From Swapping Ideas To Swiping Ideas…

"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!

Yes, seriously. 😯

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!"

About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 17 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn's unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews...more»


  1. Kat Gordon says:

    I think the real fallout of this phenomenon is that we're all gun-shy and skeptical towards even well-meaning people. Great partnerships never materialize because everyone's so paranoid about being copied, stolen from, or otherwise ripped off. I had a great meeting with a company about offering complementary services. Nothing happened. Only after one employee left and privately emailed me did I learn the owner was so paranoid about being "taken" that she refuses to partner with anyone.

    • I agree with you. And that stinks. It's the reason that I don't use my own affiliate sites in live case studies here anymore, and stopped actively working on those sites completely. Now I work under private registration with pen names etc etc etc. It's a disservice to everyone - to me and to my readers.

    • Still considering myself a 'newbee' I should think this situation is Why everyone says Write Better Ads & Find Targeted Traffic. Maybe my values are different But I would be afraid to copy even an Article and put my name on it.

    • Store Locator Software says:

      I beleive that idea is nothing, realization is what matters. An average Joe might have tens of ideas before he goes to morning bathroom routine, and how many of them do we see now online?

      • Right. I wasn't referring to ideas - which can be inspired by a variety of sources. But to the implementation of an idea already implemented by someone you know personally, which is a different monkey altogether. 😉

  2. Hi Lynn,

    I totally agree with your view points and am just as baffled. It is definitely something I don't understand or care to understand. For me it ranks right up there with making false promises, hype, lies and the all too common scams and deceptions around us.

    I've come to realize that unfortunately many people no longer value morals, ethics, and character. I can go on and on and let all this negative energy consume me but I choose to recognize it and move on and let karma take care of itself.

    Thanks for your Always honest words, authenticity and transparency.

    With much respect,

    • Thank you Andrea. I agree that the concept in general should not consume us or create doubt, worry or fear. But when it hits home and gets personal, that's a different story. You can't help but be shocked, and most likely very upset, in a situation like that.

  3. Kay Mellor says:

    This happened to me just last month. I told my friend how I was selling car window stickers really well. A week later she came back and told me how she was going to start selling window stickers for the home. WTF!?! There are a million, billion, gazillion niches out there and you can't even think for yourself to diversify slightly??!!!??

    • That's the thing that blows my mind - that she came back and told you! You would think she would at least hide the fact. It's like coming over and saying "I took your diamond earrings last time I was here. Don't they look great??" Seriously. That's the part I don't get...

      It's one thing to steal, copy, swipe, etc. But to go back to the source and BRAG about it?? What gives?

      So are you still friends? LOL

  4. Paul Cooley says:

    I am very happy to see you talk about this Lynn...

    You are absolutely right... It's NOT right! I think it could boil down to these two things (probably more)...

    Most people don't have an understanding that digital property is just as important and valuable as physical property. It's weird, people are willing ti swipe things that are digital, but they would never take something physical.

    The other might be laziness. They don't want to put in the work and do tbe research... It's just easier to copy someone else.

    Which is kinda scary to think about how many "entrepreneurs" are out there that really aren't very strategic... They're just copy cats.

    It comes down to honesty and common sense. Which I hope we all have. 🙂

    • There's a big difference between being an entrepreneur and starting a successful online business, and chasing the end of the rainbow. There's also a difference between "making money online" and running a profitable e-business. There's nothing wrong with trying various ways just to make money, mind you - but it's worth pointing out that there's a difference. Don't you think?

      • Paul Cooley says:

        Absolutley! There is a difference... I guess in my mind there is a maturing proccess and as we grow our business and grow in our business, there should be a maturity there that will not steal other people's stuff.

  5. I wonder if this mindset is also helped along by the multitude of 'copy-me' businesses out there in the network marketing world. In that industry you are encouraged to do EXACTLY what your mentor is doing and copy-cat them all you want (of course without stealing their actual customers or teritory) - anything to get the team going.

    I've never experienced anything like what you're talking about so I can't really relate but I'm sure I would never personally take someone's idea and then go tell them about it. I also think sometimes it looks like someone might be copying someone else when they actually did have the idea without actually copying it. I know there have been many times where I thought of a website to start or product to sell and then saw someone else doing it. I have felt like if I continued with my own plans they would think I was copying them so then I have to weigh how important it is for me not to 'look' like I'm copying them even though I actually didn't.

    Great post and food for thought!

    • Good points, Angela. Obviously there isn't much new in the world, and almost every idea or model is going to have it's competition. That's to be expected. The thing that bothers me most is when people close to you (whether professionally or personally) rip off your entire design or idea... and then tell you all about it, as if it's a good thing! Crazy, LOL.

  6. I have NEVER read a more accurate description of how swiping goes. This exact thing has happened to me over and over and over again. Either I'm just dumb or way too trusting of other female business owners.

  7. Here's a borderline situation for you, on this same general topic. Because I imagine this could get confusing...

    A friend of mine, who I met through peer groups online, is doing something really cool in her business right now. It's not a new model, in fact it's quite common.

    That said, I *really* admired how she had it set up - and how great it looked. She offered to show me exactly how she did it. Which is the super cool stuff that happens between friends. Obviously we're in different markets so it wouldn't be "competitive". Anyway, I offered to PAY HER to set it up for me - and at the very least would offer her a percentage of the net profit just for the help. I value that friendship (and her knowledge) a great deal.

    In my opinion, that's a different thing altogether. Obviously we all use common models like webinars, teleseminars, squeeze pages, info-products, etc.

  8. Kathryn Griffiths says:

    When it comes to business... this is a "forever" problem. I was a craft and gift product designer for a large company for many year. It was a problem we continually faced. Even "non-disclosure" agreement never worked. By the you fight the problem legally, you've wasted precious time and money that could be spent coming up with a new idea and product.

