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43. BTS: When My Website Got Stolen by Another Attorney
Episode 4316th May 2022 • On Your Terms • Sam Vander Wielen
00:00:00 00:30:41

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As business owners, we work hard to make our businesses run, from our websites to our social media content to our copy. But what if someone else saw your work and thought, “Wow, this is great! Nobody will notice if I use it for my business, right?” What would you do?

I’m going to tell a juicy story that I’ve never shared in full before, about when I had my entire website stolen by another attorney a few years ago. It’s a wild story, and parts of it are hard to believe, but it’s completely true – which means it could happen to anyone. I’m sharing this story to show you how these situations play out in real time, and what steps you can take to get through it.

In this episode, you’ll hear…

  • 06:25 - Why business theft seems to be so prevalent
  • 08:24 - The two problems that always come up when you protect your content
  • 10:17 - That time I got my whole website stolen by another attorney
  • 23:56 - The importance of memorializing agreements

In our listener review of the week, Samantha Burmeister said: Perfect for the next-level entrepreneur. This podcast has been a godsend for me as I seek resources that are for someone that’s already established in their business. It’s beyond entry-level info, but not too over my head. As Goldilocks said, “This podcast is juuuust right.”!

If you’d like a shoutout (and a chance to win a $20 gift card), just leave a review on Apple Podcasts and send a screenshot of it to me on Instagram via DMs!

Click here to find the full show notes and transcript for this episode.

RESOURCES:


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DISCLAIMER: Although Sam is an attorney she doesn’t practice law and can’t give you legal advice. All episodes of On Your Terms are educational and informational only. The information discussed here isn’t legal advice and isn’t intended to be. The info you hear here isn’t a substitute for seeking legal advice from your own attorney.


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On Your Terms is produced and published by Crate Media.

Transcripts

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What would you do if somebody stole your content or course material and used it to sell it as their own?

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Do you have a plan? Well, I can tell you exactly what I do, because this happens often enough that my team has a whole plug and play process for content

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down ASAP attorney style.

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If you don't want to be caught off guard while sneaky content thieves sell your content and products as their own while smiling as innocently as a preschooler

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listen up, because I've got something for you.

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It's called The Ultimate Guide to Taking Down Copycats.

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And it's my new easy to follow PDF Guide with scripts and SOPs to help you feel confident in dealing with or preparing for your first business copycat.

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Go to copycatschecklist.com right now to get the totally free PDF guide.

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And if you're stressed out worrying about a copycat stealing your best business ideas and using them to market as their own, you need to go get your copy of My

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today. Once you have the guide, you'll know how to stop copycats from stealing your content and what to do if they do.

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So, head to copycatschecklist.com to get my free guide today.

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Hey there, and welcome back to On Your Terms.

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I'm so excited to be chatting with you this week.

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I am sharing a juicy one this week, a juicy story that I don't think I've ever sat down and just told you, like, straight out the whole story of what's

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I've shared briefly, like, little pieces here and there of things that have happened when I got my entire website stolen by another attorney a couple of

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It was a huge shock.

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I don't feel like you'll even believe what I'm about to tell you.

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I feel like that's most people's reaction, so it'll probably be yours.

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But it is a super wild story, so I'm really excited to just be talking with you today, not just to share my story, but to share with you a little bit about how

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kind of play out in reality.

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Like, what would you actually do?

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What are some of the steps that I took?

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How does this help you at all to know that this happened to somebody like me?

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I'm just hoping that you can take something away from today's episode and realizing, first of all, that you could get through it, but also knowing what

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So, I'm really excited to get into it.

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I'm also excited because today, when you listen to this episode, it's my seventh wedding anniversary.

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May 16th is my seventh wedding anniversary with Ryan.

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I can't believe it's been seven years.

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It's really crazy.

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We had the most fun wedding.

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We had, like, a really low key wedding.

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I felt like it was very us.

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And we had it at this pizza wine bar right outside of Philly where I'm from.

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You know, it's like a cool pizza wine bar.

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It's not like your typical pizza joint, but it was nice and it was just really chill.

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And, I don't know, I kind of wanted to have this feel like a cocktail party.

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So, we didn't do any sort of formal seating.

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We didn't tell people where to sit.

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We had open food the whole time.

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I didn't want to tell people, like, sit down now and eat this meal.

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And it was just great.

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And I just remember looking around the room - if you don't mind me reminiscing for a moment - and seeing my friends from law school talking to my

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cousins, and Ryan's family from Wisconsin talking to people I worked with at the firm at the time.

