Is Plagiarism the Highest Form of Flattery? Criminal or Civil charges against TRCNetwoks.com ?

by Jeff Wiener on May 25, 2010

There is a saying that imitation is the highest form of flattery. The simple fact that someone has taken the time to copy your work is at least some indication that what you’ve done is exemplary, worthy of being copied. But I’m sure the originator of that saying wouldn’t be smiling if I claimed the credit for creating it, and so such pithy clichés do little to soothe the damage done to the victim of a crime like plagiarism.

As with many companies that offer the same informative and opinionated blogs as we do here at Digitcom, I subscribe to a service called Copyscape, a simple yet useful tool that scans the Internet looking for possible plagiarism of any of Digitcom or TheTelecomblog.com’s web sites. Simply put, when you’re in the business of providing unique and informative content, you want to know that what you’re putting out there is distinctly your own, why else would people read your blog?

Copyscape operates much like a search engine, sending its little technological spiders out across the Internet searching for any possible matches to the original content. When it comes across a suspect phrase, paragraph, or worse yet, an entire article, it sends an email advising the user of the questionable content…and last week I received such an email.

While I usually receive at least one email a week (sometimes more), it’s usually nothing more than some devious web bot that has automatically scanned and reproduced our content. While episodes such as this are certainly annoying, as I need to take the time to email the malcontent leeches, asking them to remove the content immediately, this does strike me as the unfortunate current reality of online technology writing.

However, what really stings is when once reputable companies stoop to this sort of shady business practice, and so you can imagine my anger, frustration, and even confusion upon the receipt of one of my latest emails from Copyscape, which brought to my attention the fact that one of Digitcom’s competitors, TRC Networks, blatantly copied one of the unique content posts from TheTelecomblog.com. They took the entire post, word-for-word, reproducing the entire article verbatim on their own blog, without even so much as a hint of credit given to the original source.

This incident, sadly enough, comes on the heels of a similar episode with a Chicago based interconnect that stole one of my unique posts discussing the new Avaya IP Office Release 6 software—they too copied the entire post, word-for-word, and claimed it as their own. The funniest, or perhaps most disconcerting part, was that they actually forgot to remove one particular reference to Digitcom.ca. When I contacted the president of that company, whom I happen to know, the issue was quickly resolved to my satisfaction, and I had hoped that this latest case would have the same outcome.

It so happens that Digitcom shares a common supplier with TRCNetworks.com and so I reached out to that supplier and asked them to do me a favor—simply contact the company and ask them to remove the content. So, when our common supplier approached the Toronto based TRC Networks, they obliged and removed the article.

Case closed. Right?

Apparently Not.

It appears that this time around the offense is far greater, as TRC Networks, it turns out, didn’t just copy one of our blog posts, but, to my horror, apparently copied the main page of Digitcom’s website…verbatim, typos and all. While I will clearly admit that the content of our page is poor at best, as Digitcom’s site is in desperate need of the complete overhaul we have scheduled for this summer, this incident has really got my wondering, why did they do it?

Blatant copyright violations and fraudulent forgeries happen all the time. Travel almost anywhere abroad and you’ll quickly find that Rolex, Gucci, or Apple knockoffs (just to name a few) are readily available. In fact, just this past month several sightings of unreleased Apple iPhone prototypes have sprung up in Asia and Europe, leading Apple to suspect that some overseas leech has copied the iPhone tech—software, chips, casing—and simply reproduced the phone in its entirety and claimed it as its own.

However, even to the technologically uninitiated, it’s clear that the fraudulent iPhone is a knockoff, a counterfeit device made with stolen or illegally reproduced technology. Just try approaching the foreign firm with this evidence, though, and you’ll quickly find that they deny the entire thing. “It’s not true,” they claim, “We have no idea what you’re talking about!” They might even open the phone and show you the authentic Apple chip inside, but what does that prove? Absolutely nothing.

They’ll deny any wrongdoing of course, most people that break the law do, but we know the truth. They’ve stolen something that isn’t theirs, a creative and innovative product that was the result of someone else’s hard work, and packaged it as their own.

But even with the fact that counterfeiting, fraud, plagiarism, and copyright infringement scenarios like this are almost inescapable, it’s shocking, nonetheless, when it happens to you.