    I would go to gift shows and find the products I designed 6 months before, (that were sent to China for production) in some Chinese guys booth. How do you fight all of China.

    In the internet world it's even a bigger problem because things move so fast.

    I found it wasn't worth getting my panties in a bind over. I just moved on quickly with new ideas and products.

    It really comes down to a sense of "Personal Integrity"... you either have it or you don't. I find it hard to find any idea or product that is really original in the Internet Marketing field. I see the same old "Woo Woo" stuff and information regurgitated from blog to blog, and I'm actually more than a little bored.

    I don't know what the solution is... but to say... "The "Sense Of Entitlement" seems to permeate much of our society on all fronts.

    And... like you said... "It's not okay." Best thing for me is not participate in such behavior.

    Now there is two of us on the same page... who will join us?

  9. TxCHLInstructor says:

    People copy other people's ideas all the time. That's because there really aren't all that many new ideas anyway. But an idea is only a small part of a success. Execution is needed. In particular, I don't think that your analogy of stealing an idea with stealing a dog is really all that accurate.

    By way of illustration, let me share a story about my favorite author.

    Isaac Asimov used to get lots of requests that went something like: "I'd like to provide you with a story idea for you to write about, and let's split the profits 50-50". His standard reply was "I have a better idea. I'll supply *you* with a story idea, you write the book, and send me 50% of your profit." Dr. Asimov never got a single taker on that.

    In other words, the idea may not really be all that important in the grand scheme of things. I would further venture to say that the ideas that you have had in your IM career are not as important as the fact that you actually acted upon them.

    • Regarding my example, I was making a point of how it feels. Particularly when someone you are close to takes something you worked hard on and claims it as their own. It's shocking - and I can't even begin to imagine where they thought that was okay to do.

      I'm referring to site designs I worked hard on. Brands I am building. That sort of thing. Like the example above where Kay's friend copied her successful business for herself. It's insulting. Even more so that they think it's OKAY.

  10. Scott Lovingood says:

    I think the biggest problem is that people don't understand ethics and morality in general. A company I used to work with believed in steal shamelessly. It isn't as bad as it sounds though. Take ideas that others have and adapt them to your business.

    For instance let's take the houseplant example.

    Instead of copying it (which really won't help unless they can drive traffic to it) I develop it for a very specific niche such as plants that help people with allergies. I then spread to other natural treatments for allergies. I can expand to personal effects such as deodorant, etc.

    I have copied your idea (plants that are healthy) but not stolen it. It served as inspiration for me to develop something more.

    In writing it is acceptable to use the work of others to inspire you. It is not all write to copy it word for word. I can take the ideas from several people and combine it into something new and useful.

    Creating wealth is all about providing your knowledge in new and unique ways.

    Don't copy, create.

    Don't swipe, be inspired

    • I agree with you on those points, Scott. What I don't agree with is when your best friend or someone in your mastermind or accountability group - who has been bleeding you dry for information - decides to skip all the research and work that you put into your business, and just copy your business instead. And then flaunt it with a smile.

      • Scott Lovingood says:

        Oh no disagreement there. It is a serious betrayal of a mastermind group or accountability group.

        Unfortunately I think some of the "gurus" teach this type of thought process. They even sell copy and paste systems so people think it is ok to do it for anything.

        Ethics and respect for others is key for long term success. That is why so many people never make it long term. They aren't willing to put in the work up front to get it right.

  11. Well put Lynn, hope the people who need to read it see it! It does make it harder to trust people, but since I'm a strong believer in the good of mankind I want to believe they don't realize it's stealing. I hope that's true anyway.

    • They very obviously don't, Leigha. Which is where it gets tricky on how to handle it. And I have yet to find a good way to handle it, or to maintain any sort of trust or friendship afterward...

  12. James Eustice says:

    I was just talking to a friend of mine who had this same problem a few weeks ago. She has a fairly popular baby blog and was always receiving free gear from manufacturers to review. She told one of her "good friends" about it and a month later that friend had a website up and was asking her for contacts with the manufacturers. I was kind of amazed that she had the audacity to ask for her contacts.

    I think it's a little bit of human nature at play here. We naturally want to take the path of least resistance. It's easier to take the idea from someone else especially I you see that other person successful at it. It's the same reason get rich quick schemes still work. (unfortunately) We all want the big bucks, some just don't want to work for it.

    • That's crazy James - and exactly the type of situation I was referring to with this post. What I don't understand, cannot imagine, is how this "friend" thinks that is okay. Okay enough to go back to her friend for her sources, expecting to get her full blessing. Seriously.

  13. This is all very interesting, but the truth is that unless you have a concrete example, it is really hard to feel truly honest in commenting, and the other thing is that malice assumed is not very nice and we all know what assuming makes out of us.

    I used to be in the chocolate manufacturing business. With my packaging background, I was always designing unusual things for our hotel business and for the two gift marts we were in: New York and Atlanta.

    I would buy tons of magazines and go through them trying to get stimulated to produce a new design for our truffle boxes that were going into the marts for the holidays. Invariably, we would arrive in New York, go to the stores of several competitors—one of which was in Trump Towers, and there would be designs almost exactly like mine.

    “Did they have a spy in our plant?” I often wondered. And then I began to realize that all of us need stimulation to be creative—whether it be periodicals, looking at nature or whatever, and even though none of us were copying each other exactly—we were all looking at the same or similar things to get inspired—thus . . . .

    I have always believed that total uniqueness is a rare quality, and the artist or creator of the business or piece, or whatever, usually ends up being famous for their unique contributions.

    The internet, as far as I can tell is a place where tons of people are selling the same ideas on how to do all the different phases required to be successful.