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So, it was just like that moment where you kind of see all these different parts of your life and your partner's life, like, meshing.

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And I just remember it being like the coolest feeling.

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And we also went to Thailand the next day for, like, three weeks and it was really, really amazing because I always wanted to go to Thailand.

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And I really wanted to go and volunteer on an elephant nature reserve, which is what we did.

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If any of you ever go to Thailand, you have to go in Chiang Mai, you have to go to the Elephant Nature Park.

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It is a once in a lifetime experience.

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You can volunteer there. You can spend just the day there.

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You can go live there.

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It's so cool.

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I highly recommend.

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So, I'm recording this on a Friday, and I hope you don't mind but we're having coffee together today.

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So, maybe you're sitting having coffee, maybe you're out on a walk, I hope you're having a nice day so far.

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It's a Friday for me, and my dad's actually coming up to New York to visit us for the weekend.

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So, my dad is sick.

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He's had leukemia for the last couple of years and he's not doing so great.

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And so, I'm just trying to spend a lot of time with him.

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And it's also like a really weird situation because he's not doing well, we can't really go anywhere or I'm very scared of him, like, falling.

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He's very fragile these days and he's having a hard time getting around.

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And besides being exposed to everything, considering he's so immunocompromised.

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So, it's simultaneously very stressful but also it's really sweet to spend time together.

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So, I foresee a lot of, like, laying on the couch, watching movies, playing with Hudson.

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He loves Hudson possibly as much as I do, if that's even possible.

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And, hopefully, taking him out to get ice cream or something.

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So, that's what we're doing.

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Okay. So, let's get into this episode.

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I always share with you every single week here on On Your Terms a review of the week.

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And this week, I want to give a shoutout to Samantha Burmeister for leaving a review of On Your Terms on Apple Podcasts.

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She said, "This is perfect for the next level entrepreneur.

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This podcast has been a godsend for me as I seek resources that are for someone that's already established in their business.

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It's beyond entry level info, but not to over my head.

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As Goldilocks said, 'This podcast is just right.'" Well, I love that Samantha and I so appreciate you leaving a review of On Your Terms.

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If you leave a review of On Your Terms on Apple Podcasts, then you can get a shoutout in a future episode.

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And each month I pick one of the reviewers to win a $20 Starbucks gift card.

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So, go head over to Apple Podcasts, leave a review, and, hopefully, you'll get a shoutout on a future episode.

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And before we get into the behind the scenes of what happened when my site got stolen, if you think that a friend of yours would benefit from this podcast in

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episode, go ahead, shoot them as a text real quick - it only takes a sec - letting them know about On Your Terms is so helpful to helping spread the word

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their businesses and build these legitimate, sustainable businesses that I'm here to help you build.

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So, with that, let's talk theft.

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In our space, it seems like theft is really prevalent.

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And I don't know if it was always this bad, and just that people are talking about it more, or that it's happening more often.

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But I would say that it's happening more often in my observation.

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There's no scientific study by any means.

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But in my opinion, I feel like it's happening more often because we have so many people entering the space.

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So, especially within the last two years, like from the pandemic and everything and people leaving their jobs, losing their jobs, we've just seen a huge influx

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And a lot of people are trying to start online businesses as a means to leave their jobs.

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And I think that what that's leading to is a little bit of skipping the line.

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So, people are kind of desperate to be like, "Oh, okay.

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I want to start this online business.

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I see this person is already really successful at doing it.

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So, I'm just going to take her content, or design my program exactly the same way, or design my products the same way, and I'll just skip ahead." I think

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see it as a shortcut. Like, I don't think that people are out to screw you necessarily when they take their stuff.

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I think like most things in life, people are thinking about themselves and how this would benefit them.

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And so, I think that what I see from my perspective, and all the people who reach out to me all the time when this happens to them, it's always the same

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I call it that I'll have what she's having approach.

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And it's like, "Oh, she seems successful and I just want to be like her.

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So, therefore, I'll just take this and then I'll be successful."

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But it's all done with the goal of this other person being successful.

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They're not just out to screw you over.

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So, for some reason, it always kind of helps me to step back and remember that, that it's not making it right or anything like this.

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I'm just thinking about it's, not necessarily personal so much as it is selfish, but it's not personal to you.

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You can really take two steps to protect your content or you can take certain steps to protect your content.

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But there are two problems that always come up.

