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How NOT To Do Business on Facebook… or anywhere!

I had a very unpleasant experience last week: a gal, I’ll call Ms. X, ripped off my copyrighted sales copy for FacebookFortunes.com and FacebookGuidebook.com, put it up verbatim on her Facebook Profile, her website, and on Podclass… and began promoting the programs as if they were her own. I was shocked.

(I’ve been on the Alpha Team of Podclass since spring ’07 and am now a Platinum Member; Podclass is a Facebook app where you can teach and take classes).

Ms. X calls herself a global communications expert. We had only recently become Facebook friends.

I had not exchanged any communications with Ms. X, and here she was plastering herself all over my wall, shoving her business interest down my throat. Not good manners! In fact, this is SPAM.

Clearly, she was new to the social networking world and wasn’t familiar with what’s called “fetiquette”: Facebook etiquette. (Actually, I assert this aggressive approach is not good etiquette anywhere. Period.) I immediately deleted the wall post.

[By the way, I recommend you keep an eye on your Profile (personal) and Page (business) and weed out anything that isn’t appropriate. Make sure you keep a nice clean Wall. In my opinion, your Profile is like your blog, website, business card, brochure, photo album, virtual storefront, and more, all-in-one. Your prospective clients, business partners, and your competitors may be watching you closely.]

A week after the Wall post incident, it came to my attention Ms. X had plagiarized my materials. I could hardly believe this gal was presenting classes as if she were an expert on Facebook; she’d only recently joined Facebook and had about 40 friends.

Here’s the actions I took immediately:

  • Wrote on her Facebook Profile Wall.
  • Emailed her through Facebook, asking why she’d taken my material verbatim.
  • Emailed her through Podclass.
  • Emailed her via the contact form on her main website.
  • Called her and left a voicemail message.
  • Removed her as a Facebook friend.

(Why did I write on her Wall? I wrote one line querying why she’d taken my materials, knowing it would push into her friends’ and my friends’ News Feeds. It was important to me I alert others quickly her offerings were stolen materials. It didn’t surprise me she too quickly deleted the Wall post.

Also, even if you remove someone as a Facebook friend, you can still exchange email with one another. To prevent all interaction with a Facebook member, you have to block them as I wrote about here).

Ms. X returned my call and we had a short conversation. She kept asking how she could make it up to me and win back my trust. I had her on loudspeaker with a colleague listening in; my colleague said I was way too kind, patient, and understanding.

Hm, turns out Ms. X blamed her VA (virtual assistant) who’d “stepped down”; and then she sent me a bunch of flowers to my “office” (which is actually a PO Box I check twice a month tops). Oh well.

Here’s the thing: I do not believe in competition. Especially for the solopreneur. There’s only one YOU. No one can “compete” to be you. Even if you and I offer the exact same service, people will always do business with people they know, like, and trust. And, each of us adds our own personality, unique experience, and proven strategies into the mix.

Nonetheless, I cannot abide someone outright stealing from me. I could’ve created an amazing, win:win profitable collaborative venture with Ms. X… if only she’d asked. Sure as the saying goes, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.” But, I’d rather be flattered in other ways!

[I hesitated to write this post and expose such an unpleasant experience. However, I chose to go ahead in case even one person learns and benefits from it in some way.]

Now, I’m looking into CopyScape – have you used it? What actions would you recommend to protect your copyrighted materials online? Have you ever been a victim of plagiarism?

Mari Smith

Often referred to as “the Queen of Facebook,” Mari Smith is widely known as the Premier Facebook Marketing Expert and a top Social Media Thought Leader. Forbes describes Mari as, “… the preeminent Facebook expert. Even Facebook asks for her help.” IBM named Mari as one of seven women that are shaping digital marketing. Mari is an in-demand keynote speaker, corporate social media strategist, dynamic live webcast host, and popular brand ambassador. She is coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day, and author of The New Relationship Marketing.

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  1. Erin Blaskie on March 25, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Mari, this is a great post and a wonderful opportunity for others to learn from you. Now I know what to do if that situation ever happens to me.

    It’s appalling that someone would just blatantly take materials and then blame their virtual assistant (as that’s what I do and I would never steal material and then give it to a client)… It shows that you did the best thing possible!

    One thing you can note though is that the Law of Attraction is always at play so you know the universe will take care of her! 🙂

    Erin Blaskie

  2. Barbara Rozgonyi on March 25, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Mari ~

    It was worth reading the post to see these words – very empowering and in direct contrast to the story you told.

    “Here?s the thing: I do not believe in competition. Especially for the solopreneur. There?s only one YOU. No one can “compete” to be you.”

    Now, back to plagiarism. . .

    Three suggestions:
    1. Monitor your work online from time to time with Copyscape 2. Contact a copyright attorney to protect your work – like the one I met a social networking event last month.
    3. Research your rights at the US copyright office site: http://www.copyright.gov/

    Thanks for sharing your solutions/story ~

  3. Mari Smith on March 25, 2008 at 6:40 am

    @Patty – wow, that’s really good to know about the ISPs and the DMC Act. I’ll bet you have a tougher time tracking unauthorized use of your work – is it hard to set a Google alert for an image file? Then people can always change the file name. Hm.

    @Stan – I do hear you on the PDF e-books. I know there are executable e-book programs out there that helps authors protect their content a little more. However, because Adobe is so prolific, it always seems the best way to go for me. When you bring in software, there might be more tech support and/or refunds. Like you, I also believe most people are au fait with copyright and tend to exercise proper protocol.

