I recently wrote on the ethics of L&D, and I note that I didn’t address one issue. Yet, it’s very clear that it’s still a problem. In short, I’m talking about plagiarism and attribution. And it needs to be said.
In that article, I did say:
That means we practice ethically, and responsibly. We want to collectively determine what that means, and act accordingly. And we must call out bad practices or beliefs.
So let me talk about one bad practice: taking or using other people’s stuff without attribution. Most of the speakers I know can cite instances when they’ve seen their ideas (diagrams, quotes, etc) put up by others without pointing back to them. There’s a distinction between citing something many people are talking about (innovation, microlearning, what have you) with your own interpretation, and literally taking someone’s ideas and selling them as your own.
One of our colleagues recently let me know his tools had been used by folks to earn money without any reimbursement to him (or even attribution). Others have had their diagrams purloined and used in presentations. One colleague found pretty much his entire presentation used by someone else! I myself have seen my writing appear elsewhere without a link back to me, and I’m not the only one.
Many folks bother to put copyright signs on their images, but I’ve stopped because it’s too easy to edit out if you’re halfway proficient with a decent graphics package. And you can do all sorts of things to try to protect your decks, writing, etc, but ultimately it’s very hard to protect, let alone discover that it’s happening. Who knows how many copies of someone’s images have ended up in a business presentation inside a firm! People have asked, from time to time, and I have pretty much always agreed (and I’m grateful when they do ask). Others, I’m sure, are doing it anyway.
This isn’t the same as asking someone to work for free, which is also pretty rude. There are folks who will work for ‘exposure’, because they’re building a brand, but it’s somewhat unfair. The worst are those who charge for things, like attendance or membership, or organizations who make money, yet expect free presentations! “Oh, you could get some business from this.” The operative word is ‘could’. Yet they are!
Attribution isn’t ‘name dropping‘. It’s showing you are paying attention, and know the giants whose shoulders you stand on. Taking other people’s work and claiming it as your own, particularly if you profit by it, is theft. Pure and simple. It happens, but we need to call it out. Calling it out can even be valuable; I once complained and ended up with a good connection (and an apology).
Please, please, ask for permission, call out folks who you see are plagiarizing, and generally act in proper ways. I’m sure you are, but overall some awareness raising still needs to happen. Heck, I know we see amazing instances in people’s resumes and speeches of it, but it’s still not right. The people in L&D I’ve found to be generally warm and helpful (not surprisingly). A few bad apples isn’t surprising, but we can do better. All I can do is ask you to do the right thing yourself, and call out bad behavior when you do see it. Thanks!