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For one, certain steps allow you to seek certain retribution.

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So, failure to take any of those steps leaves you without options.

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So, if you decide to protect your content in one way, you might not have any sort of actual retribution to enforce against them

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other than sending off nasty letters or something on your own, which is totally fine.

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Other options that we'll talk about over the next couple of weeks give you a much better position, actually give you something to do about it.

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And they would allow you to take really solid legal action against somebody taking your content.

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The second is that even with some of these protections in place, whether you register your content, you don't register your content, all that kind of stuff,

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and people still do steal.

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So, we just have to know what to do about it.

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I feel like this isn't very different than anything else I teach you when it comes to legally protecting your business.

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When I'm like, you've got to form your business and get contracts and get business insurance, that doesn't mean that people can't sue you.

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It just means that you've put yourself in the absolute best possible scenario that you can to protect yourself.

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There would be nothing else left that you could do and it won't affect you personally.

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That's what I always teach you about building the foundation of your business.

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It's very much the same here, where if you don't take certain steps to protect your content, there's not going to be much you can do about it.

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But even if you do take those steps, people can still steal it.

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It's just about putting yourself in the best position to respond to it.

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I just think it's really helpful to be honest about what the actual goal here is.

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So, that time I got my whole website stolen by another attorney, let me set the picture for you.

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Let me get my coffee.

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I need something more than coffee, I think.

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So, I was sitting at We Work.

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I was probably drinking coffee.

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And I was sitting at this really cool new WeWork in Philly at the time.

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This was right before the pandemic.

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And so, WeWork was still open.

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Still a thing I could go do, like, multiple times a week.

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And I was still living in Philly.

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And I was sitting in one of those super cool booths that they have at WeWork that you can spread all your stuff out and, like, take over and have your little

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And I was actually on a call with a contractor, Melissa, who was doing some SEO work for me at the time, and has done SEO work for me over the

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years. And just a sidebar, you know, I've talked about here a lot on the podcast that my whole business is built on this evergreen SEO

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driven content strategy.

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So, I'm always working on blog posts that are for the long term, YouTube videos for the long term, podcast for the long term, all that kind of stuff.

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So, I tend to hire these people every once in a while and do some digging.

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So, we were on this call and we were talking.

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You know, when you work with somebody with SEO, they talk to you about all kinds of stuff, like phrases that people search for and then that's what leads them to

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. Or, you know, certain topics that are hot in your niche that you're not talking about that you could so you could drive additional traffic.

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But they also will tell you what traffic sources are driving.

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I'm not an SEO person.

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So, if you're listening to this, then you're probably like, "She doesn't know what she's talking about." But, in general, I just know that the more ping

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on to you on other people's websites, it can boost you in Google's eyes.

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So, she was telling me about certain people, like coaches or programs, places I've given talks, all this kind of stuff that's built up over the years.

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I've written a lot of guest post articles for websites.

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I've been featured in articles.

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So, she's telling me about where this traffic is coming from and what we can do to improve that, and get more of it, and all this kind of stuff.

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And when you look at traffic for your website, there tends to be a bulk of them that will be pretty big and significant.

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And then, there'll be a whole bunch that are like two, two, two, two, two, one, one, one, one, like, lots of little ones.

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So, after we were looking at kind of the bulk of where the big ones were coming from, I think one of the first ones - it wasn't a one or a two per month, but it

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than that and less than the bulk - was this person's website.

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And the name of their website actually made it sound like they were a business coach.

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So, when I saw it, I was like, "Oh, cool."

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And so, what I've always done in the past is when I see that somebody is referring me a lot of traffic or I see that there are a lot of click throughs

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my products in their course resources, I'll always reach out and thank them.

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It's what you should do.

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So, that's honestly what I thought about this.

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I was just like, "Oh, cool. Let me know what her website is because I'm actually just going to reach out and say, 'Hey, it seems like you're been referring some

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Do you want me to write a guest post?

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Do you want me to do a training?'" You know, this is really how I was building my business at that time.

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And I just typed in the URL because I was curious.

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I honestly thought she was a business coach.

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And I can't even describe to you what it felt like.

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It was like, "I must have typed in the wrong URL because this is my website." As soon as I typed it in, it was literally a carbon

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copy of my website with her face on it.

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I started frantically scrolling through and like, "No, no, no.

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This can't be right. I must have missed something.

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I must be confused.

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I don't understand." I mean, I'm like the queen of buying domain, so I was like, "Did I buy this domain and not remember it, but who's this woman?" And my brain

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place to try to figure it out.

