But I want to start with providing real practical guidance as to what you can do if someone steals your stuff. Now, a disclaimer upfront, of course, I am a fantastic coach, I am a wonderful entrepreneur, I am a talented former therapist. But one thing I am not is an attorney. So please do not construe this as legal advice. And in fact, throughout this episode, there will be times where I recommend that you consult with your own attorney about these matters, and even have them help you through the process. That's absolutely what I've done in some cases. And I feel really lucky to be a part of the Legalpreneur membership, because essentially, I have an attorney on retainer. So when these things come up, I am able to seek counsel and have someone help me through it immediately. Because I'm part of the Legalpreneur membership, I get one 30 minute call a month with my attorney, if needed. And to be quite honest with you most months, I don't use that call. But when I need it, I'm really glad I have it. It also includes document review, I have access to their contract vault, I get all sorts of discounts on their offers. And most importantly, I have an attorney that I can contact directly when things come up. And I get negotiated discounts on any services they provide because I am a member of the Legalpreneur membership. So if you want to learn more about that you can go to coachwithclarity.com/legalpreneur, we'll have a link in the show notes. But that might be one option to consider if you do not currently have an attorney on record, and you find yourself in the situation of needing to follow up when someone has stolen your stuff.
So I am going to share with you some best practices based on my own personal experiences. But again, I am not an attorney, please do not take this as solid legal advice. And please follow up with your own attorney if you're experiencing this and if you need support. Definitely check out the Legalpreneur membership at coachwithclarity.com/legalpreneur. One other thing I want to mention at the top before we go into specifics, is that some of what I'm talking about, there will be different options based on whether you have a trademark for your intellectual property or not. If you have trademarked your brand name, your tagline, your program name, anything like that, then your options will be different than if you don't have that legal protection. It's one reason why I strongly advocate for protecting your intellectual property through a trademark, if you are at the point where you know, yes, this is my brand, this is my program name, I'm willing to invest the time and money to protect it, by all means do that. Because it really opens your options up if someone uses that name, uses that language, you can follow up on that, and you may be entitled to financial compensation if they've been making money off of your trademarked term. So having that trademark protection can be really important. And I think it's a very critical way to protect all of the time and effort and energy and money that you have put into your business. So I'll talk about some things that are applicable if you have a trademark and some things that you can still do, even if you don't. Now a trademark is different from copyright. A trademark is specifically about a term or maybe an image that isn't associated with your brand. Copyright tends to talk more about the material inside it. And my understanding, again, I'm not an attorney. But my understanding is that when you publish something, on a blog, on a podcast, in many ways, you automatically own the copyright to that. It’s yours, you've created it, you've produced it, you've published it, it belongs to you. Now, whether or not you are entitled to financial compensation if someone takes that from you, and then repurposes it, that could be connected to whether you have a formal copyright on it. And so again, we're going to talk about what to do if someone say, takes your blog posts and publishes it without your permission. But just understand that whether or not you're entitled to any sort of financial compensation may also have something to do with whether it's formally copyrighted. But copyright and trademark, these are two different terms and so I just want to make that clear right from the beginning before we dive in.
