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Intellectual Property Theft: What to Do?

George Walther

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A company in Ireland is offering a training program based virtually verbatim on one of my books. All the main points are there and it's very clearly lifted directly from my book. The only thing missing is my name. And, of course, a licensing fee or royalty arrangement. When this happens to you, what is your next step? I'm always reluctant to hire attorneys, particularly when a foreign plagiarizer is involved and I'm not quite sure how best to proceed. Your thoughts?

The Outcome ...

One thing I found out for sure is that there are plenty of people who've faced intellectual property plagiarism issues.

Happy ending! Turns out that the Irish company promoting my program is doing so under a sub-license and they are authorized to do so by a U.S. license holder. They just aren't required to use my name in any way. So, if nothing else, this is a good lesson to insist that your name be used in any promotion of sub-licensed materials.


-- Jake Norton

I was in a similar situation a few years ago with a photograph that was blatantly stolen by a major French publication. After trying to settle with them directly - and getting nowhere - I contacted an Intellectual Property (IP) attorney in NYC. He took the case (which was cut-and-dry) on contingency, and within a couple of months had a great settlement with the publication.

I would strongly suggest you get in touch with an IP attorney to see how best to proceed - this is not a situation where you want to make any errors!

If it helps, the attorney in NYC who I used (I live in Colorado, so location is not an issue) is Ed Greenberg:

Greenberg & Reicher, LLP
50 East 42nd Street - Seventeenth Floor
New York City, NY 10017
(212) 697-8777

-- Laura Benjamin

Seek out the services of an Intellectual Property attorney regardless. They can at least draft a letter for you encouraging the offender to "cease and desist" as well as perhaps "encourage" this person to send you some compensation for the time they have been using your materials. It will also put them on notice that transparency extends worldwide these days. It will also lay the ground work to prove due diligence on your part should you need to take it to the next level.

The attorney will know how to word the letter in order to make it diplomatically clear without being abusive. They may also have other suggestions on how to handle similar situations should they arise in the future!

-- Janelle Barlow

The same thing happened to me. I wrote to the person involved directly. He was from Australia. We worked it out, and he is no longer using my materials. If you go to the ethics committee (assuming this person is an NSA member), they will ask you if you have communicated directly with the person involved. I think it's the best way to proceed before consulting any attorney. Primarily what you want is for the person to stop using your materials. Perhaps you can make that happen.

-- Andy Kaufman

About a month ago I was reading a magazine and there was an article on how to use e-mail effectively. Since I wrote an e-book on the topic it perked my interest. Turns out that 95% of the content of the article was essentially the same content as my e-book. I looked at the article's author and it rang a bell... I went back to purchase records and, sure enough, the person had bought the book months before.

I share the same reluctance you mentioned regarding lawyers. In the scheme of things, life seems to short and lawyers too expensive to justify the pain. But I didn't want it to just drop. So I sent the author an email saying something like, "I hope all's well since we exchanged emails a while back after you bought my eBook. I saw your article regarding email. Looks like we think very similarly on the topic. Congratulations on the article."

The person got back to me pretty quickly, very humbly, mentioning something about impressed how I stay on top of things, and that they tell all their audiences about my e-book.

The person was put on notice that I was paying attention, and they may just reference my book publicly from here out. Who knows. I am content with the result.

Does this apply to your situation? Maybe. You could contact them. It wouldn't hurt to at least ask for a royalty, knowing you don't have much authority to enforce it. There is another way to frame this: It's a compliment to you and that they are essentially selling your book for you. Maybe they could even sponsor you to come over for an engagement? Who knows?

My gut: the reward isn't sufficient to pursue legal means. Deal with it in a way that helps you to not be bitter, then go write another book.

-- Wayne Perkins

I have 3 PDFs that I NO longer sell off of my Web sites, however they are actually generating revenue I would never be getting otherwise.

I get about 2 or 3 calls every month from people who call in and say, "I see that so and so from the UK or Ireland is selling your eBooks or downloadable training."

Out of those 2 or 3 unsolicited calls, I will get immediate orders from these wonderful people because they feel so bad for me and want to help me out.

I felt the very same way you felt when it first happened a few years ago, until this do gooder said, "I see that you have one-on-one training there in Phoenix, AZ." "I want to take it." I booked him on the spot. This represented an instant big check from someone who was stirred from the obvious thievery.

I know your purpose deep down is to help a lot of people and at the same time get that "equal exchange or equal value" in return.

