Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Plagiarism Plagues The Internet & The Trades

Imagine someone breaking into your company, copying every ad you've paid to have created, every management document you've authored, every direct mail letter you've penned, every form that's unique to your company, your website design, and every special nuance about your business. Then, the guy who broke into your business turns around and presents your service agreement, your advertising, and your documents to your customers... as his.

Even if you would freely share all of your operations and methods with the guy, it's unnerving to see him market and sell your programs as his work product. This is plagiarism and it's a HUGE problem today.

Plagiarism is too clinical a term. Face it. This is theft, pure and simple, and its perpetrators are crooks.

If it happened to you, there's a chance you might go nuclear. You might send the lawyers after the culprit, regardless of the costs. But what if it happened to a friend or a peer? All you can do is stand by, helpless to assist and uncertain how much to say for fear of reverse litigation.

Tina at The English Muse blog writes...

There's something terrible happening in our beautiful corner of the Internet and I cannot stay silent about it any longer. In the past two months, two of my dear blogger friends have been ripped off. Both of them had their templates stolen. Both of them had their content stolen. One of them had her blog name stolen! (I've even heard about another woman who put a right-click lock on her site to stop the thieves!) This is crazy!

There needs to be a strong code of conduct -- or a copyright lawyer who willing to fight for bloggers who want to protect their content and identities. How can we call ourselves "inspiration bloggers" when we're stealing inspiration from our colleagues? Or even from our friends?

I understand Tina's position entirely. Plagiarism is a plague on the Internet, including the service trades. Unfortunately, plagiarists often get away with it when the pursuit of the plagiarist is expensive and the payoff is slim.

On Guard In Your Business

When we hire outside copywriters at the Service Roundtable, we always check key phrases of their work products with Google. If we find a copywriter has copied the copy - and we have - that's it. We won't use the work and refuse to hire the copywriter again. I won't trust a proven thief or assume the liability of using stolen material.

I've run across ad agencies executives who wrote articles where key passages or even the entire article was copied from other people. The agency executive, simply changed the author's name. This is not someone I would trust for advice, let alone to present my business's image to the world.

Sadly, plagiarism also affects the service trades. Frankly, contractors are guilty of their share of plagiarism though the worst offenders usually operate out of ignorance. It's not an excuse, but at least their motives aren't larcenous. Still, ignorant or not, these contractors are exposing themselves to legal liability.

Clouding the issue is the fact that some copyright owners don't care about plagiarism, don't bother to enforce their rights if they do care, or are simply not around any longer. I've created material where the copyright was assigned to another legal entity as part of a work product and the legal entity has since moved on or disappeared. There's no one to turn to for permission.

Some contractors rely on third parties to provide them with original material. Like the lazy copywriter who plagiarizes, some third parties are lazy and plagiarize with purpose. The use of plagiarized material, unwitting or not, is no less of a risk.

Unfortunately, it's incumbent on the business owner to check intellectual property suppliers. In short, be on guard.

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