So today, I'm going to walk through three unfortunately common events that tend to happen to business owners when it comes to people stealing their stuff. First, we're going to look at what to do if someone steals your blog post or your sales page something on your website and publishes it as their own. Then we're going to look at what happens if someone takes your brand name, your tagline, your course, or program name, and uses it as their own. And then finally, we'll talk about what to do if someone takes some of your paid material, whether it's a digital download, a course or program; something that you've created and sold, they've purchased it, and now they are using it as their own and making money off of it. So we'll talk about that too. But let's start with what I think might be the most common type of intellectual property theft that we coaches have to face. And that's when someone takes our free content and repurposes it as their own. So let's say that you have a blog, and you've written an outstanding article, and you've posted it. And then a couple weeks, couple months, couple years later, you find out that your blog post word for word has been republished on someone else's site. And they're taking credit for it, it looks like they've written it. And this doesn't necessarily just have to be a blog post, I've seen it happen with sales pages, I've seen it happen with entire websites, where word for word, everything is identical. Or maybe there have been like one or two word changes, but it's still pretty obvious that the content was copied from someone else's site. When this happens, there are a few things that you can do first, and I realized that this might be a little counterintuitive, but the first thing you need to do is decide is it worth it to follow through and track this person down and try to get them to take it offline? Now I'll be honest with you personally, for me, it is always worth it to follow up on that. Integrity is one of my core values. It's something that I built my business on. And so when someone steals my work and republishes it as their own, that's a breach of integrity. And so I want to follow up on that. And I want to protect what I've created. So I will pretty much without fail follow up on that. And I understand that there may be some people where they don't want to follow up on it. They might look at the person who's reposting their content as being small potatoes, not worth their time, energy, money, especially if their blog post is still ranking really high on Google for SEO purposes. If people are still coming to their site versus this poacher site, maybe it's not worth their time and energy to follow up. I can certainly see that, I can make a case for it. Which is why I think the first thing you need to do is decide whether it's worth your time, your energy and possibly your money to follow up to get this taken down. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer here. I do know there is a right or wrong answer for me. And so I will always go to bat for my content, for my intellectual property, I will protect it. And I will move on to the next steps that I'm about to suggest.
So if you see that someone has stolen your content, and it's on their website, the first thing I want you to do is take screenshots. We want to have a record of what you've witnessed as stealing your content. So take screenshots of the website, if there's any sort of date on it. Oftentimes, with blog posts, there's a publication date, make sure you've got that on the screenshot as well. Think of this like you are gathering evidence. So take screenshots, get all of that right in front of you and get dates where possible. And then you may also want to make sure on your side that you have the dates of your publication as well. Now, based on the website that you have, whether it's WordPress, or Squarespace or so forth, there's usually a way to see when a page was originally published and when updates were made. So just make sure you yourself know when you published that, what the dates are, so that way, if there's any doubt, you can say, “Nope, this was published on this date, which was well before when this person published it as well.” So just get all of your ducks in a row.
Once you've done that, then the next step is to reach out to the person who has posted your content. I recommend doing this by email, if at all possible. Sometimes it's not, sometimes you may only have a social media handle for the person. So maybe you're sending them a direct message through Facebook or Instagram. If you communicate with them through social media, again, take screenshots, make sure you have a record that you have contacted them. And I recommend taking screenshots because if they delete their account, or block you, you may not be able to access that later. So always take screenshots of your communication, if it's not going through email, ideally send it through email. So you've got that paper trail and request that they take it down immediately. I like to give them maybe a 24, maybe a 48 hour window of time in which to do it if I'm feeling generous, but it's really not that difficult to take something off of a website. So let them know, you're aware that they've stolen your content and you demand that they take it down within 24 hours. This email does not need to be fire and brimstone. It also doesn't need to be pleasant and gentle. It can be firm, it can be concise, it should be brief. And let's try to keep emotion out of it. Let's really stick to the facts and then demand that they take it down. Most often people will take it down once they realize they've been caught. You may not get an apology. In fact, you are more likely than not to get an excuse. I cannot tell you the number of times I've heard people say that when they've reached out they've said “Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, my web designer did this! I had no idea that they were stealing content,” or “I paid someone to write a blog post for me. And I didn't realize that they had stolen your content.” Sometimes that's true. Unfortunately, there are really unsavory copywriters, and blog writers and so forth out there who will steal content and then sell it to others. So you can always give the person the benefit of the doubt. And if they take it down, no harm, no foul. But sometimes that might just be an excuse, they've realized they've got caught, they don't want to get in trouble, it doesn't really matter as long as they take it down. Now, if they don't take it down, or if they don't respond to your emails, or your direct messages, all is not lost. The next step you will want to do if you've given the person sufficient time to take it down. And they haven't, you'll want to contact their site host and request a DMCA takedown notice be issued. So DMCA stands for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. And it essentially protects you as a content creator. And let me tell you, site hosts do not want to host websites that are actively stealing other people's content, it puts them at risk for violating the DMCA. And they don't want to do that. So if you can prove to that site host that your content has been stolen and is now being publicized on this website that they are hosting, they will take it down and they take it really seriously. This is why my very first step was to take screenshots because you are going to need to prove your case in order to request a DMCA takedown notice from the hosting site.
