It started out as a normal day at work – check 7 email accounts (don’t ask!); respond to email; make calls; post to LinkedIn; catch up (briefly) with Facebook and Twitter; drift back to Solosez; whittle down my to do list; wrap up my final project for school; lather, rinse, repeat. Work. Work. Work.
At some point during the day, I decided to Google my marketing content. I honestly don’t remember what triggered it – there must have been a comment about plagiarism in an email or a discussion – but there I was, searching the Interwebs for content from my business website.
Seek and ye shall find, they say … Oh, I found.
There were three para-professionals using MY marketing content to sell their services! One identified as a paralegal; another as a paralegal assistant (I still don’t know what that means); and the last, a virtual bankruptcy assistant (Not to be confused with virtual bankruptcy paralegal. I am a certified/certificated paralegal – emphasis on paralegal – with a lot of years of experience and training; she took a petition preparation training program).
Before you ask, 1) yes, there are copyright notices on all my websites, 2) my websites are supposed to be protected by Copyscape.
Instinctively, I posted to Facebook. I needed the love and support of my extended, virtual family. Once the warm fuzzies and go get ‘ems hit the spot, I dug in. (Well, I might have blogged first . . .) I reviewed their respective websites, Facebook pages, and LinkedIn profiles. I made copious notes.
The more I saw, the less love I felt. In fact, I felt a little sick.
These ‘professionals’, who are meant to be held to the same rules and canons of ethics and professional responsibility as I am, had outright plagiarized my content! The paralegal even had the chutzpah to include this on her website: “…adheres to the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the Paralegal Division of the State Bar of Texas. Fundamental to our success is the integrity of our paralegals and our high standard of professional conduct.”
One of them had copied my entire mission statement, verbatim!
Oh Copyscape, why hast thou forsaken me?
Okay, fine. Some of the scraped content was on private sites. Copyscape can’t ‘read’ LinkedIn. Worse yet – the paralegal assistant had reduced practically my entire welcome page to a pdf brochure! Try Googling unreadable content. Go ahead. I dare you.
It broke my paralegal heart to see this travesty.
My friends tried to reassure me. With virtual pats on the back, they suggested these others were jealous of my success or, my favorite, ‘imitation is the greatest form of flattery’. Imitation – maybe – not copy/paste, change the company name /area of law, and move the sentences around.
This betrayal could not stand. I love what I do and I have integrity. I was a ticked off redheaded child of the GSOT.
I sent each of the copycats an informal takedown notice by email. The paralegal and the VBA responded in righteous indignation. ‘Uh uh! We didn’t do anything wrong.’ The paralegal flipped it to make it sound as if my language came after hers and that there was “nothing particularly distinctive” about it. Hmm, my company has been around since 2008; hers since 2012. In a search of the specific phrases, the first 2+ pages of results are linked to my company.
Oh, honey, no.
Oh, the 3rd offender? Ms. ‘I’ll make a pdf and she’ll never know I’m using her content’. She never responded to my request. After 7 days, I filed DMCA complaints with Facebook, LinkedIn – POOF! FB page/my content, gone! (Her website had already been frozen when I found her.) I waited another 2 weeks – by then I’d discovered three more miscreants – her profile was still on Elance, Merchant Circle, and Thumbtack – I sent her a Cease and Desist with specific demands, including confirmation of the destruction of all printed and digital copies of the brochure. <crickets> DMCA came riding in on its white stallion to take down those profiles too.
Copyscape, we need to talk.
Pamela J. Starr, CBA, J.S.M., Virtual Paralegal Extraordinaire and tenacious redhead from the GSOT. As the lead paralegal and owner of StarrParalegals, LLC, Pamela also blogs as her alter ego, ‘Pamela the Paralegal‘ http://www.starrparalegals.com