It’s on the web … it’s free to take… right?


Wrong. Just because you see something on the web doesn’t mean you can grab it and pass it off as your own.

Recently I was alerted to the fact that someone had taken an article of mine, changed ‘VA’ wherever it appeared to their company name, and then uploaded it as their Benefits page. This is NOT okay.

The only reason I found out was because I attempted to post the article online and was told it “could not be accepted as it did not comply with editorial guidelines – ie content cannot be ripped off that is attributed to another author”. Does this damage my reputation with that article directory? It sure does! They now think I’ve taken content when in fact it was the other way around.

Changing it ‘just a little bit’ does NOT make it yours.

This trend is not new. VAs around the globe have found that newbies are visiting their sites and taking content to build their own sites. The excuse is invariably “Well there’s only so many ways to describe what a VA does”. Perhaps that’s true, but you should always write your own content – or at the very least ask whether you can use what you find elsewhere first and provide appropriate author acknowledgments.

With the emergence of Filipino and other Asian and English-as-a-second-language outsourcing companies, plagiarising content is on the rise.

What you find online is the intellectual property of the site owner. Everything on that site is copyright (and an annotation to that effect will be on the site). If you find information in online article directories, there are terms of use for that content. You can’t just take it and use it as if it’s your own.

Which brings me to the problem for clients. Just because it’s written on a VA’s website doesn’t make it true. If you’re looking for a VA make sure you check their credentials and what they say. Certification badges should be linked back to the organisation that provided the certification. Testimonials can be put up by anyone – legitimate testimonials will always include a link to the person who provided it – either to their email or website for contact information so you can verify it.

The particular site owner who ripped off my content has a Code of Ethics on their site which includes amongst other things:

  • Apply ethical business practices in administrative and financial aspects of the service.
  • Comply with all legal obligations to provide professional services including, but not limited to, copyright laws.

Well I guess they probably took those from another VA’s website too because they certainly didn’t comply with copyright laws when they took my article.

When asked to remove the page, they responded that I had to prove it was my content first. Luckily I had included the very same article in a 2004 newsletter which was archived on my site. But as at this writing, I am still waiting for them to remove my content.

Now imagine you’re a client and you find this service provider online. Everything looks legit right? But do you really want to partner with them when what they’ve actually got on their site belongs to someone else because they lack the ethics, intelligence or motivation to write it themselves? What does that mean for how they’ll handle your work product and issues of confidentiality? Can you trust them?

Be careful! If you’re a client check the legitimacy of the VA you want to partner with, do your due diligence, speak to them, check their references. Don’t just believe what you see online as it may not be theirs to begin with.

If you’ve had content taken what can you do? Most industrialised nations are signatories to the Berne Convention which forms the basis of copyright law internationally. In the US you may be covered under their Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The location of the perpetrator will be your stumbling block so seek legal advice.

Your first point of contact is the perpetrator. Ask them to take the content down as it infringes your copyright. If they refuse or don’t comply, do a Whois search to find their hosting company and then write to them advising of the infringement and requesting a takedown of the page. If this still doesn’t work, you can approach APIC Worldwide – the Association for the Protection of Internet Copyright – for assistance.

Here is a link to an interesting article written by Carolyn E Wright on how to send a takedown notice to a copyright infringer under the DMCA:

If you’re starting out as a VA or are an outsourcing company, just because you find it online does NOT make it yours to take. Write your own content, or ask the author for their permission before you use something and try to pass it off as your own. You will be found out. You will be asked to remove it or face possible legal action. And you will damage your reputation before you even get started.

© Lyn Prowse-Bishop,


  1. Donna-Marie says:

    This is a great post Lyn.

    I've had my content, articles and parts of one of my books copied by others too and it's very frustrating, to put it mildly.

    As service providers it's also important to be aware of what clients ask you to work on. I had one prospective client who regularly copied images "from the 'net" although they knew it was wrong.

    Another writer colleague was given numerous articles to edit. When checking the copyright issues, she discovered that these were someone else's articles her client was simply putting his name to. Getting them edited was no going to make it okay for him to use them!

    So as service providers we need to also be aware and make sure we check and/or make provision in our Terms & Conditions for copyright issues.

  2. execstress says:

    "As service providers it's also important to be aware of what clients ask you to work on."

    Excellent point Donna-Marie. I have a clause in my contract that says the client warrants that any materials they provide are their own and are not in breach of anyone else's copyright.

  3. So important for this message to get out to as many people as possible. This sort of stuff is now taught in schools (here in the UK, anyway) but not nearly enough. Needs to be taught from an early age and then right through to adults.

    Good post – well done. And it must have been infuriating for you when the incident happened

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