Sharing, Stealing And Other Nefarious Acts

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Let people steal your ideas.

That was one of the thoughts I perpetrated (just a little bit) in my first business book, Six Pixels of Separation. The intent of that statement meant to say that if someone does steal your ideas, the search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc…) will be the best defence possible (that is if you had already Blogged, Tweeted or published your thoughts for all to see). Someone can try to cop the "Six Pixels of Separation" thing, but a quick search online will easily demonstrate where (and when) that idea originated. Sure, it’s not a court of law and no, there is probably little (to no) legal footing with this argument, but the other side is that if your story (or idea) does spreads, people will talk about it, research it and find it (the truth along with it). So, even if someone does rip off your Blog post, anyone worth their salt should be able to quickly see who the creator of that thought, story and/or idea is.

…But stuff happens.

Like it did this past week to my good friend, Bryan Eisenberg (co-author of many great business titles, including Waiting For Your Cat To Bark, Call To Action and Always Be Testing). He recounts the story in his latest ClickZ column, 6 Marketing Secrets Not Worth Sharing: "I have shared presentations in the past, but since I am now focused on being a professional marketing speaker, these slides are a good part of my livelihood, and my paying clients don’t want them shared all over the Internet. So when I reviewed this person’s newest Webinar presentation, it was a shock to find that ‘his’ slide titles and content, including many of the images, were essentially the same as mine."

The article tells the story of someone who "adapted" one of Bryan’s latest presentations without asking or assigning attribution. In the ClickZ column, Bryan focuses on issues of copyright, the power of online content, how easily "influence" happens online, Internet (and real world) etiquette with our peers, and more. In this instance, I feel Bryan’s pain but I’m also reminded of one of Mike Lipkin‘s lines in his motivational presentations: "my version of copyright is that you have the right to copy."  Something tells me Mike would still take issue if someone started promoting themselves as a motivational speaker and used all of his content, but the point is well taken that in this day and age, it is increasingly difficult to protect ideas.

This is changing Marketing and Communications in a very profound way.

Not long ago, the head of strategy, creative, etc… in the Marketing agency was locked in a corner. They were the "secret sauce" of the agency. The black box. The idea generator. The person who brought out their best work for the client only as other agencies and brands watched on and wondered where all of these big ideas were coming from. Now, these artists formerly known as "secret weapons" are openly Blogging, presenting, being interviewed publicly and even tweeting their every creative thought.

Ideas are a dime a dozen these days…

And anyone can grab them, adapt them and tweak them. This must make the value of all of this creativity circle down to zero? Absolutely not. In fact, in this day and age, because of the sheer blunt trauma of content publishing, it’s the really great ideas (and the people who present them) that rise to the top. So, in the end, someone tried to copy Bryan’s slides and make themselves seem uber-smart. The truth is, that all of the slides and visuals won’t save them – just like playing Jeff Beck’s guitar and his songs won’t make you Jeff Beck. Original ideas come from original people. Original people can’t be duplicated. They can be ripped off, but it always comes off as nothing more than a poor, misguided tribute (at best).

What do you think about this? Is locking down your content and ideas a better strategy?


  1. Well Mitch, I’m looking at it from the other side… from the side that could potentially get taken in by these shysters selling someone else’s thoughts and ideas. Someone we could hire on a consultation basis and turns out to be completely lacking in their OWN ideas and experience.
    So that’s my take, not only is it cyber-plagiarism in my eyes, but it hurts the industry that wants to hire experts in the field.
    So I hope these shysters get rooted out in the very medium they seek to misrepresent, namely our blogs, tweets etc.

  2. Mitch, I agree with you on the concept that nowadays being the creator of an idea doesn’t always guarantee that you will get the credit for it. However, I do think that if you seriously think of yourself as an innovator, it doesn’t depend ultimately who makes your idea bigger but if the idea itself becomes bigger. If you’re careful enough to leave breadcrumbs everywhere possible someone, somewhere will always find you to celebrate your creativity. Great post! –Paul

  3. I’m still small on the radar that (I’m sure) no one wants to borrow my ideas. I have to be very careful to protect my ability to earn a living & choose not to blog / give away a good chunk of my ideas. Honestly I’m in the similar mindset as a lot of my more ‘famous’ contemporaries, so the content is available, just not by me. I’ve found that independently of reading information online I’ve come to the same conclusions and wording as A-listers. Drink from the same pitcher of Kool-Aid and you may get similar results… With that said, I do have on a quite regular basis, amazing ideas, but those details are reserved for the clients that hire my firm — and not competition — mine or theirs.