Ironically, prior to this incident I was only vaguely familiar with the company TRC Networks, but now, having experienced firsthand the damage that can happen when an individual or company decides to steal someone else’s ideas, company name, and content and claim it as their own, they are foremost in my thoughts. For you see, upon closer examination of the TRC Networks website, the word Digitcom actually still appears. It seems that they copied the content but forgot to change the links!

The damage, for me at least, is twofold: First, I have spent the last 19 years building Digitcom into one of Canada’s most respected interconnects, and just like Apple, Gucci, or Rolex, here at Digitcom we fight to protect our intellectual property. Second, to have a competitor not only steal our copyrighted material but also maintain undesired links back to our company is sure to give many customers the wrong message.

So, while I am confused about why someone would do this, especially a company in the same city, I am more concerned about defending our name and keeping it from being bastardized at the hands of a competitor.

While I have again implored our common supplier to come to our aid, it now looks like the supplier has made the request, but, TRC Networks has not obliged. Lamentably, it now seems that my only recourse is to fight this injustice through both the court of public opinion and the court of law. While I certainly regret being forced down this path, there are no other effective alternatives available, and so I am in the process of both appealing to the public to let TRC Networks know that their actions will not be tolerated and also preparing legal documents, which I intend to file this Friday.

With respect to the court of law, it seems that plagiarism is both a criminal and civil action and we are assessing the best path to take.

However, I will cease and desist all legal actions and discontinue my vocal and public awareness campaign if the following reasonable conditions are met: (1) TRC Networks removes the plagiarized content by 2PM Wednesday, and (2) publishes an apology to be posted on their home page which should remain there for no less than two weeks.

Is imitation the highest form of flattery? Quite the contrary, in fact, as plagiarism leaves the victim feeling violated and cheapened. Sure it isn’t easy coming up with original content and ideas, and there’s no question that it’s easier to steal than to create, but for anyone that actually creates their own content, it’s to all of our benefit if we defend it, fight for it, and stand up to those who wish to steal what we’ve worked so hard for. I found a great blog post titled: What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content

So the question remains, what should I do here? Am I justified in pursuing all legal courses of action available to me to put a stop to this? Should we pursue civil or criminal charges ?

What are your thoughts on my next steps?

More: If you read the comments below you will notice a comment from someone at TRC. It appears that they have fixed the problem.

Did you like this post ? TheTelecomBlog.com publishes daily news, editorial, thoughts, and controversial opinion – you can subscribe by: RSS (click here), or email (click here).

Written by: Jeff Wiener. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Identi.ca, or Friendfeed

Gabriel Kohut, toronto, avaya, ip office, TRCNETWORKS.COM, criminal charges, copyright, TRC networks Toronto, TRC networks Avaya

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{ 1 trackback }

Update on Tuesday's Plagiarism issue — TheTelecomBlog.com
August 13, 2012 at 8:45 am

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard May 25, 2010 at 6:40 am

Somehow I am not surprised that this is happening with TRC. We have dealt with these people in the past and this type of activity is perfectly in character with the way they conduct their business.

Criminal charges seem quite harsh though – I would sue them for civil damages.

Mark Evans May 25, 2010 at 6:53 am

Jeff,

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of flattery/plagiarism happening because it’s a lot easier to take copy than create. That said, I’m surprised a competitor such as TRC would do it because it’s such a blatant and obvious move. While I’m not sure I would go after them legally, I would be happy to tell everyone I know in the industry about the “situation” – something that would not reflect well on TRC.

Mark

Jordan Richardson May 25, 2010 at 7:15 am

I’ve had this happen to me with film and music reviews in the past, along with other entire political essays I’ve written. Not fun and it certainly doesn’t feel flattering, especially when they appropriate the work as their own.

I think I agree with the other comments here as to the right course of action, however. Public shaming is often the best justice money can buy.

Gaurav May 25, 2010 at 7:47 am

Jeff,

I think that you’ve every right to feel offended. John Milton once said “Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from two, it’s research” :) I hope quoting John Milton doesn’t count as plagiarism.

On a serious note, plagiarism is a severe problem worldwide. Cloning a website is easy and can be done in a matter of minutes. Unfortunate as it is, technology does not always make our lives simpler. I agree with Jordan that the best course of action in this case is public shaming.

