While this may seem like common sense, stealing text from other online sources (or plagiarism) is an unfortunately common mistake many small business owners make. It doesn’t matter whether you can’t think of what to say or see a set of text that you think would look lovely on your site, just don’t.
Some text is usable. You can quote articles or books, in certain circumstances, with proper citation and attribution. But it’s helpful to know when that’s allowed, and when it’s not!
According to US Code, “fair use” is the legal doctrine that can allow the unlicensed use of copyrighted material in certain circumstances, such as news reporting, criticism, satire, classroom learning, and more. But even then, there are factors that are considered by the court when determining if YOUR use is FAIR use. Those factors include…
The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
The nature of the copyrighted work;
The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work;
Legal Consequences of Plagiarism
Plagiarizing text is dishonest. You’re stealing words or ideas from another author.
You may think you’ve saved money by not spending your time writing—or by not having to spend your money hiring a professional to write for you. But Is that risk worth the potential costs? Plagiarism can affect your small business in many negative ways. Even beyond the basic dishonesty, you could face legal consequences—expensive legal consequences that could even close your business.
Could you afford to be sued for a billion dollars? Even if you win the court case, the legal battle could financially drain you. Another repercussion you face from profiting off someone else’s work is having to provide royalties.
Even if you aren’t sued for copyright infringement, a customer may recognize the stolen text and think you’re less trustworthy. You don’t want that for your business or organization.
Another issue: plagiarism could tank your website rankings, even if no one ever catches you at it.
Plagiarism duplicates content from elsewhere. And even when that content is legally usable, if it’s already on the web—for instance, in a Wikipedia article—it will be bad for your Search Engine Optimization (SEO), meaning it will be harder for people to find your website.
Duplicate content is bad for SEO. Search engines won’t show multiple versions of the same content. So when you have duplicate content it will give you lower search engine rankings and a decrease in traffic. This means fewer people will be likely to see your content.
Custom Text will Market your Business Best
Even beyond all the legal ins, outs, and other possible consequences of copying text from elsewhere, custom text is the best way to market your business. If your business has unique and appealing branding, why spoil that uniqueness with copied content? Plagiarism makes your small business look just the same as others. After all, if your competitors can use the exact text you do, how will your business and your products stand out to the customer?
The answer is… they won’t.
When writing your text, first, you’ll assess your target audience and tap into what your potential customers are looking for. Next, you’ll provide text that matches your intent. Your text should answer questions like what are the goals/mission/values of your business or organization? What kind of products do you sell? What services do you provide? Who are they intended for? How will you make the lives of your prospective customers better?
You’ll want to provide succinct, clear, well-organized, and scannable text. People may not have time to read a long story about the history of your organization before they can see if you have what they’re looking for.
Don’t be that cooking blog with a 5000 word post about how your day went before you get to the recipe you’ve promised and pictured.
Enlist a Professional
No one knows your business as well as you do, but if writing isn’t your thing, a professional copywriter can help you share your business so customers get it as well as you do. But whether you write the text yourself or enlist an experienced writer, you must be involved. A professional copywriter or marketer still needs you to be able to articulate what makes your business unique, what products and services you provide, and more. They won’t know about your business unless you tell them!
But the beauty of going to a professional is that—if you haven’t yet done the research— they can help you determine who your target audience is likely to be. And they can filter through the long story of your business’ founding to pull out the key elements that’ll help your customers understand who you are and what you do—with style. Professional copywriters help develop text that accurately represents your business and branding. Professionally written custom text is a far better option for your small business than plagiarism.
And, hey—we do that work! Contact us, and we’ll work with you to help you create a plan for your business and text that will inform and intrigue your customers.