Why Marketers Should Care About Copyright and Plagiarism

Gorilla Sale ImageWhen it comes to issues of copyright infringement and plagiarism, certain groups are typically more passionate about it than others.

Though it’s difficult to cast a broad net and much of this is admittedly stereotyping, creatives, such artists, photographers, writers, etc., tend to be very aggressive about the issue, one way or another. This is understandable because of the very personal connection they have with their work and, often times, how deeply their livelihoods are tied to it.

Similarly, academics, are also passionate about plagiarism (though usually less so about copyright) due to both the ethical standards of their profession but also because their careers depend on their work and being recognized for it so having others swoop in and take recognition can be very harmful.

However, marketers traditionally have not been extremely interested in these issues. Historically, copyright and plagiarism issues for marketers have been more about how not to get sued than how to deal with misuses of your work.

But the Internet is changing that and, while marketers who specialize in search engine optimization (SEO) have woken up to that, a large number others haven’t.

But marketers need to understand that, these days, nearly all promotion, to some degree, is SEO and that one of the major landscape shifts the Internet caused in the industry is that it has brought plagiarism and copyright to the forefront of the issues every marketer needs to be worried about.

The Changed Landscape

Historically, marketing and advertising hasn’t been a hotbed for copyright litigation. Though there have been lawsuits and other legal action, litigation hasn’t been as common as it is in other fields such as journalism, music, movies, publishing, etc. This was because marketing is a field that isn’t looking to sell copyrighted works, but rather, is trying hard to give them away and get them attention.

With only limited copying between competitors (disputes that were often more trademark than copyright oriented) and widespread free distribution being the goal, copyright and marketing didn’t cross paths as much as with other fields.

However, the Internet has changed that and done so in three key ways:

  1. Increased Competition: With the rise of so many solo entrepreneurs and small businesses, there’s almost no industry where there isn’t increased competition due to the Internet.
  2. Increased Need for Content: Marketing content isn’t about writing a few print brochures, penning a few ads or even creating a whole marketing campaign. Marketing online demands a large amount of content and a constant stream of new works to fill large websites that customers and search engines love.
  3. Increased Importance of Originality: Though originality has always been crucial in promotion, SEO makes it even more so as duplicated content is routinely penalized and Google isn’t always good at determining which site is the original.

What this means is that marketing material is more likely than ever to be copied and that copying is increasingly likely to harm your business. This is especially true for static content that is at the core of your site.

How to Address It

Though the copyright issues a marketer faces isn’t anything like those faced by musicians, filmmakers, publishers and others that seek to sell copyrighted works, they are somewhat similar to those that are being dealt with by bloggers and increasingly, journalists.

For marketers, distribution itself isn’t necessarily the problem. The problem is when it comes without proper attribution and, especially when it’s used by competitors. This not only gives that competitor a short cut, but causes confusion with the search engines and, potentially, customers.

So it’s important for marketers to start thinking about these issues and begin to take at least some action. In particular, there are five steps that every marketer will likely want to consider.

  1. Prioritize Your Content: Decide which content is the most valuable, most likely to be misused and would do the most damage when it is misused.
  2. Track and Monitor Its Use: There are many tools for tracking just about any type of creative content, understand how it’s being used. Use those tools, perhaps as a test at first, and get a picture of how your content has spread online.
  3. Prioritize Infringements: After that, start prioritizing your infringers. Many cases of copying you’ll likely want to ignore as they don’t harm your business and may even help you. Others, you’ll want to act on. Start with competitors plagiarizing your work and then spread to other harmful uses (spam blogs, blog plagiarists, etc.).
  4. Take Action: Take the action you feel is appropriate including cease and desist letters, DMCA notices and so forth.
  5. Reevaluate: Once you’re done, take a moment to evaluate how effective you were. Try to focus on if you were effective and, if you were, how you can improve. Focus on optimizing your time spent for your returns.

In short, this shouldn’t be a core part of what you do nor should it be a drain on your time. Though it’s an important part of your work, the distraction should be kept to a minimum because, after all, you’re in the business of promotion and not copyright enforcement.

Bottom Line

In the end, the climate for marketers has changed drastically in the last quarter century. What was once a rare concern is now at the forefront. Distribution, if done poorly, can be harmful and increased competition combined combined with the increasing demand for content that needs to be original, marketers can’t simply ignore copyright anymore.

This doesn’t mean you have to make it a top priority or spend all day hunting down infringers, that would be an overreaction in my opinion, but it’s important to start thinking about how the Internet has changed promotion and the ways it has affected distribution and copying.

Even if you don’t take any action today, being aware of the issues and watching them means that you’ll be prepared to act should it become necessary later.

And with copyright, preparedness can mean a great deal.

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