Intellectual Property Theft: Are Lying, Cheating and Stealing Ok Now? NO!

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on August 13, 2012

Intellectual Property Theft Is Now Big News

Today’s post has a different tone than what you usually find here at Dr. K’s blog.  Because rather than writing about communication, or positive change, my interest in this post is on exploring intellectual property theft.  With the story of Apple’s many suits against Samsung for stealing dominating the news these days, the question of who owns what  and what penalties attach to theft has become BIG NEWS!  

People are taking sides, and the astonishing thing to me is that, if you read the comments on news stories about the trial, many people seem to think it’s just fine to steal other people’s creative ideas,  as long as they get some kind of deal in exchange.  That’s a crazy ethic, and one that would be morally unrecognizable and unjustifiable by our ancestors.  Yet, here we are, with people defending, explaining, excusing and justifying Samsung’s behavior because it allows them to buy cheap iPhone and iPad knockoffs.   Pitiful.  Now it’s in court, and it remains to be seen if the court system is capable of protecting creative companies from theft by copycats.   We’ll see.

Freeplay Music (came with iMovie) Wasn’t/Isn’t Free

Meanwhile, the issue is a personal one, as I was recently reminded.  I had a rude awakening of my own in the past week.  And as a result, I felt compelled to take down two of my podcasts because they contained several seconds of what I thought were free music stingers that came with iMovie, on a Mac I purchased around 2005.   The poorly named Freeplay music company  found a podcast on this blog using software from that fingerprints audio waves, and sent me an intense and scary legal warning that, unless I paid their fees, they would pursue me in court for copyright violation.

WHAT?!  Shamed and embarrassed, I called to defend what I’d done and why I’d done it (it came free with my Mac, had the word free in it, and I derived from all this that it was free to use!)  and find out how I could have been so wrong in the use of that little bit of music.  Now it sort of seems as if Freeplay was out to set people up for sending them threatening emails and extracting fees after the fact,  by seeming to give some of their music to Apple to give away, and then coming after those of us who used this  ‘free’ music.  Reading through  Freeplay’s terms of service that are now on their web site (and which are loaded with so much legalese that you would practically need an attorney to interpret what you’re reading) say that you can’t share what you’ve made using their music online without facing potentially stiff penalties.  And yet they call it freeplay and give it away, encouraging people to use it.  ARGH!

On the upside, the person who sent the email, Mark at Freeplay,  was very nice and helpful on the phone, understanding of the innocence behind my use of those few seconds of music, and was willing to negotiate with me because I had been so responsive to their concerns.  (NOTE TO MARK:  Thank you.  Even though I hate having had to send you money, I appreciated your cordial and helpful behavior in dealing with this!)   I just signed and sent them the money, though I’ll be honest, I feel like the mob just showed up and coerced me into paying protection money.  🙁   And I feel quite deceived by their terms of service and wish I’d never heard of them.  I most certainly won’t be going back for more licensed music, and I hope my readers consider this a warning as well.  Freeplay isn’t free for your projects, (even if it came on your computer and labeled free) unless you’re only sharing those projects in person and not for profit.

My Own Work Was Plagiarized!

My innocent use of those few seconds of stinger from their musical clip is very different in cause and effect than the plagiarism I personally experienced a few months ago when someone named Leslie Magsalay in California attempted to republish several of the chapters from my coauthored book, ‘Dealing With People You Can’t Stand,’ on Amazon, as distinct books, with her name as author, and her company name, The PMO Practice, as sponsor for her ‘training work’ based on our material.  (We did an actual word count.  62% of the words in each of her ‘books’ was taken directly from our book.  She then tacked on a hodge podge of other stuff and called it a book.)

Rather than asking for fees, as Freeplay did with me, we simply asked her to cease and desist, and our publisher sent her a legal notice to that effect.  Ms. Magsalay  hasn’t heard back from us in a couple of months, and she may think she got away with what she did, but if you know her, let her know, it’s not over.

How did we find out about her reprinting our material under her name?  Cheating goes and always shows,as they say.   She did a press release bragging about her books (our material) and using our title, and that triggered a google alert.   The release began with these words:

The PMO Practice announced today three new releases in the PMO Soft Skills Series: Dealing With People You Can’t Stand.”

Hey!  What gives?  Our title?  First thought was, she didn’t know about our book and came up with the title on her own. The second paragraph of the release said,

“The PMO Practice and author Leslie O. Magsalay capture several very common workplace situations and gives PMO professionals a fresh perspective on how to change their behavior to manage these situations.”

It sounded innocent enough, and fresh is good, except the books were suspiciously about dealing with the “Grenade,” Whiner” and “Sniper,” terms and chapters right out of our book.  These titles, coupled with our book’s title, were enough to send me to Google to look at the inside of her work and see what she had to say on the subject.    Using a ‘look inside’ feature, I found my own writing and stories, word for word, paragraph for paragraph, example for example, with a few cosmetic alterations (inserting her name or her company name into OUR examples!)  My coauthor and I bought copies of each title, so we could see how deep this particular rabbit hole went.  Answer:  Very deep.