    I try and look at people as intrinsically good, until they prove themselves otherwise, and I honestly believe that the way internet marketing is promoted leads people to think that all they have to do is copy this or that way of doing things, and they can have instant success.

    I have recently learned, the hard way, that is not the case. I have also realized that rare is the concept out there on the net that is totally unique. You can take anybody’s domain name, find out when it was created; research it and discover someone had all or part of it before. The rare birds like Google; Facebook; Twitter; Yahoo; YouTube and so forth are those unique ideas that stand out to me as exceptions.

    Most of the rest of us are all doing the absolute best we can to learn the business and succeed. My faith in human nature leads me to believe that to look at people as sinister all the time would lead to paranoia. Contrarily, to throw yourself out there and try to help others, like you do Lynn, is a gift. If you spend your time worrying about somebody quoting you or taking your “z” like I almost did—then you lose that lovely, fresh specialness we all love so much about you.

    If they are quoting you—others will pick up on it, and eventually someone will say, “Hey, wasn’t that Lynn’s line?” Take it for the compliment that it is. Life is short, and it is better to run your race with your eye on the prize than to look around or look back all the time and end up tripping over something that, in the long run, does not matter. As my girlfriend’s Zadie used to say, “ferget about it!”

    • That's the whole point, Shari - that malice is NOT assumed. I made it very clear in my post when I said "even without bad intentions".

      If it were just about me, it would be one thing. But this happens to others as well, by their FRIENDS no less - as has been illustrated here in the comments. And personally, I think it needs to be said... that this is NOT OKAY.

      It's very obvious that the people doing it don't realize how offensive or shocking it is. So I thought it high time to open it up for discussion so that it could be made known. At the very least, people need to be aware that they will lose trust and possibly friendships over such things.

  14. Dave Jackson says:

    An author gave me his book to preview. Later he asked me what kind of technology I used to run my memberhsip site. Being a nice guy I turned on my webinar software and gave him a quick 5 minute tour. A few months later he launched his own memberhsip site - covering the same topic as me - and undercut my price. Nice guys finish what was that again....???

  15. The Internet has certainly accelerated an age old issue. Something that's stuck with me for decades is a line radio business adviser Bruce Williams used to say with frequency (approximately): "Ideas are a dime a dozen and probably overpriced". I regularly Google my own ideas only to find them already exploited dozens of times over. With such a wealth of ideas at everyone's fingertips, many people don't even try to be creative. Then again, I've seen fairly convincing arguments that you can even do better in a web business by being less creative than the competition rather than more. Look at movies and TV shows. Old ideas usually sell better than new ones.

    The value of an idea has always been more in other factors than in the idea itself. Now that the fruit of one's labor can be copied with a simple hand movement, we may have to develop new tactics. In the future, success may have to be more than ever a matter of the speed, timing and personality we put behind an idea.

    PS- I hereby make public rights to any ideas I've expressed in this comment. 😉

    • General ideas are one thing. Like the fact that I am writing a guide on creating content at It's not like the topic hasn't been covered in other guides in this same market.

      But let's say, on the other hand, that I followed Alice Seba around and watched her like a hawk. And then came out with a guide or a blog post on the same topic as hers every single time she published. That's RUDE. Now let's take it a step further and suppose I emailed Alice and suggested we swap links, or that she promote my ebook. That's INSULTING.

      Different than just general ideas & concepts, and the fact that there isn't much new or unique. I'm referring to when it gets personal - and the fact that people don't realize it's... not okay.

  16. It would be understandable if they have just credited you for the idea or something. But still, most people get to be self-centered once the idea has been launched. I think they do know that it's morally wrong, but what else can they do once it's already been done.

    They should have just told you directly that they are asking for ideas for their own use, with that said it will be much formal without using any sneaky tactics. Many have ask me about business concepts, but I never spilled my own ideas for my future plans, I know that these things do happen, sadly, it also happens to those who you really trust.

    • That's the problem - I don't think they believe it is morally wrong. I think they are shocked when the person they copied or stole from is not happy for them. THIS is the part I don't get.

      Time and again I've been shown domains & sites that are a direct copy (save a word, or maybe the color) of my own work. I just shake my head. Why do they come back and show them off, with a big smile on their face? There's an obvious disconnect there.

  17. Lynn,

    Here's what I think, and it's also the way it is! First, I definitely agree with you. But, people are desperate for money and they are greedy. Some, just want to make enough to pay the bills. Some, think they can become a millinaire by working online. It's every man or woman for theirself. It's dog eat dog. And, since the internet is part of the world, even more so today with Twitter and Facebook, there is going to be a lack of integrity online. Some people are going to walk over anybody to get where they want. In contrast, some people are going to have integrity like yourself. My point is, this problem stems from a lack of integrity, plus laziness. We've got companies that were given 41 billion dollars as bailout money. The same year, the CEOs received a bonus of one billion dollars. Even after the companies performed terribly. Plus, companies moving jobs overseas. They don't have to do this. Our world ran smoothly before this started taking place. But, they do it because they can get by with it, and they are greedy. Those same people are online and they are greedy. No amount of money will satisfy these people. Pink Floyd said it best in their song "Money", there's a lyric that says, "Sharing's fair, but keep your hands of my stash.

    Changing gears, I thought Google would frown on duplicate content. I know a guy who was making $100,000 yr using Google Adwords. Until one day, Google sent him a letter and shut down all his campaigns. Also, I thought Copyscape would protect someone from copying your website.

    • There are definitely issues of greed and lack of integrity, but the issue I'm talking about here is a completely different one. When it comes to greed and other negative "know betters"... we don't go back to the source and brag about it. Or expect a pat of congratulations. There's something odd about that in my book, and I don't get the line of thinking at all. In these particular cases the "offender" is shocked that their choice is not well received!