My advice to you after my being surprised at having this done many times and even filing formal complaints with eBay. (eBay will take the offenders off until they register a new identify or the same identity with a new email contact address) is to thank the people telling you of the theft. If you are not getting people to call or email you yet, the Irish company must not be doing much business. Your raving fans will know when they come across this material, and allow them to help you out by offering to purchase more of your products or help you get booked into their company.

-- Doug Rice

Tough situation. Here are my thoughts.

First, don't make this personal. I know it feels personal, but it's just business. The less emotional you can be, the better decisions you will make. Ireland isn't your target market is it? They aren't taking clients that you actually would have gotten, yes? Ask if they are really taking money out of your pocket or just putting money in theirs. Often it's more about being offended than it is about commerce. Try to turn it back to commerce and let the emotions go.

(Of course, if they are taking direct clients away, and you do go to Ireland and promote this program, it makes the entire situation easier as they are direct competition and it's pretty easy to kick the butt of a Xerox machine. But I assume that isn't the case.)

Second, consider the best option to forget about this entirely. It's not profitable to pursue a vendetta against someone that doesn't have any effect on your sales. The bottom line will suffer if you go off and do things that make you feel better, but aren't profitable. However, when faced with lemons, make lemonade (cliche, I know, but if the shoe fits... ;-) You can spend a little time and try to turn this to your advantage in as many ways as you can. Here are some things you can do. Obviously, contact them and let them know that you know they are using your material and ask if they want to work out a deal. It's cost effective and it might solve the entire problem profitably. Also, it lets them know they are on your radar and emotion should now work in your favor as they should feel like the scum they are. I am not big into threats and I don't think they are effective. Perhaps they are willing to buy your book at a discount or at least give you credit for the information which will lead to your brand and follow on sales, consulting, etc. Or are they willing to incorporate your additional products in their back of room sales. Think of some deal that makes you money without them directly having to give it to you as that is most workable. (along with you getting proper credit, of course) But if not, I again say, consider forgetting it and go back to earning money and helping your clients.

If you can't forget about them, find out how successful they are. They may be total failures and it goes away. But if what they are doing works, they may have some good marketing ideas or sales literature you can use. Turn about is fair play. Another thing you can do is find out who they are marketing to and try to beat them to it. If your program can be delivered via teleseminar (assuming it's to costly to go yourself and still make a profit), market your program to the same people with a full explanation of why you are the original and better (and potentially cheaper). Of course, mention to the prospective client that they should ask the other firm why they ripped off your program and why they should believe a word those bastards say. Hitting anyone in the client base is the equivalent to below the belt, but hey, they stole your stuff. Another option is with the media. See if they are getting any free media coverage, or better yet get some of your own, mentioning that your program is so good that it's being stolen right here in their hometown.

Finally, if it is still debilitating because it bugs you, and really can't live any more without doing unprofitable, unproductive things just to make this injustice right, then investigate them. Find out who they are. Find out what they do, how they do it and everything you can about them. That will give you plenty of leverage for hard ball negotiating and putting a little fear into them. Nothing like having someone mention your social security number to make you feel like you're in over your head. This will work, but I don't recommend it. Also, there are a ton of dirty tricks that might make you feel better, but aren't productive and really reduce you to their level. For example, if lunch wasn't included with their program, call the hotel and order a nice buffet for everyone! ;-) Or better yet, attend the program and start asking questions that only you can answer. Again, forget about it is the best plan.

I know how you feel, been there myself. And what I learned was that the less time I spent on it, the better off I was.

-- Jill Bernaciak

From my experience at American Greetings Corporation, the next step to take is literally to send a letter send to the offending organization from your attorney.

My concern for you is that, with it being a company outside the US, what complications does that present?

-- Debbie Christofferson

First I would ask the person or company about it. For instance, I've had research done by a eLance contract to help me with background for a specific speech, and to compile a course curriculum another time. Although I asked for references and no "lifting", I couldn't be certain. Many of the eLance folks are based in India, Philippines, etc, where intellectual property concepts are quite different.

The person using your material may have a similar experience. For me, when I thought about it, I decided to forgo use of this valuable resource, because I just couldn't be sure. I bought a tool to run the text thru for matching (like in college papers), but it was too burdensome and inconclusive.

I'd ask and then see what steps are next. We had a SpeakerNet News teleseminar on this topic recently -- I'm listening to it right now. Victoria Stein is an IP attorney, Rebecca is interviewing.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions