Dealing With People Who Copy Your Site and Business Model

Copying a siteRecently we’ve had to deal with a problem that faces a lot of popular sites … people have started ripping off our content, business model and even our slogan.

Here’s a few ideas for dealing with this situation if and when it happens to you.

Take it as Good Sign

Would people copy what you’re doing if they thought it was irrelevant. The more popular you get, the more you can expect people to rip off your ideas. Embrace it as a sign that you’re doing well and are starting to dominate the conversation in your niche.

Don’t Take Legal Action

The first sign that you’re dealing with an amateur idiot is when they say “I’m consulting with a lawyer”. Why?

  • My lawyer coughs and it costs me $250. Imagine how much he’d charge for handling a real case.
  • If you’ve ever had a client disappear without paying you know that its almost impossible to collect even with a watertight contract. Imagine how hard it is to get and enforce a judgement in trademark and copyright cases.
  • As website owners we very rarely deal with sums of money where the lawyers fees will be covered by money that we’d recover.
  • Its a time sink and one thats only going to distract you from moving forward.

If they’re a competitor ripping off your content, start with a friendly email. Try to come to an amicable arrangement. If that doesn’t work and you’re in niche industry, you could try calling them out on your site.

Ignore Them if They’re Outside Your Industry

So a plumber has ripped off your website design? So a Mongolian hotel is using a variation of your logo? Unless they’re a competitive threat to you, I’d recommend just ignoring them. They’re not going to cause any confusion for your visitors and they’re not a competitive threat.

Don’t Make it Easy

There are some technical steps you can take to prevent people from ripping you off easily:

  • Only provide partial RSS Feeds.
  • Ping blogs search engines immediately after posting (Pingomatic works well if you don’t have a pinging system on your site).
  • Make sure all your links are absolute rather than relative.

Focus on Community

Last year I asked how you’d cope if someone copied your site word-for-word. If both sites are identical, why should Google rank your site above the rival version?

The answer is community and mind-share. Your rival is going to have to start with no user-base and no name recognition. People commenting, reacting to and benefiting from your content is 90% of your site’s value.

Use Houdini’s Tactic

I just finished reading a great biography of Harry Houdini. He was plagued by copycats throughout his career. He tried all sorts of ways to defeat them from patenting his act to humiliating them in public, but in the end only one really worked. Whenever he thought a trick had run its course, he developed a new act and then publicly announced how he had done the old trick. Essentially he had:

a cunning strategy to expose an act after he had stopped performing it, thereby making it much more difficult for his imitators to follow him. This salting the earth strategy would be implemented throughout his career.” (page 85)

Why not give away some of your old ideas and scripts why you keep pushing ahead and selling your new products? It might attract new customers who like what they see of your free products and it will force you to keep moving forward and keep developing.

You’re Focused on the Wrong Threat

If someone wants to copy you, they’re immediately revealing themselves as a weak competitor. If a rival sets out to mimic you they’re inevitably 2 or 3 months behind you and they’re not the kind of dynamic, inventive personality who is likely to present a real challenge.

The person you need to worry about it isn’t the one that makes you say “I thought of that!” but the one that makes you say “I wish I’d thought of that!”

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