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And, honestly, it was like, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no." It was this terrible, terrible feeling.

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It was pretty quickly that I realized she had clearly stolen the whole thing.

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But the more that I clicked around, I was just like, "Wait.

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Did she just copy my design?

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Oh, no, wait. That's my copy." And then, literally everything was the same.

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Everywhere, there was a box or a check mark or a button.

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And then, the text was all identical, there wasn't a word changed of it.

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It was really funny because then that prompted me to just start clicking around and scrolling down all this kind of stuff.

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Because I think I initially saw her home page, and then my heart sunk.

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And I went to the blog and it was all of my blog posts.

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And I was just like, "I cannot believe this." However many years, three or four years, of blog posts that I had spent so much time, so much energy, so much

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on developing that were the backbone of my business, that's what was driving all this traffic, that's why I was in an SEO meeting.

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And then, I clicked over to the products page and I was like, "At least don't be such an idiot that you took all of my products." It was all of my products.

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All of it. All the products, all the product descriptions, the photos, everything.

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For some reason this is always the thing that sticks out to me, but I saw all of my client testimonials.

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So, I have client testimonials sliders across the side.

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I have them listed out on a testimonials page, like client love page, all this kind of stuff.

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And for some reason, that's what I just remember really sticking out to me at the time, because she took my name.

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Any time the person said Sam, she just swapped out Sam for her name.

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And so, that showed to me that there was some intent there.

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And that is what really made my heart sink at the time, because I was like, "This person straight up stole from me.

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Like, they stole this on purpose and knew what they were doing."

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Like, I didn't even know what scenario.

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There could be that they could have done this by accident or I don't know.

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I was like, "Maybe they hired a web designer.

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The web designer took it from me." You just never know.

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But then when I saw that, I was like, "No.

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They did this on purpose, that beep, beep, beep." And there was a lot of cursing.

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I was devastated.

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I'm actually surprised I can get through talking about this at this point.

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But I was really, really upset.

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And if this has ever happened to you, I think it feels very violating.

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It feels like somebody came into your house and stole something, right?

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Your website, especially, or any of your content, your courses, it's like your digital home, and somebody literally just came in and took it.

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And I remember at the moment, the idea that somebody thought - just like what I was talking about at the beginning - "Oh, I like that.

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I think I'm just going to have it.

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I'll have what she's having.

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She seems like she's doing okay.

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So, I'm just going to shortcut this process by taking it."

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And I clicked over to her Instagram and everything and I saw that she had just started.

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Of course, all her Instagram posts were all modeled off of mine as well.

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I think she was only maybe a few weeks, maybe a couple of months.

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But the actual legal posts had only started within the last couple of weeks and they were all modelled off mine.

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The titles were the same. It was like all the same crap.

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So, she was also looking at my social media stuff.

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And I was just furious.

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I was furious.

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So, there were a couple of things that I did.

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The first was that I got in touch with my web designer immediately, my web designer and developer, to say, "How did this happen?" Because clearly they took

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understand from a tech perspective because it was a carbon copy of my website.

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So, I was like, "Unless you went over and gave this to them, I don't understand how they got it." She did some digging and she found out that they took the

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So, they actually hired somebody in India who was a skilled technician who went in there and took all the stuff behind my website.

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The source code, it's like a DNA copy, essentially, of your website.

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So, literally, it will take copy, it will take products, it will take things that are uploaded, it will take pictures.

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It will take everything, the whole structure of your site, the theme.

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It took everything.

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And so, immediately I contacted her and I was like, "Okay.

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Will you find out what happened?" And then, she found out really quickly.

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And then, I'm like, "Okay.

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Now, lock it down. Figure out what you have to do to make sure that this never happens again." Because I kind of saw it as like stopping the bleeding.

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And I wasn't sure what was going on.

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I wasn't sure if this was part of something larger.

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You know, your mind starts to go to a crazy place where I'm like, "Are other people doing this to me?" So, I wanted her to lock it down.

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The second thing I did was that I found this person's contact information, and I did so by looking at our website.

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She was smart enough, dumb enough, I don't know, to put her actual contact information on the website that she stole from me, so I had a way to get in

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I have a cease and desist letter template that I give to customers, and also that I'll have coming out for you very soon.

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But I have a cease and desist letter temple that I keep one for my own company, like on my Google Drive.