      • Lynn,

        I see what you mean. Why doesn't Google's rules about duplicate content protect against people copying peoples websites, articles, etc? Also, doesn't copyscape prevent against copying websites?

        • This is not about an exact copy, or duplicate content. Which is a different issue altogether - copyright infringement. It's about insulting friends and peers by belittling their hard work and/or creativity by taking their ideas as your own.

  18. Kat's comment is spot-on. As someone who likes to help people, it's sad that we have to be so paranoid. When someone asks for help, you want to give them a hand. Then you think, "what is this person's real intention?" "how much should you share?" "are they going to copy, or make it their own?".

    You have to leave it to karma to take care of. If they don't have any original ideas in the first place, how far are they going to go?

    • True. People are constantly asking to see MY sites, incessantly even - insisting that they need a visual example. I feel like that is a disservice to their own imagination and creativity, and refuse. You can easily do a Google search to see any number of "examples" for creative inspiration... and so I point them there. As much for them as for me, because I know how personal I take it when they simply copy something I've worked so hard on- to the tiniest detail.

  19. Hugh Fraser says:

    Hi Lynn,
    Now before I go any further I have pulled that post, the reason I pulled it was what you said "it was OK to quote you" but that wasn't a quote it was a post I got from here, I feel really bad now and feel I have led to you writing this post.

    I am sorry

    • You didn't inspire this post at all Hugh, so no worries. I appreciate you asking me about reprinting my content on your blog, and removing it after we discussed it. This topic was actually inspired by a conversation with friends who have all experienced this particular issue firsthand. Not content copying. A different issue altogether. 😉

  20. It is definitely a confusing and strange world in the internet marketing space.

    I think a newbie comes in and they see not only these examples, but cookie cutter websites being sold as a "business in a box - just do what I did" and it all totally blurs that line of what is okay and what's not okay.

    I find myself shaking my head and going "that's so not cool to do" at least once a day online.

    And then there's the "guru" card to toss onto the pile, and that's a whole other beast of a conversation in terms of right and wrong.

  21. That Guy John says:

    This type of thing happens on and offline.
    I suppose I will be the "A" Hole and put it like this.
    Taglines, catch phrases, logos and true business models if not registered WILL be copied and re-used. It is all a matter of how badly you want to keep your content and ideas completely for yourself. Which really breaks down to how much money are you willing to spend. Once you start speaking of business the whole term "right and wrong" holds no ground. "Legal or illegal" however, is what really matters and if you didn't take the proper steps to protect yourself.. well then shame on you.

    BUT, Ethical and Un-ethical business standards are what help to build or tear down trust in your customers / site visitors. Keeping a fair balance is important.
    Competition is a beast and fair game IMO, to an extent. If you feel something has been stolen from you and someone else is reaping the rewards from it either spend the money to protect that fact or just step up your game.

    • I don't disagree with any of that. Unfortunately the cost to protect and pursue, combined, is often not worth it. Sad but true, and I've seen many a case where the business owner chose not to "throw good money after bad". That said, you do have that option in the case of taglines, business names, logos, etc.

      What I'm referring to here is the more fuzzy of lines, and the theft of concepts and creativity that cannot be trademarked - happening most often between friends, and considered okay by the offending party and NOT okay by the other.

  22. Mary Bradley says:

    It does need to be said, Lynn, "It's NOT okay!" And YOU need to say it to your friend - face to face, IN her face. Likely, she has no clue.

    Years ago I managed the cosmetics department in a successful store, but I always wanted my own bookstore. My boss (store owner) supported me when I told him what I wanted to do. But then I had the "brilliant" idea of combining books AND cosmetics, because that's what I knew, and I (offhandedly) asked my former boss what he thought. He basically told me, That's NOT okay! I was shocked. It just hadn't occurred to me. (Plus, looking back - what a bad idea it was, anyway!)

    You must tell your ex-friend, for your sake AND hers. Hope this helps.

    • I don't have any problem stating how I feel on this issue. Unfortunately this is happening to more than just me - to a lot of people - and it was suggested that someone (I) should step forward and talk about it openly. My hope is that people will realize... it's NOT okay.

      I admire your boss for being open about his feelings in that situation, and you for respecting it. I've had employees quit to become my competition, or worse - become my competition ON THE CLOCK for me!, which is another issue that really ruffles my feathers. 😛

  23. Luca Lazzari says:

    It's not okay!
    But the nature of the web is always changing, and in the long run I don't believe you can succeed just mimicking or stealing other people's ideas. I firmly believe that this kind of approach is highly ineffective. You can get some dollar today and tomorrow, but to endure you must do a lot more than this!

    • Even worse than failing at business due to the lack of any real creativity or an entrepreneur mindset... it's a great way to lose a good friend, or to get blackballed in any online forum or group. 🙂

  24. Cindy Brock says:

    This is EXACTLY why I have been stalling on releasing my Amazon Seller Secrets book: there is no way to protect my secrets. I know of three people who are potential competitors who have signed up for my advance notification list. I also know exactly what they will do: they'll take the ideas, copy them, and pass them off as their own. (I have actually contacted a lawyer about this to see what I can do - if anything - to keep this from happening.)

    When I first started doing technical writing, Microsoft got all up in arms about tech writers using screen captures from their products. Yet, if I'm writing a user guide about MS Word, then I need to use screen captures from their product. I'm not sure how it got resolved, but Microsoft must have realized that my doing this, we were PROMOTING their product. After all, they make a zillion dollars a year so what do they care?

    In a nutshell, people are LAZY and want an easy way out. They don't want to work hard at something: they want it handed to them on a silver platter. This is what irks me about young kids today when their parents spoil them. There's an air of ENTITLEMENT - and that's only going to create more problems going forward. (Thank goodness I don't have kids!)

