What To Do When Someone Steals Your Work

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 9, 2012 – 1:47 pm

Well, we have another entry into the plagiarizer’s hall of shame today.

Neil Kuvin, a contributor to the website BizCEOs.com, recently ran a story called “Media Reporters Require Rules.” His piece highlighted seven rules of working with the media. But the piece looked strangely familiar. That’s because I wrote the piece last year.

Neil should know better. His Twitter bio describes him as a “PR/Media Relations pro with 4 decades of experience.” Here’s a sample:

Neil Kuvin (July 30, 2012):

2. Never Say No Comment: There is no place in your response for this phrase.  You and a media relation’s team from within and outside of your organization need to practice just how you’re going to answer uncomfortable questions without ever saying “no comment.”  That doesn’t mean you have to tell a reporter everything, but it means that you should practice and use a technique of commenting without commenting.

Me (May 12, 2011):

2. Never Say No Comment: There is no phrase more damning in a spokesperson’s lexicon than “no comment.” The public regards a person who utters those words the same way they view a person who shouts “I did it!” into a megaphone in a crowded park. That doesn’t mean you have to tell a reporter everything, but it means that you should use the technique of commenting without commenting.

 

As far as I know, I created the term “commenting without commenting.” Neil not only used it, but removed the hotlink to my site.

Here’s another example:

Neil Kuvin (July 30, 2012):

3. Don’t Ask to “Approve” a Story:  Many high-powered executives, accustomed to directing subordinates, instruct reporters to send them a draft of their articles before publication.  Most reporters will not only reject that request, but will resent that the executive treated them like an employee requiring approval.

Me (May 12, 2011):

3. You Cannot “Approve” a Story:  Many high-powered executives, accustomed to directing subordinates, instruct reporters to send them a draft of their articles before publication. Most reporters will not only reject that request, but will resent that the executive treated them like an employee requiring approval. Journalists have no obligation to share their final story with you, so don’t ask.

 

I contacted Neil and his editor about the obvious plagiarism. The site removed the article within 12 hours. Although his editor never responded to my personal email or tweet, here’s what Neil wrote me:

Brad:

It’s gone. I’m sorry. I intended to at least attribute but obviously didn’t. 
Neil

 

Uh huh. That’s kind of like saying, “I intended to pay you, bill collector, but obviously didn’t.” Or, “I intended to get you a Valentine’s Day gift, my dear, but obviously didn’t.

Strangely enough, Neil cc’ed me on an email to his editor which read:

Bob:  please remove this post from Bizceos.com.  I thought I credited him but didn’t. I’ve used other info previously but always attributed.

I did take a lot of his article. Please remove it from Bizceos. Thanks.

Please let me know when it’s been scrubbed.

Neil

 

Since plagiarists rarely strike only once, I decided to examine his claim that he had “always attributed” information in the past.

Admittedly, this next example isn’t quite as clear cut, but I’ll wager $20 this isn’t coincidental. Neil wrote an article on April 5, 2012 that cited seven times spokespersons shouldn’t speak to the media. That’s interesting, since I ran a similar post with seven points in 2010.

Neil’s List (APRIL 5, 2012):

  • The case is before the courts.
  • For competitive reasons.
  • Union negotiations causing a blackout have been imposed.
  • Situations involving member, client, employee, or other forms of privacy.
  • Employees have not yet been informed (but you’d better take care of that immediately).
  • Securities legislation would be breached.
  • Issues involving national security.

 

My List (December 27, 2010):

  1. 1. Employees Have Not Yet Been Notified About a Specific Issue
  2. 2. Employee, Client or Patient Privacy Is Never Breached For Any Reason
  3. 3. A Disaster or Emergency Has Occurred and Next-of-Kin Have Not Been Notified
  4. 4. Sensitive Competitive Information Would Be Divulged
  5. 5. Security Legislation Would Be Breached
  6. 6. Union Negotiations are Underway and an Information Blackout is in Effect
  7. 7. Legal Counsel Has Advised Against Communications

 

Coincidence? Interestingly, the list wasn’t originally mine. It came from the International Association of Business Communicators, and was sent to me by reader Beth Ryan. I cited both sources in my post. Neil just ran it under his byline. So, is he a one-time offender as he claimed? I’ll let you decide.

Bob Dittmer, Neil’s editor, did not return my request for a comment (I was hoping he would say that he takes these situations seriously and will look for other examples of plagiarism on his site). Given that Mr. Dittmer is also the Director of Public Relations for the Indiana Department of Revenue, I would have expected him to take additional action. I still have hope he’ll do the right thing.

Why does this matter? As one of my Facebook fans said, why not just treat this as an act of flattery?

Here’s my answer: To me, blogging requires a tremendous sacrifice. When I write blog posts, I spend less time with my wife, have less time to relax, and carry a higher stress load. When people like Neil swipe posts, they get to claim credit for and enjoy the benefits of the work without much sacrifice. It’s wrong, and I intend to call these incidents out on the blog from now on.

Now, back to the title of this post: what can you do when someone steals your work? The truth is that legal action is expensive, and is typically used only for important infringements of your work. That leaves three options:

1. Do Nothing: Although this option allows the offender to get away with it, it may be the right call for small infringements.

2. Contact The Infringer: In many cases, I send a private note to the offender and ask them to remedy the infringement. I usually reserve this option for borderline cases in which the offender’s intent isn’t totally clear.

3. Shame Them: For major infringements, I think it’s important to call out the offender. That serves two purposes. First, it puts everyone else on alert regarding the authenticity of the infringer’s work. I wouldn’t be surprised if other bloggers see their work living under Neil’s byline. Second, it serves as a disincentive for people who are thinking about using your work without attribution.

What do you think? How have you handles these types of infringements? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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