Plagiarism is Not Thought Leadership

Recently, more than one person has taken our work, edited it slightly and used it for their purposes. So let’s talk about why this is a bad idea. And it’s not just because copyright violation is crime.

The demands on B2B content creators are continually rising. In a study we conducted earlier this year with the Association of Management Consulting Firms, we found that 62% of consulting and IT services firms think the bar for the quality of thought leadership content  has gone up over the past five years (versus 5% that thought it had gone down). And fully 72% expect it to keep going up over the next five years. (No one thinks it will go down). Meantime, plagiarism is increasing, in part because of this pressure, but also because the Internet makes it easier to steal other people’s material than ever before. (No more tedious trips to the library; no more laborious copying. Just virtual cut and paste.)

Some plagiarism does not really matter very much. If you Google “steps + ‘social media strategy’” you’ll get over four million results, covering how to develop a social media strategy in anywhere from four steps to 12. Most of these posts are rearrangements of steps in the posts that preceded them. So the same vacuous advice (e.g., “Create and prioritize goals”) is continually recirculated, that particular one about 13,000 times verbatim so far. This is generally harmless – it would be almost impossible to determine who first advised to “Create and prioritize goals.” But we would always advise not to do it; because the advice is so obvious as to be worthless, and because the practice of endless recopying adds no value to anyone.

But some plagiarism does matter. It matters when someone takes original material, based on research, field experience, analysis, creativity and/or hard work, and represents it as his own. It’s worse when the culprit has it published by a third-party journal. And it's even worse when, as has been the case recently, he operates like us in the publishing space where the rules on plagiarism are well known. This kind of copying creates value for the plagiarist of course, so long as he gets away with it.

First the amusing part. There are many ironies in pirating articles from us about thought leadership, since we typically advise for instance:

  • How important it is to have a point of view
  • That to develop one requires research and analysis
  • And that many organizations have great difficulty generating original content

The pirate contradicts himself with regard to the first two, and inadvertently confirms the third.

But the serious issues are these. Copyright infringement is illegal in every country in which our plagiarized material has been published. Second, plagiarizers always diminish the original work. They retain the parts they want, take out the parts they do not and glue it back together with some words of their own. So it’s not the same message any more – it’s a watered-down one, often polluted with errors. This demeans original research and creative work. And by so doing it diminishes the effort other people expend to bring value to a field.

Not to mention that in an online world in which it’s easy to copy other people’s material, it’s just as easy to get caught. And when someone is caught, he reveals himself as a thought laggard and a fraud.


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