If anything, it reflects a severe identity crisis for TRC Networks. Blatant copy-paste is hardly the best way to describe your business. I guess it’s important to get this out to their customers. Spread the word and hope that gulit/ shame takes care of the rest.

Ian Howard May 25, 2010 at 8:20 am

It is an unfortunate part of society that certain individuals cannot respect the rights and property of others. While generally being able to see past this in the realm of day to day matters, there comes a time where the “line in the sand” has been crossed and one must stand up and protect that which is rightfully theirs.

We are always responsible for our own actions, however we are only held to account for those actions when a wronged party demands such accountability.

K Barnett May 25, 2010 at 8:47 am

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for sharing this information….as all that are in the world of Telecom we know how small it is and how you constantly bump into people you have worked with or met in the past. I agree that sending the word out about TRC is the way to go……it will spread fast and perhaps make them the responsible corporate citizen that they should be.

Matt May 25, 2010 at 9:20 am

Such a disgrace. Makes you wonder why they did it, it’s so obvious Digitcom would find out. Perhaps TRC did they not realize that there are services such as Copyscape to protect against this type of behavior and thought they would get away with it?

Glad that you are getting the word out so that others in the industry will know to watch out.

Stewart F May 25, 2010 at 9:45 am

We’ve also had a couple of competitors copy our company website verbatim, but they were in China and Europe and really small players. There was absolutely nothing we could do in those cases. It was frustating to say the least and we felt totally violated.

Where is the business honor and integrity? What was TRC thinking? How foolish can they be? Did they really think they would not get caught? This says a lot about how they must operate their business. Yikes. What else are they cutting corners on?

At least you have recourse on this blog and thankfully TRC is local in Toronto in case this matter goes before the courts. I suggest you spare no effort or expense to defend Digitcom’s rights, especially when it comes to copyrighted materials and intellectual property.

E McComb May 25, 2010 at 9:52 am

“Taking something from one man and making it worse is plagiarism.”
- George A. Moore

… That’s how you cite another person’s work.

Did they seriously presume that nobody would notice?!

Craig May 25, 2010 at 9:57 am

You’d almost take it as a compliment that they would use almost your exact website to promote their product. Clearly this is theft. Any sales they get via their website belong to you.

It’s ridiculous that they can tarnish the Digitcom name. I cant see TRC doing any ammount of business in the future, because when everyone hears ahout this one, no one will want to work with them.

Connor K. May 25, 2010 at 10:07 am

Jeff,
I think you should find some flattery in this situation, as TRC has confirmed Digitcom is as an exemplary interconnect. It is obviously an unfavourable situation, but the thought of a company modeling off of Digitcom should bring you a half smirk at least.
Having said that, I do agree with your course of action. I believe you are justified in pursuing full legal action if TRC does not comply by the Wednesday deadline. Their plagiarism has been made public, and they have been given a more than fair ultimatum. If they neglect to take your content down they have made a conscious decision to be taken to court.
Although it would be in TRC’s best interests to co-operate, I would not count on it, as they seem to be lacking in good ideas.

Robert May 25, 2010 at 10:08 am

I have looked at both websites, I do not see any plagiarized content on http://www.trcnetworks.com. I think Digitcom may be overreacting a bit there are only so many ways you can write about phone systems that are offered for sale. I doubt you will be able to charge them for copyright infringement

Scott May 25, 2010 at 10:59 am

Hi Jeff,

I am the web developer for http://www.TRCNetworks.com

In good faith I have removed the content in question

Maria B. May 25, 2010 at 11:15 am

Hmm. I think TRC never outgrew their favorite childhood game of “follow the leader”. It is obvious that TRC believes you to be a leader in the industry and they admire all of the efforts and investments you have made in building the Digitcom brand into what it stands for today. Yes..feel flattered that you are the one they have chosen to follow. BUT…generally, companies who try to compete head-on with leaders, try to position themselves uniquely and then perhaps follow some best practices of the leaders, such as their level of professionalism, the consistency of their brand’s promises, some marketing tactics and maybe even a few programs or services (under a different name of course). It seems TRC doesn’t know how to follow the leader ethically! What kind of standards does a company like this live by? Copy and paste!!! Come on.

If perhaps TRC spent less time and effort trying to follow word-for-word the leader, they may have more luck in trying to build a unique brand of their own that stands for something — anything other than “unethical”.

