Entrepreneurs: On Theft, Piracy and Buying from Thieves and Pirates

[NOTE: This post continues a series exploring the topic of entrepreneurship. While my focus has and will continue to be on Facebook ads, I have plenty to share about what I’ve learned while building my business.]

The first time it happened was around four years ago. I launched a new training course about Power Editor. I was feeling good about myself because it was doing better than I had expected. My first product. Then an email arrived…

I don’t recall exactly what it said. I’ve received many similar emails since then. But a concerned reader was letting me know that some scumbag was selling my course at a ridiculous discount.

Anger. Rage.

I was obsessed. How could someone do this to me? I overcame so much to create a product. At this point, my business was just getting off of the ground. Someone else steals it and sells it for about 10% of the cost. That’s money I’m losing. They’re taking food off my table.

What do I do? Do I get an attorney? Do I threaten them? How do we take this down? How do I make them pay?

That was only the beginning, of course. No matter what product I sell, there will always be someone looking to steal it.

Over the years, my approach to the thieves, pirates and people willing to buy from them has changed. I hope that this post can provide some perspective while you — if you’re doing it right! — inevitably deal with a similar fate.

It’s Good to Have Something Worth Stealing

I don’t think I saw this at the time, but looking back… The first time someone stole from me, it was a sign that my business was legit.

Seriously. It wasn’t the first day that someone bought my product. It was the day that someone desired to steal it and make their own profit. That was my coming out party.

If someone steals from you, try having that perspective. Someone thinks that your product is so good that they can rip it off, offer half the value (it will never be as good), sell it to people knowing that it’s ripped off and still make a profit…

When that happens? Well, I guess you’re doing alright for yourself.

So, consider it an honor when you get your stuff ripped off. I’d be offended if no one was trying to steal it. If people are stealing your stuff, raise a glass and celebrate it!

Shortcuts Don’t Pay… Long-Term

My feelings about those stealing my stuff have shifted from anger to pity. Come on, man. This is your business? You feel okay about this?

This goes both for those who steal content and those who buy it. I understand why both groups are doing it.

They are both likely desperate in some sense. One needs to make a buck. One needs an edge while watching their budget.

But both are grossly unethical. They’re selling themselves short. One isn’t confident enough in themselves to create and sell their own product. And I can’t imagine either will establish a legitimate, profitable, sustainable business that they can be proud of with that approach.

That’s too bad. And in that sense, I wish I could talk some sense into them. I wish I could help.

If You Buy From Thieves…

It initially bothered me when I considered that someone might buy my product from someone who ripped it off. But I’ve come to peace with this.

Why? Anyone willing to buy my products from another source — underground and untrustworthy — is not my target audience.

We don’t have the same core values. I don’t want these people buying my products.

There was a time when every dollar mattered. I eventually realized that I simply don’t want some people buying my product.

My products are not a good fit for everyone. If it’s over your budget, please don’t buy it. I have plenty of free content that can help you, too.

But it goes to ethics as well. If you are willing to give your money to someone other than me for my product, we’re not a good fit. We shouldn’t be doing business together.

I established this years ago. My target audience does not buy my products based on price. They buy it based on value, trust and authority.

Mitigate Your Losses Where You Can

On Tuesday, I held the second webinar of my Facebook pixel 4-week training program. Immediately after that session, I spotted a discrepancy in the number of webinar registrants and number of purchases.

Yep, five people (at least three of whom had the same company domain in their email addresses) were rogue registrants within two minutes of one another. They found a back door and stole the second lesson.

I sent them an email. It wasn’t angry. It may have been edited several times. But the purpose was to let them know that they would need to purchase the program to access future lessons.

It was tough for me at first. I saw it as the equivalence of someone breaking into my home and taking something of value. But then I realized that these five people were never going to buy from me in the first place.

This was a good lesson for me. While I came to peace with those who made their way in, I wanted to find a way to prevent this back door without impacting the product or effort.

The back door was that someone who knew the webinar’s ID could easily find a generic webinar registration page and bypass the purchase process. And since I automatically accepted registrants, they were home free — until I found them, at least.

To mitigate this, I made a minor change. While I’ve typically allowed people to sign up for a training program after it begins, I will now update my landing page for the next month when the first lesson starts. Meanwhile, I will switch registration from automated to manual once the program begins to prevent the back door.

That’s one example of how I mitigate theft. Second, always make sure that at least part of your product can’t be ripped off.

For example, much of the value of my Power Hitters Club (both Elite and Basic) is found in the community. I also stream my weekly webinars directly to the private Facebook group. You cannot access those groups without being a paid member.

I embed recorded videos using Vimeo Pro, which provides options to prevent people from downloading the file. Even if there is a way around it, I’ll at least make those people work. And I don’t provide slides or anything else that can be passed on.

I’ve made it so the majority of the value in my products is what you can access live — with Q&A and direct engagement with my community and access to me.

Don’t Let Fear of Theft Control Your Product

While you should mitigate your losses, you also shouldn’t be paralyzed by potential theft. Create something awesome, thieves be damned.

It’s unlikely that you will ever completely eliminate theft. You can prevent thieves from stealing and selling it. You can prevent rogue webinar registrants from accessing a back door. But you can’t prevent people from sharing their access with friends and co-workers.

While I certainly don’t condone that activity and don’t encourage it, I’m no longer enraged by it. After all… If no one is stealing or trying to steal your product, maybe that product isn’t good enough?

Your Turn

This is a topic that I spent far too much time and energy worrying about in the past. My advice is to do your best to prevent theft, but don’t lose any sleep over it.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Let me know in the comments below!

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