Communication Made Easy — Speaking, Editing, Writing, Marketing, Networking Answers

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but words themselves are at the basis of all communication. Whether we are communicating for business or personal reasons, our spoken and written words matter. These posts will address issues and answer questions related primarily to business communications, as they affect writing, credibility, marketing, and networking.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Even the Bigshots Get Spanked When It Comes to Stealing Material

An April 11, 2007 AP news report out of New York details the firing of a CBS News producer for plagiarizing a story from The Wall Street Journal. It was for a Katie Couric piece about libraries. I don’t know about you, but my first inclination is to quote Homer Simpson: “D’oh!”

One might be tempted to ask “Why?” but the sad part is that it happens all the time. People get busy. They feel pressured. It’s more or less for the same reason students cheat. And, boy, do our students cheat.

According to information on the Caveon Test Security Web site, a recent survey of more than 36,000 students by the Josephson Institute illustrates the problem of cheating among students in that the majority (60%) cheated on a test during the past year, and one in three (33%) said they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

Don Sorenson, Caveon’s Vice President of Marketing, writes:
According to Michael Josephson, president and founder of Josephson Institute, "The good news is that things aren’t getting any worse — the 2006 results are almost identical to those reported in 2004. The bad news is that unacceptably high rates of dishonesty have become the norm. It doesn’t bode well for the future that so many kids are entering the workforce to become the next generation of corporate executives and cops, politicians and parents, journalists, teachers, and coaches with the dispositions and skills of liars, cheaters and thieves."
See the correlation here . . . journalists are mentioned by name!
So in spite of our inclination to ask “Why?” the more important and interesting question is, “How do they expect to get away with it?!?”
Cheating takes many forms. Managers who steal ideas from their staff and take credit for them. Students who pay for others to write their papers and then pass them off as their own. People from every industry who liberally utilize the vast information available on the Web in their promo materials, articles, books, and white papers and fail to credit the sources. Authors and reporters who create fictitious stories and pass them off as “memoirs” or “news.”
People who feign injury and disability and then file pricey insurance claims – and the doctors who sign off for them.

The most obvious, though, and seemingly easy to spot, are those who plagiarize – because (a) the plagiarizers, seeming not to be the sharpest knives in the drawer, somehow tend to forget that people who watch TV also read. Or people who read one book are quite likely to read another; and (b) with easy access to the Internet, it’s only a matter of typing a few keys and tapping a few buttons before you can find out if the material has been borrowed, stolen, or pilfered.

There are those in the info products industry who feel that it’s completely kosher to pay for “public domain” articles and repackage them into your own reports, eBooks, home study courses. This is not exactly the same as plagiarizing – as public domain means no one owns the rights to the materials.
However, I always suggest to my clients that they go for original. Honestly, there are no new ideas. I’ve said this before. Unless you’re performing cutting-edge scientific or medical research or are hot on the trail of the biography of the most up-to-the-minute celeb-to-be, there will be other material out there on your subject. And depending on the subject, possibly a LOT more material. But that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t write your own stuff, and it definitely does not mean you should take someone else's ideas and call them your own. You were blessed with a brilliant brain. You’ve got insights and instincts and a perspective that are all your own.

Does the mere fact that a search on Amazon.com for “marketing” yields 224,868 titles mean you should not write a book about marketing? Not at all. But it does up the ante somewhat, in terms of the necessity for you to make your book stand out from the rest. New characters. A new strategy or concept. A new spin on an old strategy or concept. A very specialized and underserved niche. A creative teaching concept.
The most important thing is that you make it yours! That’s what the CBS producer forgot to do. He/she thought the borrowed story was a good idea . . . but forgot to find a new angle or a different perspective about the piece. Hell, he/she could even have taken the OPPOSITE perspective of The Wall Street Journal and created some controversy . . . good controversy . . . about libraries, no less.

Remember: it’s OK to borrow liberally if you ask permission (where necessary) and always credit your sources. Otherwise, simply look to others' concepts for inspiration, ulitmately making the final product your own. And if you have others doing research for you, be sure to double-check their sources...no matter how much you trust them. Regardless of how CBS decides to handle this situation, if YOUR name goes on a piece – whether it's writing, music, video, or visual art – if you're honest, you will admit that you've got some liability in the process that creates it.

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