PEOPLE & PERFORMANCE: March 1995 issue                    back to articles menu


TOPIC: Copyright, or the lack of it.

Those of us who are creative, have something to say, spend hours designing the best way to say it, then spend more hours ruining their eyesight at a computer screen at 3.00am actually saying it, will understand fully where I’m coming from in these next paragraphs.

Xerox may have produced the first photocopier (from someone else’s idea), but they didn’t produce the first plagiarist. People who can’t create (or for a variety of reasons don’t want to), have been stealing the ideas of those who can, for thousands of years.

There’s a legend that Moses, coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments chiselled into stone tablets, was heard to mutter "well, he did say ‘here are my Commandments’, but I dunno, I can see twink marks across the bottom......". At this point I should tell you that I have this belief that God has a sense of humour.

Anyway, to get to the point, I have just ceased presenting public courses for one organisation, partly over the third-world fees imposed (as against negotiated), but mainly over the principle of not being able to take credit for the work I have done. It was a fight right from day one, and I gave up rather than flatten my forehead further. If I may quote verbatim from the last discussion where I was reminded that the master for the participant’s manual was needed soon.... "and remember, we don’t want your name splashed all over it...." Guaranteed to boost your self-esteem. I managed to negotiate a small box on the front page with a copyright warning, then produced a master with, on each of the 80-odd pages, a small logo at top left and an equally small copyright at bottom left, delivering the master too late for them to be able to demand a change. They weren’t quite cheeky enough to twink it out.....

Mercifully it’s no longer an issue, and an organisation I used to be proud of loses yet another good facilitator (as judged by the participant’s evaluations), not so much over money, as over a domineering, inflexible dog-in-the-manger attitude and a paranoia over ‘consultants who poach their clients’. Would you believe that it’s forbidden for the facilitator to give out their card.....?

I’m proud of the work I do, and my company name. My work goes out clearly identified to myself & STA, or not at all...

As a model of how it can be, I have presented around 250 public courses for Auckland Employer’s Assn in the last three years. Participant’s manuals show equal credit for the Association and STA, with very much a ‘joint-venture’ look to them, and it is clear who’s work it is. Never once in all that time have I attempted to ‘poach’ AEA’s clients, never once have AEA attempted to present one of STA’s courses as anything other than just that - an AEA folder with an STA course inside it.

Some of my stuff is used by other Tutors at AEA - but they ask first, it’s done with my full knowledge, and my name stays on it. And it works in reverse, too.

If you look through one of my manuals, you’ll see some content that’s clearly lifted from other works. Show me a Leadership course manual that doesn’t have Porter-Lawler, Maslow, Mclennan - or a Motivation course without Herzberg, Stacey, Alderfer or Victor Vroom. At the bottom of the page, in a little box, are the details as to the reference book, the author, publisher, and where you can get it. It’s clear that there is no attempt to ‘pass off’ the work as being mine.

But my interpretation of that work, and other text relevant to it, or my treatment of it, IS my work.

At this point I should clarify the extent of copying I object to. I don’t think anyone minds people lifting ‘quotes’, or even a paragragh or illustration. It’s when whole pages of my work show up in someone else’s manual, as if it were their work and with no reference to source, that I get a tad bitter and twisted about it - especially when the twink marks are obvious.

Never mind (for a minute) what the law may say about copyright. Let’s look at the ‘spirit’ of the law. Authors make their living, from which they buy food and pay the mortgage, from the sale of their work. If you take it without paying for it, make no bones about it - you are denying them rightful income. Copying someone else’s work is theft, pure and simple. Pause before you hit the ‘copy’ button. Would you like it done to you? Is the author local - can you ring them and ask first? I can’t speak for other writers, but if you pay me the courtesy of asking first, as long as you leave my name on it, and you’re not copying the whole manual to earn money just for you, then my answer’s likely to be a flattered ‘yes’.

But that’s enough about copying someone’s else’s work. Staying with the ‘spirit’ for a minute, I reckon it’s just as bad to be prevented by coercion from clearly identifying your work, from which (of course) you build market knowledge, which leads to more work.....

‘Do it our way or you don’t work for us’ is just another form of coercion. And as long as there are struggling new trainers prepared to sacrifice their self-esteem, or mediocre trainers who can’t get work any other way, then I guess coercion will continue to work. How good are the courses, though?

If you are creative, and you are good, then for your own sake have the courage to stand up for yourself, insist on being clearly identified and paid properly, and vote with your feet if necessary.

In pursuit of honesty and credit to those who’ve earned it...,

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand. email:
Steve Punter 1995 All rights reserved by the author                                                                                                                            back to articles menu