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:


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


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.



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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Comments (22)

  1. By The Voice Lady:

    I had something similar happen last week. A woman in another country has not only been copying my articles but she built her website around my approach to voice training, using phrases that I coined. The ‘before’ video on her website had one of her clients reading the exact same material that is on my DVD training. That material was from a novel I wrote 22 years ago.
    I emailed her about it and she immediately removed the video and apologized, saying that she had been a ‘newbie’ and now doesn’t entirely agree with my approach to voice training. We shall see; we shall see.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Sounds like she was making a lame excuse. I had someone tell me something similar once – I suspect that plagiarizers have very little else to say, so “I no longer agree” is a handy excuse.

    Unfortunately for these folks, I’m a media trainer. I’m pretty good at spotting spin and B.S. :)

    Thanks for commenting, and sorry you had to go through that ordeal!


  3. By Jack:

    Hi .. So, I’m wondering.. If you write a lot of articles for blogging, how do find people that are copying you? Is there a web tool?

  4. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Jack,

    Great question. Many tools for media monitoring exist, but I’ve actually found most instances of plagiarism either by stumbling upon them or by having a reader send me something that they think is suspicious.

    In this case, someone was looking online for a certain term I’ve written about before, and came upon this article. He shot me the link as a head’s up.

    Question to other readers: What tools do you use?


  5. By Ashley:

    Hi Brad –

    I recently had something happen to me, but chose to let it go. I was perusing a story on local tv news station website and said to myself, ‘huh, that’s pretty good writing, better than what they normally do… wait a minute… I WROTE THAT!’

    Let me clarify. This was not a press release that I had sent out. The media outlet had gone to my company’s webpage and pulled the copy I wrote, posted it on their website as if it were a story they wrote.

    Many of my PR colleagues felt that I should have contacted the editor, but I opted to let it slide because:

    1) it was a eulogy on a memorial/benefit account for someone who had tragicially been killed

    2) I could have called out the media outlet and gone to battle with them… but that’s a war I would never win.

    But I must admit I thought it quite smarmy of them to take my copy and post it on their site as their own story.

    Your take? Should I have called them on it?

  6. By Kim May:

    I definitely support giving the offender the benefit of the doubt. We had an incident where an image was shared on Facebook (not originally posted by us, but shared widely). The photographer whose photo was used (and combined with a poem attributed to “anonymous”), instead of contacting the poster and asking them to remove the post, filed a copyright infringement notice with FB. The result was that the poster got a nasty note from FB, threatening that their page would be deleted. The image was not shared with any malicious intent or willful harm to this photographer, yet he chose to be a douchebag and coward instead of taking the higher road and being nice. We even contacted him to inquire if something could be worked out to make it “legit”, but his ply was incredibly rude and insulting.

    I’m not saying that’s the case here, but I do think we need to not start off assuming malicious intent, and realize that people are human and we f up sometimes.

  7. By What To Do When Someone Steals Your Work | Mr. Media Training « aboutsocialmedia:

    […] on http://www.mrmediatraining.com Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  8. By Jeff Domansky:

    Brad, a valuable post. I’ve been victimized numerous times too. Like you I believe fiercely in copyright. Here are some of the excuses I’ve received:
    – “This was done by an intern without my knowledge” (my content stolen and used on a PR agency web page; and how would they get access to your website?)
    – “I thought it was a list anyone could use.” (list of tips for ways IR pros are using social media; content used by a veteran financial PR/IR pro)
    – other excuses “You mean we have to link to you?” “If it’s on the internet it’s free.” “Yeah I guess if you insist.”
    In each of eight cases, I didn’t believe a single excuse. Each was a business person using someone else’s content for personal gain or reputation enhancement.