Personally, I think this blog post should be enough to bring justice to an obvious faux-pas. I don’t think wasting any more of your time on this would benefit you, especially time in our court systems . Do as you have always done…continue to be a leader in the industry and focus on the integrity of your brand and making your current and potential customers happy!

Matt K May 25, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Jeff,

Having been victim to a number of counts of plagiarism in my writing career, I certainly know firsthand that it neither flatters nor feels good when someone steals your original work.

I did notice that TRC Networks has already removed the content in good faith, but for a violation as serious as this, some sort of public recognition is surely needed on their part.

E O May 25, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I wish all the best for Digitcom going forward.

I would have never thought that something like this could happen in today’s society, I still cannot fathom their audacity. This is a shame.

Susan May 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Dear Jeff:

When we realized that TRC’s website had similarities to yours, we immediately took it off.

As you may know the New York Times one of the world’s leading new papers was exposed to an international embarrassment when it learned a young journalist had plagiarized others in an entire series of articles which had won a major award. The New York Times remains a standard bearer of integrity in journalism and TRC has an impeccable record for integrity in business.

These things happen and are grateful you told us so quickly. We have reviewed our internal processes in the hope nothing like this will happen again.

As a reseller of software and other intellectual property TRC strongly believes in the rights of companies and have always insisted on the highest levels of integrity in what we buy and sell to protect the rights of customers, partners and employees.

Thanks again.
Susan
TRC Customer Service

Allan May 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Jeff

The notion that someone who expects respect in the business world would steep so low is unnerving in the least. The fact that this practice occurs is widely known and will continue that way. Unfortunately, too many who have experienced plagiarism have settled the matter quietly and without much fanfare. So the practice continues unabated. If TRC’s customer base does not know what transpired, TRC will benefit from this. If the apology in their web site newsletter is satisfacrtory to you, move on. If not, pursue it legally, criminal or otherwise.

Don May 25, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Jeff,

Unfortunately, we are living in a day and age where nothing is deemed sacred. More and more companies are being victimized by having their products, brands and websites knocked-off by those who feel a sense of entitlement to the success of others.

You should take great pride and comfort in the fact that you have built a highly successful company that prides itself on hard work, dedication, integrity and a genuine commitment to its customers. Fortunately, these attributes define who your company is and cannot be copied so easily by the “wanna be’s” such as TRC.

I truly believe that you have handled this matter in a truly professional manner by using the court of public opinion as your forum. It’s now clear to me and others that TRC is “guilty as charged” and will now have to pay the ultimate price when it comes to their lost reputation and credibility.

Going forward, I have one piece of advice for TRC and others who pride themselves on “imitation” rather than “innovation”:

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”

– Herman Melville

Jordan Richardson May 25, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Susan,

“Similarities?”

That’s a gross understatement. The writing content merely makes a few minor adjustments, switches a few terms in some lists, and changes a few names. It’s essentially the same damn content. Hilarious that you compare yourself to the New York Times, too. The Times exposed and lambasted Jayson Blair, the perpetrator of the crime, on the front page in an expose about his deceptions rather than quietly remove his content. If you really want to take lessons from the professionalism of such a media outlet, you’d do the same thing and apologize publicly on YOUR site.

“These things happen…”

You act like this was an accident. Shameful.

Mark H May 26, 2010 at 10:55 am

Seems like the issue is not resolved.

In High school you loose marks.
In College you are expelled.
In Business you loose profit and potential growth.

Susan,

I myself work in the telecom field. I have run my own blogs, websites and various other content applications. If someone was to take my articles and reproduce them without credit they would be lambasted.

Saying that you have “Similarities” is not admitting guilt. Just admit and move on.

Steve May 30, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Unfortunately plagiarism is “still alive and well” and living in our society! From the above it still appears as if the situation has not be adequately resolved. On the positive side, take pride in the respect they have given you by this act, however it is not an event which you would like to see repeated. I suggest you continue with your efforts to obtain a public apology and retraction on their webpage, and only consider legal action once you have exhausted this avenue.

leonard May 31, 2010 at 12:13 pm

While plagiarism is certainly wrong, pursuing legal remedies is very costly and should be pursued only if the monetary damages are large and quantifiable.

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