Now you may be asking, “Okay, that sounds great, but how do I even know who's hosting their site? Who do I talk to? Where do I go?” There's a great resource you can just go to whois.net. So w-h-o-i-s.net. And you can put in the website and it will generate all sorts of information around that website, who owns it, there may be a contact email there if you need it. But it will also show you who hosts the website. And you can typically find that where it says name server. So once you know who hosts that website, let's say it's SiteGround, for example, that's who hosts mine. You would go to SiteGround. And you could look for their contact information, you could reach out and request a DMCA takedown notice be issued. Now, I mentioned earlier, this is not an uncommon thing to happen. And the hosting companies know this. So many of them have a form that you can fill out online to request a DMCA takedown notice be issued. So you may even be able to find that form, fill it out, add all of your screenshots and evidence, and then follow up. They likely will email you some sort of confirmation that they've received your request. Give it a few days, but make sure that you follow up. So at this point, you probably will have taken care of the issue. Either you've reached out to the person who stole your content directly and asked them to take it down. And they have, or you've reached out to their website host and proven your case, requested a takedown, and they will have done it. If for some reason none of that works, then your next step is to decide whether you want to take legal action. And again, that's where consulting with an attorney can be really helpful. And if you're not currently working with an attorney, maybe check out the Legalpreneur membership that I mentioned before, because they can definitely help you with this. So that is what I have done and what I suggest doing if you discover that someone has taken your free content and repurposed it on their website.
Now in terms of when someone reposts something on social media, and they have not cited their source, which is you, you've got a few options. Unfortunately, this happens a lot in social media and I haven't really seen that the social media platforms are really helpful in terms of getting content taken down. You can certainly report it and sometimes that works. But I think the best thing to do is to reach out to the person who reposted your content, and assume good intent. And just say, “Hey, I noticed that you posted this. I'm really flattered that you were inspired by what I created. I would ask that you credit me. So if you could go back and edit the post to reflect that I am the creator, you can go ahead and tag me, that would be great. Thanks so much.” And hopefully that will be enough to kind of signal to the person “Hey, you're on my radar. I'm watching. And just make sure you give me credit if you start reposting my stuff.”
Alright, so we just did a deep dive into what to do when someone steals your free content, I want to spend a little bit of time now talking about the second thing I mentioned, which is what to do if someone takes your brand name, or your tagline, or your course name, or some phrase that you have been using for a while in your business. Now, in this case, this is a situation where having a trademark makes a big difference in how you move forward. The fact is, if you own the trademark for a phrase, you are obligated to follow up. Part of having a trademark means that you accept the responsibility to maintain that trademark. So when you find out that someone is infringing on your trademark, you have to follow up on it. If you don't, you could actually lose that trademark, you could lose the right to continue to protect your intellectual property. So when you get something trademarked, understand that it is offering you protection, but you have to follow up on that. You have to maintain it. The responsibility falls with the person who holds the trademark. So if you see that someone is violating your trademark, you can't just sit back and say, “Well, they're small potatoes. It's no big deal.” No, you have to follow up. If you do not have the phrase trademarked, you can still reach out to the person who's using that term. And ask that they stop using it, you can let them know “I've been using this term for X amount of time and I'm concerned that there may be some brand confusion that's created. So I request that you discontinue using this term in your work.” But the fact of the matter is, if you don't own the trademark, if you don't own that intellectual property, it may be much more difficult for you to get them to stop using it. It may not be impossible, but it is going to be more difficult and this may be an area where having an attorney to support you will be very helpful.