    In closing, there is a book that's been out for years called, "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing." They say something (and I'll paraphrase here) about "there can only be one #1 and no remembers who #2 is". That was true in the old days of marketing where it took a lot longer to get out your message. Today, you have to make it harder to get your information while you try to make yourself #1 (and then it still probably won't work)!

    • With written work, you have a copyright protection. I wouldn't let that deter you from getting your guide out there. Go for it! 😉 But I would remove the known competitors from your mailing list. 🙂

      • Cindy Brock says:

        My husband made an interesting point: he said that if the internet had been around when people like Einstein, Tom Edison, etc. had come up with their ideas, they would have been stolen as well.

        I also have a friend who created a seemingly obvious wedding item. However, she added a twist to it that made it 100% unique and she's making a fortune. She spent $4000 and had the idea patented and if/when someone tries to copy it, the lawyer as the letters all ready!

  25. Lynn,

    I believe what you are seeing is an interesting, yet troubling, cultural shift. I frequently deal with this issue, only in a different context, in the college courses I teach. When I assign homework or papers that involve any sort of research, I have to run them through plagiarism checkers now. In the past, at least those who did plagiarize tried to hide it in some way. Now, not only do they not try to hide it, they actually tell me how I'm being ridiculous to give them a failing grade for something that "everyone does."

    Like you, I've even had students plagiarize directly from some of my work. I was flabbergasted and asked them how they could possibly think I wouldn't recognize my own work being ripped off. With the exception of one or two, they were stunned by my reaction since they thought I would be flattered that they were copying me. I suspect that some of the people you are talking about fall in that same boat.

    The students tell me that there is no sense in "reinventing the wheel" since the work has already been done, and been done much better than they could do it. I point out that the REASON it is done better than they can do it is that they are trying to shortcut learning HOW to do it. I think that may very well speak to what you are seeing. Many people seem to have the idea that there is no sense in doing all of the grunt work when someone else has already done it. Plus, they actually are goofy enough to think you will be flattered that they are using your "example."

    I actually liked your dog example. I tell my students a similar thing. I ask them a couple of questions: Would it be O.K. if your best friend stole your paycheck after you worked hard to earn it? Of course, they say no. Then I ask them why they think it is O.K. to steal something from me that I worked hard to produce, claim it as their own, and then brag to me about doing it? Then, instead of letting them off the hook, I put them through a "status degredation" ceremony. I make them meet with me, the chair of our department, and any other professor I can drag in from the hall, and make them tell us why - even though my syllabus clearly states that plagiarism is not tolerated - they thought they could steal someone else's work.

    I've never had a student cheat twice :)) Too bad you can't do something similar :)) Of course, you can in one way. You could call them out on their behavior and ask them to tell you why they thought it was O.K. to betray your kindness with theft.


    • "stunned by my reaction" - that's exactly what I get when I do call people out on it. And even when I just casually mention the offense, pointing it out just for their sake with zero negative inference, they become incredibly defensive and argue their position to the death. Which I just don't get, and won't participate in.

      Interesting what you are seeing as a similar trend in your profession. Interesting, and alarming.

  26. This is a topic that I am thinking about a lot at the moment. I've got a great idea for an eBook - it would be my first. And yet I realize that it is just so "copyable" that I'm hesitant to put the work in.

    And yes, it is the bragging to your face that is the most shocking thing about this trend.

    I've come across images that I have bought being used by someone else. Now if they too have bought them then that is fine. But when they say "courtesy of my website name" - but not a clickable link 🙁 - it is clear that they have simply swiped it from me.

    A good meaty topic, Lyn. I've read every one of the comments which I don't always!

    • Thank you Dawn. In the case of the images, contact them with a removal request. If they do not respond and/or comply, contact their host with proof that they are using stolen material. You own the rights to that image, and that can be resolved. The same with your ebook - you'll have copyright protection.

      I certainly do not advocate living in fear, or letting such thoughts hold you back from any success you want. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, this post was to point out infringements of a different kind - that are not protected under copyright (or general laws of friendship).

  27. Patty Gale says:

    Many years ago, when I had Patty's Pretty Paper, I had a gal come to me for help asking how I did some of the technical stuff for that business, what kind of printers did I use, where did I get my artwork, not knowing at the time what she was planning.

    I was under the assumption that she was talking about setting up a website with a cart and things in general.

    I knew her from an online moms group a lot of us were part of back in those early years, so I offered to help and shared pretty extensive information of the tools and tips that I used at the time.

    I didn't think much of it because she seemed really nice. One day, I saw a post of hers on that same moms group.

    I went to the url in her signature line and was floored. Apparently, she was creating her own note card / stationery business, too, and it was pretty obvious that instead of doing her own research, she had used all of my stuff.

    She had taken the text of all my product descriptions word for word, the setup and layout of my site, all the way down to my tag line, even used the same exact product quantities and prices.

    I remember her posting about her brand new business and a lot of people commending her on the great job she did on her site and getting everything set up. Not once did she acknowledge all the information and help that I had given her.

    Then, I received an email from her saying, "Come take a look at what I did!" I was thinking, "Are you kidding me?"

    I was floored and I guess also pretty naive at the time because I was so early on in my work at home career. I just couldn't believe that someone would have the audacity to do that.

    She's still in that same business today.

    Needless to say, it left a very bitter taste in my mouth. I don't mind helping people, but since then I am very cautious about who I share with.

    Lynn, you said in an earlier comment, "Now I work under private registration with pen names etc etc etc."

    A number of years ago, I was dead set against pen names and private registration, but not any more. These days, I always register a new site with private registration and do not use my real name.

    While I understand your thinking that it does a disservice to your readers because you want to show them the possibilities, I also believe that it's just smart business to protect your web properties.

