When Copy/ Paste Becomes IP Theft.

When Copy/ Paste Becomes IP Theft.

So, you’re a new small business, everyone wants a piece of your time, your suppliers all want their money and your customers are refusing to pay.  Your profits are being squashed from all sides, and something’s got to give. You are looking to cut corners.  Get something for nothing.  I get it.

I’ve recently come across some examples of people who have cut corners in their legal documents and policies – while I understand the reason they’ve done this, there are some severe implications both legal and otherwise, for cutting corners.

Specifically, let’s talk about using other people’s website Privacy Policy and Terms of Use documents.

Here are some concepts to consider, and to make things easier to understand, I have created a case study from a situation that I have personally experienced.  And it is not pleasant.  There are some useful learnings which will hopefully dissuade you from stealing intellectual property such as has occurred in the case study below.

Case Study:

Jane is a solopreneur; she owns and runs a service-based business in the maternity industry.  She has a brand new website to showcase her new service. Jane knows she needs legal documents on her website – Privacy Policy, Terms of Use – but isn’t sure what she needs to ensure she’s legally covered. Her services deal with mothers and babies, so she knows things could turn very bad if she’s not protected, and her customer expectations aren’t clearly stated.

Jane consults with a local legal specialist Anjelica but doesn’t proceed with getting her documents professionally drafted for her website.  Instead, Jane uploads to her website Terms of Use and Privacy Policy documents.

Angelica sees her post in a Facebook business group, asking for feedback on her website.  Natural curiosity leads Angelic to check the website Terms of Use and the Privacy policy only to find they are the same as the templates she has created for her template shop – WORD FOR WORD.

Angelica contacts Jane about the copying of her templates without permission (Angelica checked everywhere and there is no evidence that Jane purchased the templates from her shop).

Surprisingly, Jane insists she copied and pasted from other sources, and checked over by friends who work in the legal industry.

 

Q & A

What if Jane copied from a friend’s documents, which were prepared for her friends business, and purchased from a legal practitioner, like Anjelica?

  • If the other business is similar, then yes, the legal documents may well do what Jane needs.  But no two businesses are the same – allowances must be made for business model and structure of ownership, industry-specific insurances, and extent of liability.
  • If the business is not similar, then the legal clauses may not be applicable.
  • The details in the Privacy Policy discuss how customer details are securely stored, and then used, so this will be unique to your situation.

Removal, paraphrasing, and small changes to the original content does not escape copyright infringement. Anjelica, the copyright owner, has various rights,  protection from adaption of their original work. Hence, if Jane takes the position, it’s not a 100% copy as Jane has adapted the content to suit her own needs, that in itself would not be sufficient to defend the allegation of copyright infringement.

Answer – Jane is still breaching IP laws. And so is the friend who allowed Jane to copy the content.

 

What if Jane patched her documents together from free online resources?

Patching bits together from various online sources could also constitute copyright infringement – particularly if Jane only used parts of free templates, or was not a subscriber to the site. Even accessing the resource site’s own privacy policy or terms of use would infringe upon their copyright.

Answer – Coincidental similarity is not copyright infringement. But this typically results in significant differences in paragraph and sentence structure, headings, numbering, wording.

The main issue here is a breach of copyright.  Unless Anjelica chooses to waive, or release control, then she, as the person creating the content, retains rights over her Intellectual Property (IP) and holds rights to sell it as she sees fit.  These are Angelica’s rights, and this is how she derives her income.

Deriving an income from intellectual property is no different from an artist that spends time crafting a sculpture and selling it, or a massage therapist or other health practitioner that agrees to provide a service.  It’s only that written content is relatively easy to reproduce, and somewhat difficult to trace, and but it can be proved.

So what now?

Depending on the situation – Jane could face legal action from Anjelica, the copyright owner.  By copying and using the content without permission or purchase, Jane has deprived Anjelica of lawful income. If this were a physical product, it would be called theft, or if this were audio-visual, it would be called piracy.

If Jane did copy the legal content from a third-party, and they purchased the content from Anjelica – then they could be in breach of their obligations which they agreed to at the time of purchase.

Seriously?

Sadly, this may not be the worst thing for Jane.

If she takes shortcuts and didn’t complete her essential website legal documents properly or lawfully, then what conclusions might be drawn about her customer contract agreements?

Will they be a good fit for her business, and cover her legally for any adverse issues that may arise?

Or will they also be cobbled together from friend’s advice, online free resources, and copy/ pasted from various places?

If she chooses not to follow basic legal processes, what other processes are lax in her business?

These may appear to be drastic, worst-case or even unlikely scenarios (but people who steal copyright do get sued!) PS I am in the process of resolving the situation upon which this case-study is based.

With a bit of knowledge and education (and integrity) – it’s easy to avoid.

 

Please – read through the free resources on my site, they’re there to inform and educate you. And if you need help, you can book a 10 min chat with me to get you headed on the right path.

XX Shalini

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