What I might suggest, if this is a term that you've been using for a very long time and you want to protect it, before you reach out to the person and request that they stop using it. Go ahead and start the process to get that term trademarked. You don't have to actually have the trademark in hand because that process can take a while. It's taken me anywhere from six months to over a year to get my intellectual property trademarked. But once you are in the process of pursuing the trademark, especially once you've filed the application, then you essentially have first dibs on that. So then you can go back and reach out to the person and say, “Hey, I noticed that you're using this term. I've been using this term in my business for X number of years and I currently have a trademark application pending. I request that you stop using this term immediately.” So again, having even just the application for the trademark may strengthen your argument and may make it more likely that they take it down. So again, if you need help with getting a trademark, certainly the Legalpreneur membership can help with that. I also have found a really helpful resource on YouTube that has been instrumental for me when I have chosen to file my own trademark. So we'll make sure we have a link to that in the show notes as well.
Now, if you already have a trademark for the term they are using, then again, we're going to follow a very similar process as I described for if someone's stealing your blog content. You're going to start by reaching out to the person. And let's assume, if not good intent, let's just assume ignorance, they were not aware that this term was trademarked and that you had been using it. And so you can let them know that you saw them using this term for their business, and that you own the trademark on it. Therefore, you request that they cease using that term. And that they take it down immediately. You can give them a period of time, 24/72 hours, whatever feels comfortable for you, but let them know “You're on my radar. You're using my trademark term, you need to stop using it.” More often than not, that will be enough to get them to take it down. Because they'll realize, “Oops, I don't have the right to do this, I could get in trouble. Yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and take it down.” If they don't, then this is the point where you may want to seek legal counsel, maybe have an attorney send a cease and desist letter on your behalf. And that's something I've definitely done. I think when someone receives a formal letter on attorney letterhead, it lets them know “I mean business. So let's make this happen.” So you can have an attorney draft a cease and desist letter for you. And again, hopefully, that will be enough to get them to stop. If they don't, then at that point, you may need to escalate the legal action, your attorney can advise you on what's best, but it could involve a lawsuit. Again, I know this sounds scary. But you own this intellectual property, you have the trademark, this is a part of protecting it. Now trademarks can get a little tricky, because they are typically issued by a specific country. So what happens if I hold a US trademark and someone in the UK or Canada or Australia starts using my term? Well, I can tell you this is when I would definitely be contacting my attorney because things can get much trickier when we're looking at international trademarks. And actually, I'll be honest with you, I've been on the receiving end of essentially what was a cease and desist letter from someone in another country who somehow got a trademark for a single word. And that single word just happens to be a part of my brand name that is trademarked in the United States. And so this person in another country was alleging that I was violating their trademark by using this word and asked that I stop. Well, the fact is, I own the trademark for that whole term. And I am well within my rights to use it in the United States. So I reached out to my attorney, I had her issue a response letter. And in that response letter, she even suggested that since I hold the US trademark, they may actually be in danger of violating my trademark if they continue to use that term in the US. So this is a situation where I'm not going to take it that much further. But it was just our way of letting them know, “Hey, you are on my radar. We're watching you too. We're not going to stop using this term, we're going to let this go. But if you continue to make it an issue, then we're going to escalate it as well.” So sometimes you do have to play hardball. And this is definitely where having an attorney in your corner can be really helpful.