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And I just quickly filled that out with a cease and desist letter, just very specific about what was taken, the fact that you own it, that you didn't give

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permission was never sought, it's being used in an unauthorized way.

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And then, you demand that they take it down and you give very specifics, like, "It's taken down today by 5:00 p.m.

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Eastern." And then, what's the penalty if they don't.

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So, I shot that off to her via email.

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And she wrote me back very quickly, this kind of snarky email about how she didn't see what the big deal was because I seem successful.

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And that she didn't realize that taking somebody's website was copyright protected.

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Which, I think at that point I started to blah, blah, blah, like Porky Pigging it because I was just like, "What?

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You're a lawyer? Are you serious?

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Are we really having this conversation?" Sometimes I find things in life so frustrating that I combust, like, I don't even know what to say.

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And that's kind of how I felt.

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I don't even remember what her name was at this point.

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Let's call her Emily.

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I was like, "Emily, let's get on the phone now.

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Here's my number, and if you don't call me within the next half hour, I'm just going to move forward with this.

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I'm not going to go back and forth with you on an email to explain to another lawyer how this is illegal."

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So, in the meantime, by the way, I called my friend, Semi.

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I freaked the heck out.

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I was crying.

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I was just so upset.

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I was outraged.

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I was sad. I was all of these things.

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But then, finally, this person, Emily, called me and we got on the phone.

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And she was clearly very embarrassed by that point, I would say.

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She was embarrassed that she got caught.

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She was embarrassed that she didn't know.

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And she was very ashamed.

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What was very interesting about our conversation, I was actually very nice to her - I'm very proud to report.

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Being from Philadelphia, I give myself a gold star for keeping it together.

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I don't believe I used any expletives in the entire conversation.

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And I kept it together.

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It was just very matter of fact.

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And that's also what I would tell you about this, like, if you ever are communicating with a copycat in some way, which some people end up doing, it's a

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But it's very important for this part legally, like, it wasn't about emotion.

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I could talk to my friends or colleagues or whoever about being so pissed off and feeling so wronged and violated.

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I need to talk to her about logistics.

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Like, "How did you get this?

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You need to tell me everything and be honest with me.

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Otherwise, I'm going to find out eventually and then I can do something about it.

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But if you tell me now, then you're going to save me the time and energy which you owe me to figure out how you did this." So, she told me, and it was all

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That's how I found all of that out.

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And then, I asked her, "How much else do you have of it?" We talked through kind of destroying my stuff and what that would look like, and what I would be

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with, and what assurances I would need.

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And I also wanted her to take down the site immediately.

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She didn't want to do that because she said that she was going to hire a website designer to create something custom for her and it was going to take her

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I said, "I don't really give -" maybe that is when I used an expletive, to be honest.

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I was like, "I don't really care how long it takes.

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If it takes six months or six hours, this website is coming down now." And so, we came up with a time, I think it was by that evening

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because then the person who she had worked with in India would be up and would be available for contact.

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So, I think it was, like, by 10:00 p.m.

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that night it was taken down.

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It just had to go to a page that said coming soon or something like that.

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Whatever she wanted to do, I didn't really care.

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It just couldn't be my website anymore.

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And that's what she did.

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That was it.

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Now, another important piece of all of this that I feel like people forget is that, whenever somebody tells you something verbally or even in a damn email,

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follow up with a more formal thing in writing.

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So, lawyers call this memorializing.

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And you should take this tip for anything you do in your life.

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When I'm dealing with a contractor, somebody for the city, anybody who does work in our house, any of this kind of stuff, I send a letter.

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Or AT&T, Verizon, whoever you have to talk to.

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If somebody tells you something on the phone, you can send them a letter or an email, if you have to, saying, this letter is to memorialize our discussion on

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day it was, at whatever time it was, by whatever method it was, by phone, by text, by whatever, in which you agreed to remove

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your website at X time, by X time.

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You admitted to hiring somebody in India to steal the source code of my website with the intent of putting it up as your

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own, using my intellectual property as your own, without authorization, without my permission.

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You recognize that you've done this.

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And it's a mutual agreement between the two of us.

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You've agreed to remove all the stuff.

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And we will be monitoring your stuff moving forward.

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Because that's the other thing. I struck the fear of God in her, which was true.

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I mean, it was true. And this is what we have done ever since then is that we monitor her.

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We monitor her. We monitor a bunch of other people who copy off me all the time, too.

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And there are a lot of people who just mimic me all the time.

