Lesson of the Stolen Web (continued)

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We expected Dan to get back to us within a day or so, but he wrote back within an hour and a half. This was his reply:

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan [T.]
Sent: Wednesday, April 03, 2002 2:20 PM
To: Tricia Spicer
Subject: RE: Heads up on a project in Toronto called [FQ].

Pam and Tricia

Thanks for your reply. It was late last night when I sent my email and I could see how my choice of words could be misunderstood!

Let me clarify a few things, because clearly from your comments, I have offended you and I believe I have not been clear in communicating exactly where I am coming from, and what I intend to do, and do not intend to do.

I have no intentions of crossing the line into plagiarism -obviously you do not know me very well! And you and Pam are literally the only people who have seen this DRAFT site in its current form. (Please do not forward it to others because it's not approved)

I was about 98% sure that Pam would want changes made to the draft and that she would want some form of attribution, copyright and link to her site. In fact I am happy to give credit where due and send traffic your way. And I am happy to make changes until its right and acceptable.

My other site [GPQ] was created in collaboration with David [S.] at [RCI] and he signed off on the final text. In fact he was thrilled that I wanted to use his stuff as well as develop my own.

You are right I do wish to show respect for your work, and the work of many others. To me, when launching a new project, it begins with showing a concept draft as a starting point, so you get the idea. I could have sent you a blank page with only the shell and said imagine text in the middle, now how can we work together, but this approach does not have the same impact and you are not a mind reader.

This is why I contact Pamela in the first place!!!

As for my deadline of going live next week.... well I think I was a little ambitious and need to push that back a few weeks ;>

Rest assured that the finished, published site will clearly NOT appear to be built off your hard work, that it will have full attribution, and that I DO NOT go around "putting my name on other peoples stuff!" and that I do give credit where it is due. I also have documented, on file, the permission of any author that has allowed me to use a quote or piece of their writing --for the record.

Now that we are clear on that let me continue.......!

There are many text changes that need to occur in the coming drafts. I was asking Pam if she wanted to collaborate in that process!!!! (guess that was not clear enough) I'm asking you the same thing. We are talking about TEXT only. Clearly you can see that the banners, colours, all graphics, look and feel of the site is unique. The actual process of speed dating and the way its described is not proprietary, so some things will seem similar i.e.: You get a matching form..... looking for friendship or romance.....register here, so on and so on ....

As for your suggested options

I agree with point #1 but only on the pages that contain your text (which is most of what I have sent you so far) What you don't know is that I am adding other pages, that will not contain any of your text. i.e. Links to articles, descriptions of teleclasses, lessons, etc.

#2 I have already begun to write my own text and I only borrow where I am collaborating and it makes business sense....Quite frankly I don't like a lot of what I see out there and I would not want to borrow it anyway! Blunt but true...

In future correspondence with me, please do not suggest that I steal.....its an understandable reaction to a misunderstanding however, it is language that with me, does not enhance relationships and offends...

I do appreciate your feedback and the fact that you have presented options and are warm to collaborating!!

Please clarify for me who owns the text, you or Pamela, and who's the decision maker here? I am assuming it's both of you.

#3 I did not think that Pamela would forward this to a writer. In fact I thought she was the writer -my mistake.

It's a bonus to me if you are willing to provide me with a fair quote to help with original writing. In fact I am swamped and need all the help I can get. If you are receptive to that, then please let me know and we can speak live. What are your rates?

I can also send you the html page with notes to the sections I need rewritten, because there is some stuff that has to go and some that needs to be added.

In fact I am on the lookout for a writer for other projects that will be coming up later this summer.

Of course Pamela should know that with original writing she would loose the link and reference to her site.... unless we cross link as a courtesy.

Please ensure that Pamela gets a copy of this email.

In closing..... lets start fresh! This is part of creative tension and I know we are coming from the same value base....I guess it's my approach that has rubbed you the wrong way......my apologies.

Dan [T.] :>

Pam and I had very different reactions to this mail. I thought Dan was seriously backpedaling, but I was glad our points had hit home. I saw his letter as a capitulation. It was clear that we had him sufficiently rattled so that he would make sure his final site was not plagiarized from ours. Surprisingly, Pam was now more mad than ever.

"He can't use our stuff, Trish."

"Sure he can, he just has to give us credit. He can use our names and give us links. You were all for it."

"No, I mean I changed my mind. I don't want anything from my site to appear on this guy's site. He didn't apologize and he made pathetic excuses. I'm not doing business with him. I don't want a link on his site. I don't want to be connected with him in any way." Pam sounded quite furious.

"So, option number one is now off the table?"

"Hell, yes!"

"Okay. You have the right to change your mind, but you shouldn't let him see you reverse yourself this quickly. Sleep on it. If you still feel that way tomorrow, we can tell him then. My former boss used to do that all the time. People take it a little better that way."

