areas is that they can be very idiosyncratic.
  • You might get caught. It’s pretty easy to catch people who steal your words and pictures. I don’t make a fuss over it, myself. I usually contact the people who do that, say that I’m glad they like my work, and suggest that they pay for it next time. Not everyone lets it go at that. You can find yourself in court over these things.

And here are some ways to avoid it:

  • Ask permission. It always amazes me how resistant people are to this idea. When I want to use someone else’s stuff, I contact them and ask their permission. They usually agree, often with thanks. After all, you’re giving the person a link, and helping them expose their work to a wider audience. It takes a little effort sometimes to find the person you need to ask, and of course it only works if your heart is pure, but it’s not a big deal.
  • Use copyright-free materials. The image at the top of this post is from Dover, a terrific source of copyright-free images. There are other sources of copyright-free images, including things that are in the public domain. Here is a clear explanation of the rules about using other people’s stuff, if you need details. Just remember that everything is automatically covered by copyright, whether it says “copyright” on it or not.
  • Do your own work. Whenever I discuss plagiarism in workshops, someone always start up with the current urban myth about how to avoid getting in trouble for using other people’s words. “You just have to change 20% of it,” they say, or “It’s okay as long as it’s a wiki” or something. Forget that. The rule is: if you wrote it yourself, drew it yourself, programmed it yourself, then it’s yours. Otherwise, it’s not. Very simple. (Oh — and if someone else paid you to do it, it’s probably not yours any more.)
  • Pay for it. When you hire someone to write or design for you, you get exactly what you want, and it usually is more cost-effective than doing it yourself. Depending on your business, one or two extra sales can cover the cost of hiring a professional to do creative work for you. A good website will get you way more than one or two extra sales, compared with a poor one. Plus, you own the work you’ve bought. You can continue to use it in a variety of ways (I’ll talk more about that in a future post) forever. Do check when you use sites like istockphoto to see whether you’re buying one-time use or unlimited use. Custom work should simply belong to you.

Pirates are at their best in movies, where piracy can seem romantic and daring; otherwise, just steer clear of it, me hearties.






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