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Like, they try to make their programs like mine, they make their products like mine, they name their webinar like mine.

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We follow them.

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So, we have people who monitor their stuff and we have an attorney.

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I have an attorney now for the for the company because I don't want to do the stuff myself anymore.

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And it's too much. It happens too often.

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So, we just have a method in place.

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We have a SOP in the business.

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People in the team monitor these people.

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Customers report to us all the time about other legal people that are copying off of us.

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It's hilarious. So, when you build a very dedicated group or a community of people, they will actually start telling you.

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Because a lot of people were asking me like, "How am I supposed to find out?

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How do I know?" Well, honestly, sometimes people will start telling you, which is really interesting.

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Sometimes the person will be dumb enough to tag you in something.

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Or like this person did with my website, she left the links.

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Some of the links she forgot to change, so it was driving traffic to my website, it was driving traffic to my Facebook Group.

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So, sometimes you get lucky.

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There are monitoring services that you can set up for things once you've registered them, like trademarks and things like that, you can try to do that.

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I think that there are some services that can search the internet for your blog posts and things like that.

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You know, I'll leave it to you to try to find some of those.

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I don't go down those paths.

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I wouldn't be able to run my business if I did.

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But the bigger things, the people who are mimicking me, people who were copying me, we're following them.

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We have an SOP in place for the steps that we take.

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We screenshot stuff. We save stuff.

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And then, I send it off to the lawyer or the team sends it to the lawyer when it gets bad enough.

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That's kind of what I would recommend.

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And you can do the same. It doesn't matter how big your business is, if somebody legitimately steals from you, you don't need to handle it yourself.

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You can send it to a lawyer if you want.

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But you've got to have some of the stuff in place in order to protect yourself in the first place.

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And that's what we're going to be talking about over the next several weeks.

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So, you know that you can go and download My Ultimate Guide to Keeping Copycats Off Your Content.

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That link is in the description and the show notes.

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It should be on my website now.

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And you have access to that.

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It's an incredible guide that I've put together for you to go through all of the steps that you need to take to actually protect your content and be able to

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. It's really important.

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You need to learn the basics of content sharing for yourself, that's really important.

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I would go back and listen to On Your Terms Episode 19, that's where I teach you how to legally share other people's content.

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Because in learning how to legally share other people's content, in doing so, you will learn how people can share yours.

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So, it's really important that you do that.

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You obviously want to take the steps that you can to protect your content, and I walk you through that in that free guide that I have for you in the show notes.

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And then, you want to know what steps to take, even if somebody does steal from you.

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And have an SOP in place as early as you can so that you know exactly what steps to take if somebody copies you, or if somebody is just getting a little too

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want to start monitoring them.

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There are all kinds of things.

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So, download The Ultimate Guide to Taking Down Copycats in the show notes.

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Listen to the podcast over the next several weeks.

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I've got every single episode coming for you about teaching you how to use the different trademark and copyright symbols, what's the difference between

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somebody actually steals your content.

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I'll teach you the exact steps.

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I have so many great episodes coming up for you.

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And I've taken up something really big for you that drops in about two weeks that you're going to want to keep your eyes out for.

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If this is something you're interested in, if this is something that you want to take these steps to protect this content and be able to do something about it,

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you want to keep your eyes peeled.

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I've got something huge for you dropping on June 1st, so definitely stick around.

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All right. So, I'll drop those links in the show note to The Ultimate Guide to Taking Down Copycats.

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That's my new free resource.

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I give you little to-do list in every single section.

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It's perfect. And then, Episode 19 of my podcast, you're going to want to listen to, because that's where I teach you how to legally share other people's

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With that, I'll see you next week.

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We will be talking about what's the deal with all the symbols, trademark, copyright, all that good stuff.

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I'll see you next week.

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Thanks so much for listening to the On Your Terms podcast.

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Make sure to follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

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You can also check out all of our podcast episodes, show notes, links, and more at samvanderwielen.com/podcast.

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You can learn more about legally protecting your business and take my free legal workshop, Five Steps to Legally Protect and Grow Your Online Business, at

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And to stay connected and follow along, follow me on Instagram @samvanderwielen, and send me a DM to say

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hi.

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Just remember that although I am a attorney, I am not your attorney, and I am not offering you legal advice in today's episode.

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This episode and all of my episodes are informational and educational only.

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It is not a substitute for seeking out your own advice from your own lawyer.

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And please keep in mind that I can't offer you legal advice.

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I don't ever offer any legal services.