I then took another look at her press release.  I found this:

“As always, the author, Leslie O. Magsalay, draws on her personal experience and leading sources to cite examples and create scnarios that help Program Management professionals better understand the skills required and methods available to get the most out of their efforts on every program or project. Stay tuned for more articles in April, and upcoming book releases from The PMO Practice.”

Leading sources?  Personal experience?  Nowhere does she give credit to us (Which makes perfect sense, since she swapped out our names for hers, our company name for her company name, and then used our material and examples, word for word, paragraph for paragraph) or anyone else for that matter!  Instead she was actually taking credit for our work by calling herself an author, and using OUR COPYRIGHT MATERIAL, and then she marketed her ‘work’ to others.

And it didn’t stop there.  As I dug deep to learn all I could about Leslie O. Magsalay through her LinkedIn, Facebook and PMOPractice web site, I found her blog.  And on her blog, what did I find?  My writing!   Articles created out of our book, word for word, paragraph for paragraph, and again, her claiming to have authored them. (I have copies of each infringing article, with the URL showing its source, and she apparently doesn’t know about the Internet WayBack machine that keeps a record of everything ever posted)

When we called her out on it with a cease and desist letter, followed by a letter from McGraw Hill’s legal department, she quickly took it all down,  fast enough to make my head spin really.  Perhaps she was hoping to hide what she’d done from future investigation or perhaps she was just realizing she was caught and decided to throw in the towel on her deed. In either case, her concealing in the present does not hide what she did, because now we have it all as evidence for a future action.

Now you may ask: Why would we pursue a future action against her when she removed the stolen material?  After all, she didn’t appear to make money on what she’d done, yet.  And she is no longer trying to market our material.

The answer, in a word, is justice.  Had she taken responsibility for what she’d done and apologized to us, we would have been inclined to view her more favorably, and let it go for good.  But did she apologize?  Nope.  In fact, she denied any responsibility (though she had boldly called herself the author!) and actually claimed not to know how it had happened.  In light of the fact that she (1)did it in the first place  and (2) took no responsibility for it, such blatant and unrepentant bad behavior is unconscionable, and from our point of view, demands a legal response.  Stealing undermines the creative work and intellectual property of hard working people (me and my coauthor in this instance) who are trying to actually contribute something original and of value to this troubled world.

Thieves, Be Warned!

All this got me thinking about my blog.  I’ve been posting original articles that I’ve written here for over four years, every single week, essentially giving my material away to my readers, and it occurs to me that there is a great likelihood that unscrupulous and corrupt individuals have likely been stealing and repurposing my work for their own gain, thinking that the size of the Internet would protect them from being found out.  Fortunately there are tools now available to track down such thieving, and I have committed resources to using these tools to track down and prosecute any, pardon the term, scumbag trying to rip off my stuff.  It’s not something I enjoy or want to spend my energy on, but I can see now that allowing people to steal just invites more of it.  I’m putting my foot down.  If I find there’s more stealing going on, I may even take my blog down, all because of a few lowlifes who are willing to ruin the world (blogosphere) for their own petty gains.  And that’s the danger of tolerating or explaining away theft.  It disincentives real creators while rewarding the thieves.  Society loses and the bad folks win.  And that is also why I’m in favor of big penalties on intentional IP theft.   Penalties against patent theft and plagiarism  just might disincentivize the lowlifes from stealing, when the risk is too great of getting caught and facing the penalty.

Lesson:  DON’T STEAL

I think my experiences can serve you as a cautionary tale, be you a creator and owner of IP, or someone who helps themselves.  Guard your stuff.  And if it turns out that you stole intellectual property from others,  whether you were tricked into doing it by confusing terms and the generous use of the word ‘free’, or you didn’t think anyone would know about it, here’s some news for you.  The best defense is not a good offense.  The best defense is stop, apologize, and quit doing it.  Because YOU WILL BE FOUND OUT.  And when you are found out, you may find yourself in court, dealing with a lawsuit.   That’s a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone I care about!

Years ago, I was one of 15 people chosen by the Tom Peters organization and Careertrack to present the then revolutionary In Search of Excellence program.  Tom talked about the 98/2 principle…that 98% of people are basically good people, 2 % have criminal tendencies.  He posed the question:  What makes more sense?  Treat the 98% like potential criminals, or the 2% like potentially decent people until you learn otherwise?   I choose the latter.

So tell me, how about you?  Ever had your ideas or intellectual property ripped off?  How did you feel about it?  How did you deal with it?   Ever used something without permission?  (You can post anonymously!)  Your comments and feedback are welcome.

Be well,


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