  4. Our industry tends to be plagued by those who copy the copyright. It is just a reality of our world. Quite frankly, when people jump on our ideas, we look at it is as the market telling us to move on to the next thing.
    I think it is Chris Brogan who is constantly quoting Fergie, “They try to copy my swagger, but I’m on the next @*@& now”.
    We often get frustrated, in our industry people go as far as taking exact products to suppliers to have them copied. It makes our blood boil, but at the end of the day fighting all of those copyright battles just distracts us from coming up with what’s next.
    I can imagine things are very different in the intellectual property world, but if all you have is that one slide, eventually you are gonna be in trouble. The one thing that Jeff Beck could do that the others could not is write his next song.

  5. Copying a product or service certainly isn’t new. Our society is driven by competition and a large part of competing is copying the product or service of your competitor. It’s an unfortunate practice because ultimately it leads to competition based on price. Everyone knows that this erodes margins and leads to a situation diminishes the value of the product or service.
    Using others ideas is one thing but copying presentation materials without making them relevant in your context space is wrong. Attribute the work and mesh the idea with how it fits the purpose of your document. With self publication and the abundance of free ideas available to us now, this concept will only grow with time.

  6. “Let people steal your ideas.”
    Agree, though I’m sure on a practical (and financial) level, this may be “complicated” to apply. Or, as a music producer once said in an interview, “the quality should stand on it’s own.”
    Thanks for the idea Mitch; I might just steal it.

  7. Everything from a blog post and slideware to brilliant product ideas and marketing campaigns can be copied these days. Hey I’ve had someone try to steal my patentable requirements doc for their own use! And since then I’ve been more cautious. However, I also think, your ideas being plagarised is the ultimate form of flattery. The question is, do YOU want to be flattered or not?
    If no, then the answer is simple: guard your content as best you can.
    But if the answer is yes, then you may want to try making it less covenient for someone to ‘steal’ your ideas. Having a signature style is the best way to protect. This signature style could be anything from your writing style, your voice, the way you create etc… much like how artists always leave a part of themselves within their works of art. Something to think about.  

  8. As I noted in my own blog post “Open Inversions: Getting paid – and doing online things right” (, Jaron Lanier has admitted that the net ethos of sharing everything for free has led to the unintended consequence of demeaning and devaluing the creative work we produce. I am always asked by my audiences for copies of my slides. I rarely provide the slides (I do provide a text and pictures white-paper style handout, which is always more detailed and more useful than the pictures I use to illustrate my comments.)
    Lanier’s new book, “You are not a gadget,” makes this very crystal clear point:
    “…we made a huge mistake in making those contributions unpaid, and often anonymous, because those bad decisions robbed people of dignity. I am appalled that our old fantasies have become so entrenched that it’s hard to get anyone to remember that there are alternatives to a framework that isn’t working.
    “Here’s one problem with digital collectivism: We shouldn’t want the whole world to take on the quality of having been designed by a committee. When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don’t get innovation.”
    It’s time to take back the ability to be compensated fairly for the creative work we produce. You don’t have to give EVERYTHING away.
    Steve “@PodcastSteve” Lubetkin
    Senior Fellow, Society for New Communications Research
    Managing Partner, Professional Podcasts LLC
    [email protected]

  9. Hi Mitch,
    This reminds me of a book I’m reading from Seth Godin called Linchpin. I believe that ideas are not worth as much on their own, the real secret sauce these days is being able to actually create something real.
    At the risk of sounding philosophical this would include the marketing speaker. If a professional was actually stupid enough to steal another professional’s work and then present it – my view is that someone in the audience eventually would find out, and that this person’s presenting career and much more importantly his credibility would be over. As an example, I will work on strategy development with my clients nearly for free, but I charge heavily for the implementation.
    I think that my unique genius is not in coming up with the ideas since as you said – they are a plenty on the net, in conversations, books etc… What the world lacks in my view is a majority of people with the skills and experience to implement and “make real” all these great ideas.

  10. Interesting timing for this blog post because I’ve been watching some of this in my twitter stream with WooThemes a WordPress Theme club. Over the weekend there were 2 or 3 sites found that have copied their price list, price table, website, layout, and framework. Well, that’s the way it looks anyways.
    Clearly they were there first and I think this is all very interesting. I think it’s interesting because WooThemes are a really innovative bunch and they will now come up with something that is even better.
    On another tangent, I have been inspired by Hugh Grant to get moving on my own photography newsletter. I don’t know if his is working, any details, or anything but I love getting it and I have totally different reasons to do something like it. Although today, this would be like deciding to start a blog because I was inspired by another blog.

  11. Joel, found your blog interesting indeed this morning, especially since you recently participated in a conference called “The Art of Marketing” – which just so happens to be my company name (since 1999). Did you know that? I talked to the folks at The Art of Productions and they basically said, oh well, there’s nothing you can do about it. Thankfully you and the others did the name (and brand) proud. I’ve only read one less than stellar review.