"Okay, fine."

I could tell that Pam didn't like it. She wanted to torpedo him now, but she saw the wisdom of waiting. We decided to compose our next letter to Dan after she got home from work the next day. 

After we got off the phone, I checked Dan's site on a hunch. His home page now had an "Under Construction" sign, but the links to all of his other pages still worked. I printed out his entire site in case we ever needed it for legal reasons. I wanted to be able to demonstrate the degree of plagiarism that existed on Dan's site when he first wrote us. 

I debated how to handle Dan's request for a rate quote. Pam wanted me to take the job so that I could keep an eye on him. I didn't relish the idea of working for someone with his scruples, and I currently had enough work coming in that I could afford to enforce my own scruples. I also didn't like the idea of Pam and I reversing ourselves on more than one point though, so I decided to quote Dan my highest rate and make clear that I wouldn't rearrange my schedule for him.

I checked Dan's site again the next day and saw that he had rewritten his home page. It was unique now and no longer read like ours. I felt proud of the effect my stern letter had inspired. I also noticed that Barry, our local speed dating competitor, was now credited as a collaborator on Dan's site.

When Pam got home from work, we decided to give Dan some credit for the fact that he was fixing the problem, while making clear that the changes needed to continue throughout the site. Pam and I worked out the language of the letter together. We decided to be upbeat and positive, but still firm. This was what I sent:

-----Original Message-----
From: Tricia Spicer
Sent: Thursday, April 03, 2002 6:57 PM
To: Dan [T.]
Cc: Pam Tate
Subject: FW: Heads up on a project in Toronto called [FQ].


Pamela and I have taken some time to talk about the best way to handle this. Upon further reflection, we really think we'd be more comfortable if your site had unique text, instead of borrowing ours, even with credit. Although we were originally open to sharing our content, as long as we got credit, we have been advised that this may not be our best option. Since you seem to already be in the process of creating your own unique content, we hope you will not be too disappointed.

We noticed that you're already working with Barry [N.] of [QD] on new content for your home page. We think it looks great. It reads really well and is quite different from our original material. We look forward to seeing all the other parts of your site similarly rewritten so that our two sites no longer read like twins of each other. Each of our businesses has its own flavor and our websites should reflect that with their own individual text.

You asked about my rates. I charge [rate withheld]/hour (U.S.). I am booked for the next couple of weeks, but I could supply you with my contract and terms if you're still interested. It looks like your collaboration with Barry is working well for you, but I always respond when someone asks my rate. :)

In terms of collaboration with Pam, she feels like she really needs to focus on growing her own business right now and that this isn't the best time for her to spread her energy into the endeavors of others. As a business owner, I'm sure you can understand. In the future, she would be open to networking and discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the industry with you and seeing how the two of you can learn from each other.

It's a shame we all got off on the wrong foot together, but it looks like everything is working out. We wish you good fortune in your new endeavor. Have fun!

Tricia Spicer
Webmaster, Seattle Great Date
on behalf of Pamela Tate, Owner of Seattle Great Date

Once again, Dan wrote back quickly. This was his reply:

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan [T.]
Sent: Thursday, April 04, 2002 8:32 PM
To: Tricia Spicer
Subject: RE: Heads up on a project in Toronto called [FQ].


Thanks for the reply.

I appreciate your point of view and am not disappointed. In fact late last night I had made the decision to start from scratch......and to focus my creative energy with a different group of people ----the funny thing is that a few unique and interesting approaches had surfaced in the process, and now I'm even more excited about this project!

Thanks for the rate quote. Unfortunately the US dollar makes it 60% higher which is a bit of a drag and forces me to make Canadian writers a priority.

Best of luck with your writing and I would not be surprised if our paths cross again in the future.

With respect
Dan [T.]

I forwarded Dan's letter to Pam and considered the matter pretty much done after that, but I continued to check Dan's site every few days to make sure he was still rewriting the rest of his text to be different from ours. Within a few weeks, most of Dan's text had been rewritten to a degree that Pam and I found acceptable.

The crisis had passed, but the bigger problem was unsolved. Stern letters and/or legal action can show a plagiarizer the error of his or her ways, but there is really nothing one can do to keep someone from copying and pasting an HTML page from the web to their own computer. It's the blessing and the curse of the web. If someone likes your page, they can view your code to see how you got that effect. If they are lazy, naive, or unscrupulous, they can copy that code and call it their own.

I wish I could tell you I have a great solution, but I don't. Pam and I were already in the habit of checking the websites of our speed dating competitors to stay aware of trends in the industry (another lesson from my former boss). Now we also check to make sure that no one else has plagiarized our work. It's not much of a solution, but it's the best we can do.