    • I'm just shaking my head. I simply don't understand it. This is how the kindness and extension of friendship is all to often repaid. And they don't seem to get how it feels on the other end of that situation. It left you with a bitter taste, but you have to wonder if she ever had a second thought about it... Unfortunately it makes those that have so much to offer, less interested in giving.

  28. James Smith says:

    Yes it is frightening how people steal everythin on the internet. Whenever I want to use some idea. I always think if I use this will it
    in some way harm the originator.

  29. mike gerhard says:

    Wow, what an education just reading this string. Question
    How do you register a web url in a pen name if the name has to match your name on credit card for processing?

    • Ellen Braun says:

      I think you'd need to get Private Registration if you really don't want anyone to find you through that site. Then, you'd register with your real name and the name on your card, but only your registration company would know that that site is owned by you!

    • Right, you use private domain registration at your registrar. Then you can sign up for hosting under your pen name, paying with your usual billing information. You can also set up a DBA with your business checking account, meaning "Doing Business As". I deposit checks with 3 different names and have for years.

  30. Ellen Braun says:

    Oh, how I WISH that I had come across this post 2 months ago!!! (Sniff, sniff...)

    I was one of those naive people who had not realized the exact difference between swapping and swiping ideas, and I registered a domain name that was similar to a name someone I admired owned. I had a completely different idea regarding the site structure and monetization, but the domain name was a phrase with one word of a difference from this person's domain. Honestly, I had not realized it was a problem. Unfortunately, I lost a valuable friendship over my naivete. (I'm still hoping that the relationship can be renewed, in time.)

    Years ago, I spent hours on the phone helping someone who ended up swiping my theme, niche, and everything else on my site. It was hurtful, but I had no idea what to do, so I did nothing.

    Let's look at the houseplant example:

    Let's say I've got this great site about healthy houseplants, keeping your indoor air quality healthy, etc, and my best friend asks me all about my site.

    Then she puts up a site about growing apple trees. Hmmm, no harm there.

    Then she puts up a site about growing dwarf fruit trees in containers on patios. Hmmm, no harm there.

    Then she puts up a site about growing dwarf fruit trees in containers in your home. Hmmm, is she stepping on my toes?

    Then she puts up a site about indoor plant containers. Um, this is starting to get uncomfortable.

    Then she puts up a site about the emotional benefits of having plants in your home. (My site is about the physical benefits of plants.) Ouch.

    The point being, that the line where someone has used your idea as a springboard for their idea, and where someone has swiped your idea, can be blurry.

    • Ellen.. if you really value the friendship, why don't you take down your content, and hand over the domain to your friend.. or let it expire?

    • I wouldn't have a problem with your particular houseplant/apple tree example. And if I just had a houseplant site, and my friend was on her 5th site, still not targeting my exact niche, I'd say I should start learning from her - and looking at ways we can interlink for mutual benefit.

      But if my domain were and this friend proceeded to grow her online business with,, etc - THEN we'd have a problem.

      Does that make it a little less fuzzy?

  31. web design hamilton says:

    Hello Lynn, just wanted to congratulate you on your wonderful perspective on how an online business should be developed. I'm so thrilled I've read the thoughts of someone really understanding how things should be like.

  32. You are so right - "Imitation is the greatest form of flattery" may be true to some extent but when that initial bit of an ego trip has rubbed off, and the "hang on a minute isn't that my idea...." has kicked in, it sucks!
    I guess the only thing is you know that the idea was yours!
    Wasn't there a huge thing about Facebook founders a while ago with the same issue - I guess that knowing the idea was yours (and you not being a billionaire) might pinch a little. (not, btw, making any judgement one way or another on the ownership of the facebook idea!!).

    • I haven't kept up with the facebook story, so no comment on that (yet). That said, the issue is not a new one. As for ego trips, mine never gets inflated - the only thing I notice is the throbbing red toes from getting my feet stepped on. 😛

  33. Well, we have a thing in our group that 'Thou shalt not steal'.. and so far it's been respected!

    The idea started because a lot of my family and friends are into real estate investing. We had to feel free to tell others about what we were looking into without fear they would go buy the property out from under us. So, we had a rule, that the property was off limits until the original person said, 'OK, I'm not gonna buy it.. you can'

    We transferred the same philosophy to our internet business. This may not help with acquaintances.. but I'll tell you what.. if they came to me later all excited about MY idea, I'd certainly let them know I feel.

  34. I am amazed at this article - are there really people out there copying websites and then saying "look at me"?!?! I just can't fathom it.

    I can see how we look at the things around us and use them as inspiration and we define them as "I like that" or "I'd avoid that".

    I always thought those that would flat out copy are trying to get away with it before anyone else notices (which isn't right, of course) but would never even have thought someone could say "I've copied your idea, aren't I great!".... I am just shaking my head!

    That saying "imitating is a form of flattery" just shouldn't apply to any business model!

  35. I think people who just copy are not just cut out to blog or do things on their own. How can they blog if they can't even think of what to blog and what they resort to is copy. If they copy the first time, then I think they'll be copying always or all throughout their blogging life.

    • That's true, Andrew. But when it's a friend, a client, or a peer - it's a difficult situation. And for some reason they don't see it as the offense that it is. It's less about copying content and copyright infringement, and more an issue of idea & friendship infringement. It's a hard topic to nail down and explain...

  36. OMGosh Lynn! You've said what has been bugging me for a long time! I just recently had been doing link exchanges with a competition and he said to me, "Wow! I really like your website! You must be doing great?!" Dumb me didn't realize he was baiting me and I said "Yeah! I like your website also!" Within one month I was checking who was still linking back to me and noticed he wasn't anymore. I checked his website. To my shock! He had copied the entire concept! Including setting relationships with all my affiliates and everything! I decided to do nothing and change my entire concept. It still bugs me! But, I really wasn't doing all that great anyway. So, the jokes on him! Ha! Anyway, it still bugs me! What am I to do next time when I have a concept that is working well? Thanks again for this!