  4. Patty Hankins on March 24, 2008 at 9:37 pm


    So sorry to hear about your problems with the content thief. I’m really glad to hear you were able to get the situation resolved.

    I’ve had to deal with several cases of unauthorized use of my photos on the web. Since everything on my website has a copyright notice on it, I didn’t bother to contact the individual who stole my content. I went directly to their hosting company.

    For sites hosted in the US, all I had to do was find the contact info for the hosting company and fax them a letter stating who was infringing on my copyright, what content was stolen, where it was located and that I am the copyright holder. Each time the material was removed within 24 hours. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act makes ISPs potentially responsible for damages if they are informed of unauthorized use of copyrighted materials on sites they host and don’t do anything to remove it.

    I haven’t figured out an effective way to get stuff removed from sites hosted outside the US.

    These days for protection – I make sure my copyright info is in the EXIF info on photos uploaded to the web, and put a copyright notice under the photo. I’m using fewer watermarks on my photos – it doesn’t seem to stop the infringing – and interferes with the way the photos look online.

    Hope this helps


  5. Mari Smith on March 24, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    @Elizabeth – wow, thank you so much for this terrific information! Yes, you’re right about the high profile part. I do have Google alerts, but will look closer to see if I can add a few more key words/phrases.

  6. Elizabeth Potts Weinstein on March 24, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Mari –

    Sorry that it happened to you … but the more high-profile we become, the more likely this becomes and issue.

    My first tip is to set up a Google Alert on your key phrases, titles, and other “signature” content. If someone rips off your sales page or article, and it’s indexed by google, you will know.

    For your key, money-making, or signature products, you may want to actually register your copyrighted work with your country’s copyright office. You still have common law protection in the U.S. anyway, but filing gives you the right to sue, more foreign protections, and better damage remedies. It’s pretty cheap to do but has some costs, so don’t do it for every individual blog post (you can do collective blog posts, though).

    Copyright infringers fall into a few categories, but #1 are the people who don’t know any better. It’s not an excuse, but these people just don’t think they are stealing, that they can take your pictures or writings b/c it’s on the internet. Usually with those people you just send an email (or letter from a lawyer) and they stop.

    Sometimes the easiest way to get an infringer to stop (who does not respond to your cease & desist email/letter) is to go to the ISP or website (like Facebook or eBay). Some hosts will take down a website or profile if copyright infringement is alleged.

    Hope that helps!

    ~ Elizabeth

    Elizabeth Potts Weinstein, attorney at law

  7. Judy Rodman on March 25, 2008 at 2:23 am

    Amazing what some people think they can get by with. Glad you shared the heads up. I have to tell you, your post was worth the whole read for one phrase which makes me your fan for real: you said you “… do not believe in competition… there is only one you…” I am in total agreement. This plagerizer is sadly unaware of this secret of life and business. Glad you are; makes me want to study what you offer even more.

  8. Stan Dubin on March 24, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks, Mari, for posting this. And thank you Elizabeth for your add’l info.

    I have considered off and on about protecting my two main eBooks by locking the PDF and requiring an “unlock key” but I figured if someone really wanted to steal my content they could do it with screen captures or other means.

    I realize I make it easier for someone to pirate my materials, but for the most part, I’ve been in good shape there.

    I did find out about someone who bought my eBook and then sent it out to 30 or so of his clients. His justification for having passed it on to his clients was that it would be helpful to them. Hmm. He was taken aback when I contacted him and expressed concern about copyright violation. After a few back and forths via email, he agreed to pay for the eBooks (I gave him a quantity discount) but he was somewhat disgruntled by the whole thing.

    I know the Internet can be a bit of a wild place when it comes to the exchange of information, but I also know people who have a very weak concept of “ownership” are not people I want to associate with. People can make excuses about the “freedom of information on the net” until they’re blue in the face, but let those same folks spend weeks or months (or longer) creating a product they wish to use to assist in their livelihood and then see how they feel when others make copies of their work without any exchange back to them.

    Having said that, I most likely will never lock my PDFs as I do believe the vast majority out there do understand the concepts of ownership and exchange.

  9. Denise aka The Blog Squad on March 24, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Wow, Mari, sorry to hear about this experience. I have experienced this too a couple of times in the past 10 years. One thing, I would have outed the person by name. I certainly don’t want to do business with this person and would like to know Ms. X’s name so I can be on the lookout. If she ripped off your content, she may have done (or do) it again.

  10. Donna Payne on March 24, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Hi Mari,

    I’m a web developer and once had a client who was struggling with providing copy for her site.

    I had given her basic copy writing tips because she couldn’t afford to have her copy professionally written.

    So, when she managed to whip up pretty good copy over the weekend to meet her Monday deadline, I was impressed and pleased that she came through.

    A few weeks after her site launched, I got a frantic phone call from her at 11pm at home! She said a colleague saw her site a demanded she remove the copy immediately…. you guess it – she plagiarized someone else’s copy! And then my client had the nerve to BLAME ME when trying to explain and redeem herself as to why she stole the copy. Sheeesh!

    Needless to say – she’s not my client anymore!

    Now, I make it very plain and clear – ALL COPY MUST BE ORIGINAL or with written permission. If I find it’s not – you will be fired and all fees due immediately. (that’s in the contract too!)

    No one has time for that nonsense! Cheers!

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