Remember when you sat in a high school classroom and thought to yourself (or, if you were that kid, said out loud), “When are we ever going to use any of this?” If you happened to ask that when your poor English teacher was trying to inform you of the dangers of plagiarism, the answer is now, when you’re trying to create a web presence for the business you’re building from the ground up.
There’s a general misconception among the public that anything out there on the internet is just free to use as you wish, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Copying and pasting content that you find on the web without attributing it to its source is no different than turning in someone else’s essay and calling it your own—except that now the integrity of your business—not just your grade—is at stake. The reasons you shouldn’t plagiarize are rooted in morality, but the consequences are concrete: being sued, astronomical court costs, poor digital representation, and Google burying your site in search engine results may be the prices you pay for stealing content.
If you’re still not convinced, read on for more details on why you shouldn’t plagiarize:
Stealing someone else’s words—or intellectual property—can be more damaging than stealing their physical property. Physical items, while sometimes expensive or sentimentally valuable, can usually be replaced or replicated. Unique perspectives, ideas, and words make up a person’s or a company’s identity, and are often the product of years of dreaming, days of hard work, and hundreds of hours of coaxing and finessing and agonizing over. To steal that identity, in part or in whole, is to steal the creator’s livelihood.
It’s against the law.
That’s right–the United States has a Copyright Law and you can read all 13 chapters and 16 appendices if you’d like more details, but essentially, it states that stealing, using, or passing off previously recorded ideas or material as one’s own is to commit fraud and is punishable by fines and even jail time.
You can be sued or at the very least, embarrassed.
While you probably won’t be thrown in jail for copying web content, you are likely to be caught by the person you’ve stolen from, and they won’t be happy. If you’re going to take a chance and “borrow” images or content from another site, be prepared for retaliation. Ask yourself if it’s worth clients clicking on your newest blog post and seeing—where that perfect (stolen) image used to be—glaring black-and-white text boxes that say something like “Stop stealing our images.” Besides being unprofessional, web content like that is unlikely to inspire confidence in your clients and customers—consider the value of your reputation.
Google and other search engines dislike duplicate content.
Even if you aren’t busted by the person you’re plagiarizing, stealing content can still have a negative impact on your website through search engine rankings. Google becomes confused when it finds the same content in two different places on the web, and when it tries to choose which version is most relevant for search engine results, both sites suffer by sinking in the rankings.
It doesn’t properly describe your business or services.
Really, there’s no such thing as a “generic” description of a business or service, and that’s actually good news for you. Your ability to convince potential customers that you’re the best option for their needs rests on your ability to communicate the specific ways you’re different from (and better than!) your competition. Write descriptions and content that make you stand out, not blend in.
Bottom line: copying content is a dirty business practice and not worth the headache it’s likely to cause.
Is the task of writing your website’s content daunting enough to give you panicked, high-school-term-paper flashbacks? Good thing we offer full copywriting.