    A couple of suggestions:
    1. First, take a screenshot of the offending page for proof, including masthead as offenders will sometimes remove it and claim ignorance.
    2. Contact them by email with one warning and make it clear that if not removed within 48 hours you will send a copy to: their web hosting company, their prof association, local chamber of commerce, DCMA, etc advising of the infringement. Plagiarism Today has some templates, tool and advice at http://bit.ly/P0eEjN
    3. Set up Google and other alerts for your name, Twitter handle, website name and url, etc and monitor regularly. You should do this anyhow.
    4. Use a tool like Copyscape http://www.copyscape.com/ or Plagium http://plagium.com/ to check your most popular posts or material occasionally. Both are excellent.
    5. If you get no response, or retraction, call them out as Brad did. Surprising how fast it happens when you start following through on your warning.

    Hope this is helpful.

  9. By Leigh Ann Otte:

    “Second, it serves as a disincentive for people who are thinking about using your work without attribution.”

    But just to make sure everyone’s clear (because some aren’t): It is not OK to use a significant portion of someone’s work even if you attribute it. Bloggers must understand fair-use laws.

    Bloggers seeking to protect their own work should also read up on copyright registration.

  10. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Ashley,

    Thank you for your comment. First, I do believe that it’s worth calling out media outlets on occasion. The person at the news organization who ran your copy verbatim may have been in violation of their own news org’s terms, and they might have been reprimanded for running your content under their byline.

    But in your case, I think you made a reasonable call due to the subject matter. Like many other things in life, the “right” thing to do is often subjective. I’m personally comfortable with the call you made.

    Thanks for writing!

  11. By Brad Phillips:

    Leigh Ann:

    Great point. It should have said “…who are thinking about using your work without permission.”

    Thanks, as always, for your eagle eye!


  12. By Brad Phillips:


    What a brilliant comment that could easily stand as its own article! I’ll tweet out that people should read the comments section so they can come across your excellent advice. Thank you for leaving it here and teaching me several new things.


  13. By Brad Phillips:


    I generally agree with your comment about giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’ve only called people out publicly a few times, and those are the egregious offenders. But in this case, I don’t believe for a second that this was an accident, and do not buy that he “intended” to give attribution. One time is an anomaly. Two is a trend. And I’m betting other bloggers will find other examples of similar bad behavior.


  14. By John:

    I’m recounting the basic details a friend once shared with me regarding an incident when she was an undergraduate working toward her journalism degree.

    In her senior year, she received an assignment that counted substantively toward a final grade in a key course. Through an unlikely and fortuitous chain of events, she was able to snag an interview with a highly respected retired journalist. The interview went extremely well. Their rapport was natural, which led to a substantial discussion of the reputable journalist’s early career. My friend completed the assignment, presented it to her instructor and received high marks. Happy times!

    Then, almost immediately after, the journalist died, which not surprisingly created a demand for articles and insights into the journalist’s life. The very next day my friend picked up her collegiate newspaper and saw her article – verbatim – with ONE appended question, a general query addressed and answered by a doctoral professor at the university who had briefly worked with the deceased journalist. The article was presented under the byline of one of the collegiate paper’s star writers, with my friend cited briefly as a “contributor” to the article. The article was subsequently picked up by AP, appearing across the nation in various publications.

    So, yes, she received minor credit. But, still, as she knew 95% of the article – and all the parts that involved an actual interview with the late journalist – were hers and hers alone, she was infuriated.

    She pursued avenues within the university. But as she had been cited, albeit inadequately, she never received proper attribution. No action was taken against the writer who for all intents and purposes swiped her article and slapped his name atop it.

    I bring up all of this detail only to point out that, as she explained, to this day this early incident in her career still troubles her. She said it wasn’t so much she received inadequate attribution but that someone else took credit for her efforts, using them as a springboard for their own career. The theft is what hurt, this sense that her work, including her rapport with an esteemed journalist, were usurped by someone else.

    I think my friend’s reaction is understandable. Journalism, writing, or any creative effort, demands tremendous concentration, devotion and skill. Yet even so, the creator understands from the start that the chances of great success and recognition are slim at best. It is part of the bargain you must accept when you take the leap into a field of ideas.