    • Wow. That really hits the gut, doesn't it? I'm sorry you had to go through this. What a sorry guy. Seriously. I'm glad you regrouped and moved forward, and didn't just throw in the towel - good for you!

      In the future, I would contact their web host with a cease & desist and let them handle the matter. Keep documentation of all correspondence of this kind in the case that you choose to take legal action.

  37. Lynn,

    Thanks for another stimulating

    I've read several 'guru's, so
    called, advocating just what
    your friend was aiming to do
    with your healthy house-plants

    For example three people with
    several Clickbank successes
    independently recommend that
    if you can find a product that
    sells well there you can make a
    'knock-off' but make it better
    and market it smarter.

    I guess this happens all the
    time in off-line businesses,
    the difference is that where
    patents are involved money
    for royalties is exchanged.

    Nokia and Apple are in court
    both in the US and UK over just
    such an issue.

    The worst kind of copying on-line,
    is, to my mind, web scraping since
    this is premeditated automated


    • That is one scummy recommendation and I would not consider anyone that taught that method to be a "guru" or an "expert". That's simply ridiculous and against all morals and ethics in ANY type of business.

      • Hmmmm...I think it's a very good idea to take a look at what's out there to develop your websites and products. You can see what appears to be working, what doesn't and go from there.

        I have stated similar advice on numerous occasions, and still stand by it. I guess the problem is that I can't really know how people interpret what I say. To me, that advice doesn't mean copy. It means find a way to deliver something even better to your customers.

        When speaking about information products, in particular (Stephen mentioned ClickBank), I'd never recommend someone go in blind and make an info product, unless they were very entrenched in the market and knew what they wanted. You look and see what is selling and develop from there. I am not suggesting taking someone's product and editing it here and there. That would be stupid. 😉

        Over the years, I've had a lot of stuff copied. For me, it's often my copy that people take and apply to different and sometimes similar markets. Other times it has been a full on a copy-and-paste job of my site, concept, content, etc. I used to let it bother me, but I just don't have the time or energy anymore.

        However, if it was a friend or colleague, and it would really depend on the circumstances, it might sting a little.

  38. Well, I can't really say I have had this done to me, I can say my husband has had a graphic or two he spent hours on swiped(watermark and all). So, the lines seem to very grey to some people, or they are just under the impression that there is enough money out there to be had so even if they take your website, they still have to do the marketing, and that is where the "real" work is(from their point of view)

    I can see it as being acceptable to some because there are so many businesses out there now a days that say they will give you a carbon copy of their site so you can help them sell their product. Many people do not understand how if that is ok, swiping yours is not.

    But yes, I think it is quite ballsy to go back to the friend you just took something from and show it to them as if it was yours. I'm with Lynn there, don't think I will ever get that thinking.

    thanks Lynn. I think we all needed this, just to remind us of the things that do go on in the online world and to protect as best we can and stay away from people who would steal from us without a moments thought or care.

    • That's the part that really gets me. I've had it "in my face" for years - and with a smile, no less. As if I should be flattered or something. I have yet to come up with a good response, better than the blank stare and awkward silence they get from me in return...

  39. Lauren Mullen says:

    This is a problem for sure but I don't look for it to change anytime soon. There is just a percentage of people who will never get it. Just look in the record industry. How long did people steal music downloads (and many still do even when theta cost only a doll or) before people started to pay for them online.
    Many just dint get the concept of digital property.
    I do think some newbies don't figure it out right away and might do it by mistake in the beginning
    Great post subject because it will bring attention To the fact

    • In that example, I've heard people reason that the industry is so rich they won't care - or feeling entitled to "something back" from the wealthy when they aren't themselves. Theft either way, but people do seem to find reasoning to their actions.

      That said, they don't normally share the fact with the artist or the label they stole from. LOL. They KNOW it's wrong. Unfortunately there is something seriously wrong in our industry, when they don't realize it's an offense...

  40. Norman Macey says:

    Hi Lynn,

    great post,would you like to let me have the address of the House Plant site.
    I have a site on Organic Gardening, we could possibly do a link trade.



  41. When you succeed at something, flattery is the impersonation but in some aspect I do wish that online business ideas and models could be copyrighted. If someone sells Tshirts for "$10 a barrel" and then someone comes out selling Tshirts for "a barrel for 10" -- obviously they have stolen part of the idea or---being that there are a million different people in the world, it is very possible for two people to think the same thought and idea.

    • I agree. And it's true that ideas are a dime a dozen. The problem I am seeing (and dealing with personally as well) is when this infringement comes directly from a personal connection: a friend, peer, member of your business group, etc.

  42. I am very interested to hear your opinion after watching The Social Network.

    Given the story told, did Mark Zuckerberg cross a line?

  43. I've got a few thoughts about this 🙂

    1. It IS wrong.
    2. You have to fight it. It doesn't always mean legal action. You can notify the webhost of said offender and have them taken down. Unfortunately, you need proof that you implemented the idea before they did.
    3. This is why it's very important to establish relationships with your readers/visitors. Email marketing is much more than "get on my list and I'll give you free stuff, and then sell to you until you unsubscribe." We're marketing (or should be) every minute of every day by the actions we take (or don't take).

    By establishing a relationship of mutual trust, your customers/subscribers will stick with you and become your champions. That is really powerful.

    But I will say, with your standing in the community, I think you would have little to fear with respect to getting industry giants to force copycat/stealers to stand down.

    There is strength in numbers. Intimidation always works, too 😉

    • I deal with it *constantly*. What bothered me to the point of prompting this discussion about it... was seeing it happen to friends in various niches where they don't necessarily have that sort of influence.