All right, let's talk about this third and final example that I mentioned at the beginning. What should you do if someone purchases content from you, whether it's a digital download or a template, maybe it's a course or a program, but they've purchased this material from you. And now they are taking it and using it as their own and they are selling it inside their business. Now, I will be honest with you, this happened to me recently, and I'll talk a little bit more about my internal response to it in a minute. But first let's look at the actions that I took. Once I realized this was happening. The very first thing I did was to take a close look at the terms of service that I have every single person read and agree to when they purchase a product. So sometimes this might be the actual contract that they sign. So if you're doing one on one coaching, or a small group coaching program, or mastermind, or retreat, you may have people sign a contract individually. So they sign it, you sign it, and that contract includes the terms of agreement, and what they agree to do, as a client of yours. For larger programs like memberships, you may have a terms of service. So that is a document that they read and then when they purchase your program, they're doing so and they understand that they will be held to those terms of service. A lot of times, what you'll see is there's a little checkbox when you purchase something, and it says “I agree to the Terms of Service”, if you were to go to the Coach with Clarity Collective website right now, coachwithclarity.com/collective, and you click on the “Yes, I want to join”, it'll bring you to the area where you put in your information, and your payment information. And there's a little box that says “I agree to the Terms of Service”, and you have to check that box before you are allowed to pay. And I have hyperlinked Terms of Service, so when you click on terms of service, it opens up my terms of service in another page, so that you can read through it, understand what you're agreeing to before you commit to the program.
So if you are doing any sort, of course or program, you want to make sure that you have very clear, very strong terms of service that your people are agreeing to follow. Because inside my terms of service, I cover all sorts of things I talk about intellectual property rights, and how the material inside my programs are my intellectual property that I am allowing them to access, I talk about how my company has the right to terminate their involvement at our discretion, at any point, we talk about what it means to act in good faith, and that they're joining this course or program in good faith. And we also talk about the restrictions of use. And we're really clear, they may not license or sell or otherwise distribute my content as their own, they are not allowed to make derivative works based on my content, and they are not otherwise allowed to copy or distribute my material. So it's really clear in my terms of service, what they are and are not allowed to do. And there's also a clause in there that says they cannot be a part of this with the intention to build a similar or competing service that goes against that good faith clause that we talked about before. So inside my terms of service, it's pretty clear that if you take my material and resell it as your own, you are violating the terms of service, and I can take action accordingly.
So let's talk about what that action looked like in my case, when I discovered someone had joined my program with the intention of starting a competing program, and I suspect was taking some of my material and passing it off as their own. Well, number one, I immediately removed their access from my material, I went in and saw that they had pretty much downloaded everything they could already. But in terms of continued access to updates or new videos or new materials, I made sure they did not have access anymore. So number one, I removed their access. Number two, I consulted with my attorney who also reviewed my Terms of Service and said “Yes, you are well within your rights to terminate this person. Let's go ahead and send them a notice of termination.” So that was step two, we let them know “This has come to our attention, you are in violation of these clauses inside the terms of service. As a result, we are terminating your involvement effective immediately.” I made the decision not to refund any money that they had already paid me for this program. And while I suspect I could have said you still have a balance of X amount, and that is due immediately. I didn't want to go there. I just said “Let's just be done with it. I don't want any more of their money. I don't want to have anything to do with them. We're just going to cut it off right now.” Now I could have sought the remaining balance of what was due. I probably could have gone after more if I'd wanted to, you know, file a lawsuit, but honestly, energetically, I just did not want to do that. I just wanted to be done with it. So we sent them a notice of termination. And that was that. Now there was one other thing we could have possibly done. But personally, I didn't feel like I had enough evidence to really do this. I suspected that my material was being used inside their paid program, but I was not willing to buy their program to find out and because I couldn't prove it I just let the matter go with that. But if I had proof that they were using my material inside their program, I absolutely would have had my attorney do a cease and desist. And we might have gone forward and sued for damages. But again, that's not something that I take lightly. And I really wanted to make sure if I was going to do that I had strong evidence that this person was actively stealing all of my content and repurposing it as their own. And I didn't, so I figured the notice of termination was sufficient. And also let them know you're on my radar, and I'm paying attention.