    So if the fruits of your efforts are infringed upon or outright stolen, it most certainly is insulting, infuriating, even heartbreaking.

    Though this issue has been around throughout history, the digital age raises the stakes. Now, with a global network of demand, the pace is faster. Stolen ideas can sweep the world in weeks, days, even hours if the right idea comes at the right time and gets the right “click.”

    Recently I met another fiction writer struggling with a career that hasn’t even really begun yet, much less taken off. Yet along the way he discovered one of his early efforts was translated into foreign languages and apparently sold fairly well in a few countries – making money for someone but certainly not the author nor his small US publisher. Yet neither of them has the resources or reputation to strike back against the invisible machine that enables thievery with such ease.

    It simply is what it is, so he continues writing new works, honing his craft, hoping for success with his future efforts.


    Having droned on far too long, my conclusion on the question you posed is to stay diligent. When you see your work has been compromised or “borrowed” or stolen, do the things you can – call out the perpetrator privately and/or publicly, appeal to a higher authority if possible, file legally if applicable. The suggestions you and Jeff made are all excellent.

    Yet at the same time recognize, even accept, those situations you cannot control or resolve. In the end the work is still yours. And you’ll still be producing long after the accolades of the thief have faded.

  15. By Brad Phillips:


    Thank you so much for that terrific story. I can understand why your friend was so infuriated – theft is theft, whether it’s someone who lifts a candy bar from a convenience store, a financial adviser who skims off the top, or a person who claims someone else’s intellectual property as their own.

    I will tweet about your comment to make sure other readers see it. Great stuff.


  16. By Andrew Johnson:

    RE: Question from Jack about ways to spot duplicated content.

    I’ll take a shorter sentence from my post, add quotation marks around it and search for it in Google. This query will look for any instance of that phrase within indexed content.

    Another resource is signing up for Copyscape. It’s fairly inexpensive, but might be worth the investment.

  17. By John:

    You are a psychic, Brad! How timely.


  18. By Susan Weinschenk:

    Thanks for this post Brad. This happens to me a lot. I find my blog articles and even paragraphs and pages from my books online, usually without any attribution, mention of my work, etc. The authors just pretend they came up with the ideas and wrote the words. I’m never sure what to do, but I think I may start contacting the sites more now having read your story and the comments from your readers.

  19. By Brad Phillips:

    For the record, editor Bob Dittmer never did respond to my email or tweets. Worse, Neil Kuvin is back to writing for bizceos.com.

    It’s telling that Bob Dittmer, a PR pro who operates as the director of communications for a governmental agency, didn’t deem an obvious case of plagiarism worthy of public acknowledgement. Based on his lack of response or action, I can only presume that he’s complicit with this intellectual property theft.


  20. By Monica Miller Rodgers:

    Brad, sorry this has happened to you again. Both sides of plagiarism are terrible; to have your work stolen and to (giving the benefit of the doubt) inadvertently copy someone’s work. Your post and the comments give great tips about how to stop people from stealing your original ideas. I try to be as original in my writing as possible, and I attribute as much as possible when my ideas are sparked from somewhere else. Do you, though, have any suggestions for how to make amends for plagiarized work? I hope to never be on that side of the case, but if a mistake is made, I would like to correct it as swiftly as possible. I see that @MaggieWar hasn’t responded on Twitter, yet. I hope she does the right thing in the end, but what would you suggest the right steps would be for her?

  21. By Sheila McKenna:

    Hi Brad,

    Sorry this happened, but kudos for you for calling the bad behavior out.

    It happens in science and the non-profit as well. People taking credit for your work or taking over once the money comes in! I wonder how these people can sleep at night?

    Hope all is well and bravo to you and your work!

    Best, Sheila

  22. By Plagiarism: So hard to spell, so easy to do | TC Library Blog:

    […] the result of this label is sometimes more ethical than legal, as prosecuting the accused can be an ordeal,  being called a plagiarist can stop your career dead in its tracks.  This is particularly true in […]

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