"Hey, I finally came up with a great idea! It's almost identical to your idea! How cool is that? Thanks for the inspiration!"
With the evolution of Internet Marketing and online business, we are constantly studying working models and looking for creative inspiration.
We take what we learn and apply it to our own niche, or our own unique business model.
This is also the way Internet Marketing is most often taught. Whether it's visual examples or case studies, successful marketers show you the inner workings of campaigns and niche sites so you can learn how to do that method or strategy yourself. All you have to do is apply the same steps to your own site or business.
We see one successful marketer using a video sales page, and the next thing you know there are video sales pages everywhere. The same with big red headlines. And red arrows. Of course, way before the point of saturation, that original marketer is already using a completely different technique...
All that to say that the industry supports, and is used to, idea swiping.
What about when it's your idea, or your online business - one you've invested countless hours to create, that has become your sole source of income. It's personal. It's yours (not a public case study, or even used in a case study).
If someone then comes along and decides to claim it as their own, is that okay? Nevermind the hours of research and work you put into both the market and the model, which they have not invested themselves. Is that okay?
I'm talking about unique or creative ideas here, not common models. For example, I once came up with a brilliant catch phrase that I went on to use when speaking at events or on live webinars - and in many of my written pieces as well. That phrase was registered as a domain name and then offered back to me (by someone I knew!). It showed up on a business card as the tagline. It also showed up as the tagline on a blog - by a different person. Every time I said it, and I was well known for it, it would show up in use by someone that heard it...
Sure I could get it trademarked. But that does not stop people from using it. It only gives me legal ground from which to request that they stop using it.
And from the time it came out of my mouth that first time, to the time I could get it trademarked, it was already swiped anyway.
I had this conversation with a local business owner last week, who has had his entire website completely copied - down to his business name and logo - numerous times. He chose to change his name and design rather than pursue these bottom feeders, due to the time and money involved. Sad.
Honestly, I think that we all know the difference between using a proven model and swiping someone's idea or concept. I think we are all very well aware where the line is and which side of it we're on. But I'm wrong about that.
Every day I see it happen - whether to me, or to people I know. I've seen an FAQ page copied and pasted, and proudly displayed on a competing website. As if it was just there for the taking! I see people completely switch niches because someone else is seeing success and they're not (yet). I've seen copycat websites out my ears.
But do you want to know what really blows my mind??
And this is where I know I'm wrong on thinking there's an obvious line and an obvious etiquette...
People seem proud of their genius moment, and boast it straight to the person they stole it from!
Here's how it goes:
I have a website all about healthy houseplants. Not just houseplants that are healthy, but plants that are healthy to have in the house too. It's a fun little project that has become very profitable. I've quit my job at the grocery store and now work on my website full time. My best friend (who sort of mocked me at first) is now asking me all about how to make money with a website.
She asks me a million questions - and I answer them all. I tell her where to get the tools I use, what to use and what not to use, and genuinely try to help her out. She's toiling over which nicheto get into, like everyone does, and then one day she has a bright idea and she comes straight over with a big smile on her face and she says "I've got it! I'm going to do a website on houseplants! Isn't that brilliant?? I already set it up - here look..."
You can't trademark a general concept like a website about houseplants. You can't really do anything about it at all. After the initial shock to the gut, the only real action you can take is to choose whether to remain friends with that person or not.
In case you're wondering: That's NOT okay.
Unfortunately, people don't seem to realize this. And honestly, it's not easy to explain. In this industry of "teaching by example" or "do it like this", perhaps the line has become blurry. With or without trademark, with or without legal action, with or without bad intentions, it's not okay.
I say people don't seem to realize this, and I say that because they do not hide the fact. In most cases they come straight to the source and expect them to be flattered - or at the very least, given a pat on the back. Seriously!
It floors me every single time.
Often I don't even know how to respond.
I've given up trying to explain this to anyone IN the situation, and in the case of the houseplants website - would simply drop the friendship. They will defend their position to the end, completely shocked that you are the least bit ruffled or offended. And you don't have legal ground to stand on. So get over it, right?
To which I say:
Unfortunately this is a HUGE problem. It doesn't just happen to me, as a public figure in the space. It happens to niche marketers, and it happens with their closest friends. And for some reason, they think this is okay and leave you in a very awkward position over it. Similar to your neighbor saying "I just love your dog. So I decided to keep it." And you just stand there like... WTH?!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Particularly if you can explain this strange thinking to me. With a world of opportunity available to everyone right now... why swipe an idea?? And moreover: why think that's an okay thing to do in the first place? Or perhaps you DO think that's okay. I'd love to hear those thoughts too. (But stay away from my dog. )
"Of course it was a good idea! It was MINE!"