  12. I think you subliminally point out the answer to your own question.
    Technology has made plagiarism easier. Technology has made getting caught easier.
    Technology has also made it easy to unequivocally destroy someone’s reputation for committing plagiarism, especially in this industry.
    The James Frey debacle and the Jayson Blair New York Times incident showed just how quickly accusations of plagiarism can destroy somebody.
    We should let all our content get out there for those who want to use it to learn.
    It is one thing to learn from someone’s ideas and adapt it into your own thinking. That is what the honest people in this industry do every day. It is another to rip it off and copy it.
    What makes the internet so great is all of us are the watchmen separating the good guys from the bad ones.

  13. Mitch,
    I think you`ve hit the nail on the head with this post and it raises a number of issues in my mind:
    1. Copyright – if this is supposed to be a ‘knowledge economy’, then it behooves us to protect content generated/created by individuals (read: knowledge) through some kind of copyright regime. Without it, those individuals (including yourself) will have no economic incentive to produce/create anything. We are living in a capitalist economy and until we come up with a better means of providing income to individuals in this knowledge society, copyright is pretty much it.
    2. Content Sharing – of course, with the technological developments afoot (Internet, Twitter, social media, dematerialization, etc.) it has become easier than ever to disperse and share content. This then becomes a decision for each individual to decide if the content they produce – protected by copyright or not – should be shared with the world at large. In essence, technology has helped to democratize the decision-making process around this question.
    3. Policing – as pointed out, it has become even easier to detect when a person rips off another person’s idea. That’s a good thing. But unless that is linked with copyright and penalties for ripping off someone else’s idea, what is to stop the ‘ripper’ from doing it again and again to advance their interests?
    4. Academic world – there is a world of difference between the academic world – which has many controls in place to ensure that students and researchers do not rip off and use the ideas of another (plagerism) – to the hurly burly world of the Internet and blogosphere. And yet, the Internet is actually assisting academics in enforcing those rules, to the betterment of their chosen professions.
    My last point is just a comment to say, you are right when you state that ‘ideas are a dime a dozen these days’. But good ideas, ideas that stimulate, engage, help others create and develop new products & services, innovate and progress, are rather rare. And as such, such ideas deserve to be controlled by the person who thought them up.

  14. Every author has a unique voice just as every presenter has his or her own style. If you read or listen to someone with regularity you quickly become aware of whether or not the information they are presenting is their own. This becomes even more apparent if you get the opportunity to ask them a question.
    When it comes to being creative everyone takes from others to develop their own perspective. Whether you recognize they are doing so depends on the depth of your knowledge in that particular subject.
    The beauty of sharing is that the information resonates with everyone differently. It is from these different perspectives that new insights are developed and we continue to push the envelope. To keep your information close to your chest is to say that what you have created was developed in a vacuum. That none of your ideas have been influenced by any outside factors. We know that is impossible unless you yourself live in total isolation.
    Having not created any proprietary information of my own I know that my perspective is biased, but I believe that if you take someone else’s information as your own you will eventually be caught. You are not the true creator and because of that your scope of understanding is limited and that ultimately will lead to your downfall.

  15. Mitch, I love this idea. The Jeff Beck example is spot on. I have seen a radical shift in “I need to keep this a secret to protect my job” to, “I work on a team, that’s part of a community so of course I would share success with my co-workers”….So we have those who hoarde, those who share and those who pirate.
    The hoarders and those who pirate sink their own ship. Those who share rise to the top. I think Will Ferrell summed it up perfectly in Semi-Pro.
    “Everybody Love Everybody”.

  16. Great post!
    No matter which way I look at this issue, I still get ticked off when someone steels my ideas and accepts credit for them. Why? Is it because I want the credit? Well yes, kind of.
    As a designer I’m always trying to stand out and be different, and that takes time and effort. I find that in order to move forward in ones career, especially these days, when we’re all experts at everything, we have to be 5 steps ahead of the game, whatever game that is, creative or technology. This requires us to put ourselves out there, which means we have to be transparent and reveal what we’re about and expose ourselves constantly. This leaves your ideas/work up for grabs. At the same time, it’s really easy to find the original creators of anything these days. For some reason, Google always knows the truth.

  17. There’s a karmic quality to what we share. What may ostensibly be a profitable IP revenue driver is often a curse. Though time is the context so trust yourself.

  18. Someone once asked me if I had a choice between a woman and my ideas, which would I sacrifice permanently. I considered diligently what my inquisitor wanted to know. And when I’d weighed all my options I answered, the woman. Taken aback he responded, “This means as a heterosexual you would rather live a life entirely alone?” I nodded. He shook his head in absolute dismay. I smiled then we parted company.

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