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Are You Sure Your Company Blog is Legal? (Or Why I Busted Someone For Plagiarism)

I know I go by the name Evil HR Lady, but that's more tongue-in-cheek and a reflection on the negative attitude people have towards HR people in general. Plus, who would read a column written by the Warm and Fuzzy HR Lady? Not you, I'm sure.

But, honestly, I'm a nice person and I help people out. I answer far more questions than I publish and genuinely hope that my readers get jobs, keep jobs, get promoted, and get along with their strange coworkers. But, niceness has it's limits, and that's why when I found a company blog that consisted largely of poorly plagiarized Evil HR Lady columns, I had to act.

I called the main company switchboard and asked to speak to the person whose name was on the blogs. He was on vacation, so I left a message telling him who I am and that plagiarizing my articles was a "jerky" thing to do and to please email me. (Yes, that is as strong as my language gets. Turns out I am warm and fuzzy.)

Well, yesterday I got a very apologetic email. Turns out that the person I contacted was the boss of the actual blog "writer." The perpetrator wrote, in part

If it is any consolation, please be aware that I received a serious disciplinary action as consequence of my actions.
Interestingly enough, if this person worked for me, the disciplinary action would have been termination, but I feel slightly bad for getting this person in trouble. Not that she didn't deserve it. She did. Stealing numerous articles, changing a few words here and there, and posting it on a website that represents a company should be a fireable offense.

I did reply to the confessional email and asked:

I would like, if you are willing, to include [in a column about this episode] your explanation on how you ended up plagiarizing so many articles. Were you forced into a blogging role when you're not a writer? Did you volunteer for the job and end up in over your head?
She responded (edited to protect the guilty--remember that warm and fuzzy part of me),
Here is my explanation-- I imagine that it's the least I can do in light of what I've done. I was offered, and accepted the position of writing the company blog in addition to my regular duties... something I could do at home and on my own time.

Recently, and in addition to this, I started evening classes, hoping to prepare myself for a promotion I wanted. I didn't realize immediately how little time was available to me, and hence, my unethical shortcut.

I certainly can't rationalize or justify in any way what I've done, and I hope you don't think the above explanation was written with that intent. Also, I appreciate the fact that when you do write about this, I'll remain anonymous.

You may remain certain that I will not be guilty of this anymore under any circumstances in any form.

Again my most sincere apologies and regret,

She does sound regretful, doesn't she? But, what are the takeaways for your business or your department blog?
  • No blog is better than an unethical one. It may seem like a no brainer, but this person is not the only person out there on the internet plagiarizing right and left for a business blog. This particular blog was only one of many that I found that was blatantly stealing my work. If I felt like it, I could blast this company's name around the internet. Through good use of links I could make this article appear prominently when someone ran a Google search on the company name. You don't want that.
  • Your company blog should not be a hobby. If you feel like a blog would be good for your business, you need to devote company resources to that blog. That means it's not a nights and weekends thing. If you don't want to devote resources then you don't want to do it.
  • Your blog is a company spokesperson. You wouldn't let a random employee speak to the local television station, would you? Then why let a random employee represent the company on the internet?
  • Short and good is better than long and boring. You want your blog to pull in interesting things? Feel free to put short quotes from interesting writers with links back to their pages. (In fact, I encourage you to do that--put up excerpts from all my columns along with links back to them and I'll love you forever!) Use the blogging space to post short updates regarding your company, or interesting anecdotes from clients (with permission, of course).
  • Don't be scared, just be cautious. The internet is forever and very public. Make sure, before you hit post, that you really want that out there forever.
  • Respect the law. Just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's free for the taking. You can use quotes with a source reference (preferably a link back), but you can't post whole articles--even with a link back. And everything is copyrighted as soon as it's produced. Just because there's no copyright sign, doesn't mean it's not copyrighted.
  • Consider an intranet blog instead. If you want to reach out to your employees and show them that senior management is human (questionable, I know), host your blog on the company intranet. And do not, under any circumstances, use a ghost writer. If your CIO can't write to save his soul, then don't have a "from the CIO's desk!" column. Yes, an editor is fine, but a blog needs to come from the person whose name is on it. Your employees will resent a sanitized view straight from the public relations department.
Make sure your internet presence is what you want it to be. And don't steal stuff, especially from HR people. We're used to firing people, and we won't lose sleep over the whole thing.

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Illustration by MikeBlogs, Flickr cc 2.0
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