So my friend, we've already covered a lot on today's episode, and I've given you specific steps that you can take, if you discover that your material has been stolen. I do want to address the internal experience that happens when we discover someone is stealing our stuff. I will be honest with you, the times where I've learned that someone has taken my tagline, or stolen my material. My initial reaction is anger and anger might be putting it mildly, like maybe even rage. I was so angry, like I was fuming. And I'm not one who gets angry very easily. Honestly, my go to reaction is probably sadness when I'm feeling stressed or hurt. But in this case, I was really, really angry. And yes, I was sad and hurt as well. And I also was just feeling a sense of disbelief. Like, “Wow! People really do this? Like why would someone do this? Why wouldn't they just create their own?”. So I guess I just want to share that if you are feeling a mix of emotions. And if you're having all sorts of thoughts, after learning that someone has stolen your stuff, that's totally understandable. It's a natural normal response. And the trick then, is to hold space for that reaction, to hold space for those thoughts and emotions, without letting them dictate your behavior. When it comes to legal matters, the more dispassionate we can be, the better. So the greater separation we can have between our emotions and our actions, the better off we're going to be. So I'm not telling you don't be mad, don't be sad, don't be angry. No, you have a right to every single thought and emotion that comes your way. And I would encourage you to talk to someone that you trust, have an outlet to vent, get it out of your system. But don't take action from that place. Allow yourself to calm down a bit, contact an attorney and make sure that you're going forward from a place of neutrality. And for me, that was the trickiest part, finding that balance between owning and honoring my totally justifiable emotional response, and not letting that steer the ship. And again, just another reason why having an attorney in your corner is so helpful. Because they've seen this, they've worked with it, they get it and they're able to move forward in a more objective way than I certainly would have been able to. And then once I had a little emotional distance from this, I did a little mental reframe. I told myself, “Well, wow, congrats Lee, you've made it. If someone is stealing your stuff, you must be big time that someone out there thinks you're awesome enough that they want to use your stuff and take it as their own.” So I kind of reframed it as a compliment, which there are other ways I prefer to receive compliments, but I'm going to take that for what it is. And then I also reminded myself that no one out there is just like me, and no one can do this as well as I can. Even if they steal my stuff, even if they pass off my words as their own, the energy and intention behind it is going to fall flat because it doesn't belong to them, it belongs to me. And no matter what they take or what they steal, they will never be able to do it the way I do. I really do believe that. I was not prepared to think that when I immediately found out it took me a few days to get to that point. So I don't want to rush into meaning making or justifying. I do believe we need to give ample time to experience our emotions and thoughts. So don't rush in to reframing. But when you're at the point where you're able to reframe it, it may actually bring you a great deal of comfort and peace and allow you to move forward in your business. And with that, let's move into this week's Clarity in Action moment.
For this week's Clarity in Action moment, I'm going to make a suggestion: create Google alerts for your name, your business name, any terms you have trademarked, any program names, create a Google alert for them. That is a quick and easy way to be notified when a term that you use or that you own through your trademark is being used by someone else. And that can help you keep an eye on how your intellectual property may be used or misused out in the real world. So go ahead, take a few moments and set up those Google alerts today. So that's my main Clarity in Action step for you today. Create those Google alerts so you can be aware of what's going on as it pertains to your business.
And then if you need support around these kinds of issues, I strongly recommend checking out the Legalpreneur membership, you can just head to coachwithclarity.com/legalpreneur. Full disclosure that is an affiliate link. And as you all know, I only use affiliate links for products I actually use and love myself. And I can tell you I've been a Legalpreneur member for a few years now. And they have really helped me out when I have faced every single issue I just described in today's episode. So coachwithclarity.com/legalpreneur, check it out, and I hope you find their services helpful. I also hope that you have found today's episode helpful.
And if you have any questions or thoughts come find me. I'm on Instagram and Tiktok @CoachWithClarity. Though I will be honest with you this summer I significantly cut back on my time on social media. So one of the best ways to reach me is through good old fashioned email. You can email me at email@example.com. Or if you head to my website coachwithclarity.com, you can click on Connect and there's a contact form that you can fill out there. That's it for me this week. But I can't wait to reconnect with you, next week we will have a great guest interview in store for you. So if you're not already following the Coach with Clarity Podcast, take a moment now to do so just click the follow or subscribe or plus button on your podcast listening platform. And that will make sure that future episodes of the show automatically show up in your feed. So until then, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.