“But she copied my idea!” exclaimed my client.

“Did you discuss the idea with her?” I ask

“No. We’ve never spoken. I wanted to write a post about Zebra Knitting* and now she’s published it. She’s stolen my idea.” (* = topic changed to protect the innocent)

“Okay” I reply “How are you going to raise the conversation with her that she’s stolen your idea? What evidence will you show her that the idea is yours, associated with you and is your intellectual property?”

“What do I need as evidence so I can write to her?”

“Have you any articles published on Zebra Knitting?”


“Any video content on Zebra Knitting?”


“Any webinar content on Zebra knitting? This would be good because you can see if she’s attended and you have an evidence trail”

“No. I don’t have anything. She’s got away with stealing my idea”

“What if we explore the idea of synchronicity and coincidence. What if we focus on bring our ideas to the surface faster than worrying about the ones that are stolen?”

Unfortunately, despite what you may have heard from late-night television commercials, there is no effective way to protect an idea with any form of intellectual property protection. Copyrights protect expression and creativity, not innovation.  Patents protect inventions. Neither copyrights or patents protect ideas.

Source: IP Watchdog – Can Ideas Be Patented

Copying, stealing and plagiarism

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of plagiarism is “an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

In other words, if you take someone’s report, blog post, or infographic and pass it off as your own without crediting your source, then you’re probably plagiarizing.  Copying a few sentences or paragraphs from a blog post on the internet and pasting it into your own blog post or report is also plagiarizing. Taking a blog post from someone else and turning it into a video is still Plagiarism if you don’t credit your sources in the content. Better still – get permission to do this rather than just taking it.

A good rule of thumb for deciding whether you should ethically do something is  to ask yourself “How would I feel if someone did this to me?”

Follow it up with “How would I feel if someone did this to me without my permission?”.

If you wouldn’t like it done it done to you, then the chances are your moral compass is guiding you correctly.

Plagiarizing is something you should avoid at all costs, from the workplace to schools to your own content creation activities. No matter the reason, it’s theft of someone’s intellectual property. And ignorance is no defense in the eyes of the law.

Some online entrepreneurs have the misunderstanding that “repurposing content” means taking someone else’s content and rewriting it or reconfiguring it so it matches their brand, with their own voice.  What you’ve done is theft of content or theft of an idea or concept. The absolute best way to think of repurposing content is to think about only the content that YOU created and how you can use that content in a different way.

Not only is plagiarism wrong but Google may hide your plagiarized content in search results, so follow these three tips for avoiding plagiarism claims:

  1. Cite sources properly. Using a quote from a favorite author, or cult classic movie is perfectly fine IF you give the proper citation. Generally, that means putting quotation marks around the exact words and adding the person’s name or movie’s title. Better still, link to the source so your readers can see your inspiration.  If you’re writing an academic piece, then a formal bibliography is necessary with more information but this simple citation is fine for general internet writing. The worst case of this I saw published by Hay House in a book for entrepreneurs. None of the quotes were attributed to the person that said them. If a big publishing house can get it wrong, you can see how easy it is to do.
  2. Borrow topics or themes, not words. Esteemed author Mark Twain believed, “There’s no such thing as a new idea,” and others argue this point today. Whether you agree with this or not, you can certainly write content about why Zebra knitting is the in thing (for example) but you need to put your own experience and perspective on the topic. You are completely unique from the other people out there and that needs to come through in your content. You have a different voice, different experiences, different clients, and all these things will give you a multitude of ways to write about a broad topic that thousands have already written about.
  3. Focus on the content YOU have created already. Look at your blog posts, videos, webinars, etc. and plan your repurposing strategy with only these pieces in mind. Take bits and pieces from YOUR content and weave it together to create a new blog post, video, or webinar. In this instance, since YOU created this content, it’s okay to copy and paste YOUR own words into a new format.

The Rights To Use A Piece of Content

A few months back I was talking music with a client. He had a piece ready for his podcast. It was him playing his Cello. His podcast was on Optimism and the benefits. The Cello piece was dark and melancholy. I said that I didn’t think the music fitted the topic. He replied with mock outrage “But it’s My Way by Frank Sinatra! I’ve played it slower”.

Now that’s a great song. Everyone knows it. But it belongs to someone else and you need a license to use the music on a podcast.

Not only was the tune setting the wrong mood, but my client could also be fined for stealing the music.

Here’s a Cello cover of My Way from Vesislava:

If you want to use other people’s content, particularly music, then you need to get a PPL PRS license. If you record a webinar and play a song at the beginning and the end to raise the energy of the room you need a license to do that. You’re broadcasting. Even if it’s an invitation-only broadcast. Play music at events? Either you or the venue needs a license.

Copyright theft isn’t just written words.

Unconscious Absorption

Unconscious absorption is something that so many people are unaware of when it comes to creating content. I demonstrated this in a live training a few weeks back.

I was taking a group of people through rapid product creation. I showed how I formed an outline from my research, and as I was sharing screens the source material displayed a testimonial from Kate Moss, the model.  I carried on creating the product, and I was editing and adding, and then we reached the part of the naming the ideal client this product is for… And without thinking I called her… Kate.

Coincidence? Nope. When you read and digest other people’s content – even if you skim it- you take some of it with you. In this example, it was the name that embedded in my brain and appeared in my work. It could have easily been ideas, content or the brand.

Did you notice earlier I mentioned the phrase “Moral Compass”. We’ve all got one right? You know what that means. but yesterday I attended a training from Core Sense around aligning your compass. It was unconscious absorption manifesting in a different way.

Repurposing your content is a fantastic way to grow your reach

Make sure that when you do repurpose your content that you don’t plagiarize.

Ensure you create your content legally, credit your sources and inspiration.

Check your moral compass.

And, check whether you need a license to use the content.

The last thing you want to lose your business to heavy fines because you didn’t know what you were doing.