      Also, I wouldn't use my influence to shame someone who honestly had no clue they were doing something wrong. That's just as rude as the original offense. I simply wish people understood that it *was* an offense.

  44. You know Lynn, I think the internet marketing industry has a lot to do with this, the "gurus" tell you to do exactly what they do, follow their blueprint and you'll see the same success. No one really encourages creativity or unique ideas. "They" say if there aren't any competitors or no one else has done it then it's probably not a profitable market. *shrugs*

    On the other hand, I can't tell you how many times a family member would tell me something one day and then my friend would tell me the same thing a couple weeks later and I chose to listen to the friend. Without thinking twice about it, I'd turn around and tell that same family member how talking to my friend helped and I get the "I told you so!" Strangely enough, I do remember said family member told me the exact same thing after the fact.

    • I agree with that. While I was at the Traffic & Conversion Summit a couple of weeks ago, Ryan Deiss and Perry Belcher repeatedly showed live examples in the Forex Trade market and said "feel free to swipe this" or "feel free to use that". The thing is, they had already moved on to other models or strategies (or soon would) anyway. Ryan admitted he would get bored with something (working or not) and move on to test another strategy or layout very often. Meaning what they're teaching is obviously a step or two behind what they're actually doing. Interesting... not my style, but interesting. And definitely a factor.

  45. Oh, this "copying" happens in both on and offline markets, for example those ugly shape-up sneakers are a fairly new product and now almost every major sneaker company has their own "version" of those shape ups. I'm sure the creator went through all the legal procedures of getting trademarked, patented, etc. so it's something that we probably can't do much about?

    • That's a different peanut. They generally have a window of time that they get to use the concept exclusively before other brands can offer the same concept. And that's all handled legally, and not something I know much more about than that little bit. 🙂

  46. I work in advertising and have dealt with this issue for years. Unfortunately on more than one occasion I have pitched to a client an idea or concept and seen it carried out by their in-house team who miraculously had the same idea.

    I have never understood how they sleep at night. I think people don't place value on ideas. They seem to think they are like air....available for everyone.

    I think social media has made this worse. The whole idea is to retweet, repost and share information. So now people think that when they take your idea is the same as "sharing". Somehow your supposed to be flattered that they felt your concept was so good now they want to do it.

    I can only believe what goes around comes around and that at one point they will have a new idea and will understand what it feels like when someone else takes it.

  47. Lee Little says:

    This is an issue I learned about when I was in the retail fashion biz (1970s/80s) where knock-offs are rushed to the market as soon as a design proves popular.
    Solution? Knock yourself off before someone else can do it!
    Either create a cheaper version or focus it on another niche in the same market(i.e. If the teens like it, the little girls will too, and what about mom?).
    It's just a fact of life - online or off - if you don't do it, someone else will.
    That said, be careful and add a non-compete clause to your training service agreement if you can.
    Maybe we should have this as part of our original business plan - start with 10 different versions so you dominate page 1 of Google.

  48. Hi Lynn, I often read your blog, but don't leave a comment. Today, it really hit me, so I decided to tell you a real life story that has left me in total disbelief. My friend is an organic farmer. She is the most trusting person you would want to meet. She had a pretty devastating year on her farm this year. At the end of the summer, a neighboring farmer who was a good friend, asked her if she could borrow one of her horses for her daughter to use in a horse show she was competing in. The reason was something had happened to their horse. She agreed to let them borrow her horse for the competition. The next week they had not yet returned her horse, and she got concerned, so she went to their farm to inquire about her horse. The told her that they no longer had the horse, they had sold it! They offered no explanation, apology and seemed surprised when she threatened legal action. I was relating this incredible story to my son in law, and he assured me that he deals with that type of situation many times a day.

    I applaud you for bringing this issue up. The point that online or off, it is still wrong to steal anything that others own and have worked very hard to achieve or build. If our children are not learning this, it is time for us to start teaching the kids AND reteaching the adults.

    • Hi Grace. Glad you decided to comment! 🙂

      I would be in total shock over that myself. A horse even. Wow. I can't imagine how she regards this neighbor now, and how it affected any friendship they had -if any. Wow.

  49. Opps forgot to add that my son in law is a deputy.

  50. Jim Campbell says:

    I hadn't thought about it like this but it seems that we each get to define what integrity means for our lives. The Universe rewards those who are truly creative and moving things forward...

    • I wish that were always the case, Jim. But the truth is that it's not. Often the greedy and evil are rewarded, and the caring and giving are trampled in the process. Such is the way of life. This is the very reason many good people lean on religion and it's promise of a better place (and better ways) in an afterlife. There's no real justice, and no such thing as fair in this world. The best we can do in these situations is lick our wounds and keep moving.

      • Alan Ashwood says:

        I regret I have to agree with you here Terry, I wish it were otherwise. I have three small children who I have to raise to be honest, honourable and truthful. The hard part is that I have to be truthful to do this. How do I explain - truthfully - that there are children starving to death, and honest people living in abject poverty, while the evil drug dealers and traffickers live in virtual palaces, with all the trappings of extreme wealth cocooning them? I myself, moved from agnostic to atheist, when I worked for a children's cancer hospital in London. I had to watch while 'God' allowed beautiful, innocent little ones, die in agony, while he allowed some of the most evil people on Earth to benefit from others' suffering. It is still a wonderful planet, with incredible people everywhere, but they must learn how to co-exist with the others, fortunately a minority.

      • Dan Reinhold says:

        As they say, "No good deed goes unpunished".

        Sometimes you just gotta close off a bit to others or just shut it out and decide to continue.

        When life presents you with turkeys, make turkey soup. 🙂


        P.S. Once the east wing is completed, I'm coming for your dog.

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