Today on Science & Sensibility, Andrea Lythgoe, LCCE shares information on the importance of having a) a website that is created using text and images that you have the right to use; b) marketing material that does the same and c) how to share the great resources, articles and blog posts you find in your internet travels so that you are complying with the law and are respectful of the work of others. Look for future posts in the series on using materials legally in your classroom. Previous posts in the the Series: Finding and Using Images and Copy can be found here and here. – Sharon Muza, Science & Sensibility Community Manager
As someone who is both a writer and a photographer, typically on the topic of birth, I am happy to share my creative work online in many formats and locations. My intent is to provide information that others find both useful and informative. I enjoy sharing my work very much. What I don’t enjoy is finding out that someone, someplace, on the “World Wide Web” has, with a simple copy and paste command, stolen my original work.
This theft of creative property is called plagiarism. Plagiarism is where you take the creative work of others and pass it off as your own Content theft is when you take the work and keep the by-line intact. In the years that I have been working as a birth professional, I have found my work copied word-for-word, or maybe slightly altered, on other web sites. I have found my pictures and images copied and used without permission. It is important for people to understand that is not OK. And it is illegal.
Writing is protected by copyright law. You cannot simply find someone who “says it better” than you think you could and use the copy and paste feature on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Not even as a placeholder until you come back and replace it with your own writing or image. If you want to have some placeholder wording as you design your site, do what the professionals do and use this.
Your business website
Your website and marketing materials need to represent YOU. They need to be who you are, and how you run your business. In these days when the birth services market is pretty well saturated in a lot of areas around the country, the only way to stand out is by selling YOU. No one else can be you. And copying someone else’s words, design or images is not who you are. As unbelievable as it might seem, there have been circumstances where people have copied another professional’s “About Me” page, with the only change being the original author’s children’s names replaced with their own.
Maybe writing is not your strength. I can understand that. We all have weaknesses and things that we can’t do no matter how hard we try. Two of mine are chemistry and surfing! And that’s OK. You can hire someone (or if you’re lucky, use a friend or spouse who has the skills) to turn your own thoughts and ideas into nicely worded text. But you – and only you – should first sit down with paper and pen and make notes about what you want to say. Make a list of words that appeal to you – words that you feel describe the work you do, why you do it, and what experience you hope your clients will have when working with you. Write a list of facts about yourself you want your clients to know about you. Think about how you might turn one of those qualities into a short anecdote to include in your “about me” page. Maybe this exercise will take a few days or weeks before you’re even ready to get started working with a writer who can help you turn your jumble of ideas into paragraphs. If it takes time, that is okay.
If you find you have absolutely no ideas to give to your writer, then you may need time to do some evaluating about where you want to go. In order to have a successful business, you need to have your own vision and direction for the business. In the words of a birth photographer, Leilani Rogers: “If you are lacking direction in your business and can’t articulate how you feel about things or how you want to run your business then you are not ready to own one.”
The work of articulating your business vision to your clients through the written word is not an easy one, but it is worth it. Not only will you maintain professional integrity, you will have the opportunity to carefully consider and refine your business in the process.
Your blog content
A blog is a great way to boost the search engine optimization (SEO) of your web site and keep potential clients returning to your site. It is important that your blog and any resources you post on your web site be entirely your own work. You’ll come across lots of interesting articles you may want to share with your readers, but ethically, you need to direct your readers to the original source, and not republish on your site. Giving credit, and then pasting the entire article is not enough. Republishing (or as some call it “cross posting” or “reblogging”) without permission is not acceptable. Writers create original content for many reasons and one of those is to bring traffic to their own site, and keeping readers on your site reading someone else’s material is stealing readers from them.
How to properly share an article or blog post
There are many ways to do this responsibly:
- You can have a regular feature where you share interesting things you come across. I do this every Wednesday on my own blog.
- Another common method is to share a small (1-2 paragraph) excerpt with your thoughts and comments on the article, and then direct your reader to the article to read more. A great example of this can be found on Evidence Based Birth here.
- You could also contact the author of the article and ask to do a short Q&A on the article (by phone or email) that you could publish and then link to the original article. Science and Sensibility does this frequently when we feature a new study.
- Another way to share is to use topical lists. Have a list of recommended reading on going past your due date. Another list on deciding about induction. Another about breastfeeding resources, etc. Adding a small blurb (1-2 sentences) about what the reader can expect to find there or why you included it in the list is helpful to your readers. Birth and Baby Matters has an example of a topically organized link list.
While sharing other content is helpful, writing your own content is even better! Next time you find yourself speaking passionately and knowledgeably on a topic, turn it into a blog post! Next time you write a particularly eloquent comment on a Facebook question, turn it into a blog post! Go to an interesting conference, share it with your readers like Deena Blumenfeld did. Sharing your own opinions and knowledge helps establish you as an expert in the eye of the reader. And that is a plus to potential students!
If you’ve found yourself doing it incorrectly and you have content on your site that is not your own, please immediately take it down. You can replace those posts with your own thoughts and a small teaser quote with a link in a very short amount of time. It shows that you are professional and are also complying with the law.
What if you find your original material posted elsewhere?
With a simple Google search, or by using sites like Copyscape, it is very quick and easy for incidents of plagiarism to be caught. Back when I taught at a midwifery college, if I suspected a student of plagiarism, I could generally find the source within a minute or two. Using someone else’s creative property is not flattery; rather it is hurtful, disrespectful and illegal.
If you are a writer and find that someone has posted your work without permission, your first step will be to contact the site owner and request it be removed. A firm approach suggesting an alternate way to share the information, with a deadline helps them to know you mean business.
If that is ineffective, you may be able to file a DCMA Takedown request with the site’s host. This is a U.S. law, but many hosting companies internationally still comply. You’ll need to determine where they host their site. I find the database at www.whois.com to be helpful with this. Then do a web search for the hosting company’s web site. Most sites have a Takedown request form on their page. Depending on the hosting company’s policies, they may take down just the content you reported, or they may take down the infringer’s entire site! (Another reason to stay on the right side of copyright law!)
Resources to help create a unique website
10 Rules for Writing About Me Pages – Great list of things to do – and what not to do! – and lots of examples.
Four Steps To Finding Your Writing Voice – Excellent advice from a middle school English teacher. Her whole site is full of good tips, so browse around!
How to Write Effective Website Content – Pretty much exactly what the title says. Make sure you read all the way down to the “best practice tips”, because that’s where the best tips are.
How to Decide What to Blog About – I love the focus on the reader’s experience and needs in this one.
Blog Topic Generator – This is an interesting tool, it gives you some interesting titles if nothing else.
Have you found an effective and legal way to share information with others via your website and blog? Have you found your own material used without permission? How did you handle it and how did it make you feel? Please share your ideas, thoughts, resources and suggestions in our comments section. – SM
About Andrea Lythgoe
Andrea Lythgoe is a doula, hospital-based Lamaze childbirth educator, birth photographer, and former instructor at the Midwives College of Utah. She is the author of the website UnderstandingResearch.com where she aims to help those just beginning to read research to understand the language of research. Her interest in research started while attending the University of Utah, where she made ends meet by working on a large randomized controlled trial and earned a degree in community health. Andrea served on the Board of Directors for the Utah Doula Association for over 10 years. She lives and practices in the Salt Lake City, Utah area. Andrea can be reached through her website.