Theft is theft

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We frequently do a lot of work for prospective clients without a guarantee of getting paid. Sometimes we get paid later, sometimes we don't. A couple of times, ideas we've presented have been stolen and reused, or connections we created get re-created without us being involved, or paid for our time. About a month ago, one of our long-term clients screwed us out of a six figure deal (we would have made a 15% commission), but what recourse did we have? None, except self-medication.

Joann Lublin has a few anecdotal suggestions that might work for some situations (but not really for us - we aren't looking to get hired as employees, just paid for what we do).

What to Do When They Don't Hire You, But Steal Your Ideas - It's painful enough when an employer rejects you. But some add insult to injury by stealing material you prepared to promote your candidacy.

How should you cope?

There's no surefire cure, as Vincent A. Gaglione Jr. learned. While jobless in spring 2004, the Cleveland resident pursued a middle-management position at an Ohio insurer. The concern asked him to create a marketing strategy focused on its independent field agents. He spent about 50 hours drafting a 25-page plan, then presented his detailed proposal to 20 officials over two days.

“We shook hands,” Mr. Gaglione recalls. “There was a lot of backslapping and they said, 'We'll be in touch.' ”

He didn't get the job. Mr. Gaglione soon found out the insurer was test marketing a key piece of his plan, even using the name he had given it. He left angry messages for two executives there. “I didn't appreciate you guys taking up my time and taking my work,” his voicemail said. They never called back.

No one knows how often companies rip off original material from applicants.

You can take several steps to guard against possible employer theft during the interview process. Offer samples of the outstanding work you have completed rather than craft something new. If the hiring manager insists on fresh samples, show off your brainpower without giving away all the goods. “Exclude necessary details that would then make [a proposal] impossible to implement,” says Richard Bayer, chief operating officer of the Five O'Clock Club, a career-counseling network in New York.

If you do submit a plan, take a strong stance to protect your ideas. Whenever you express yourself in writing, “the copyright attaches at that point,” notes Alan Weisberg, an intellectual-property attorney for Christopher & Weisberg in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He suggests adding a copyright symbol to the report, plus a confidentiality warning stating: “This information is being provided solely for the purposes of the job interview” and may not be used for other purposes without the author's permission.

But a tough nondisclosure statement could alienate a potential boss, who might see you as distrustful. “Don't come off as difficult,” says Michael A. Parker, a San Diego marketing consultant. He recommends making your actions speak to your commitment toward your possible employer.

He began using nondisclosure warnings after elements of a marketing plan he devised during a failed job search appeared on the Web site of a California software start-up. When he sought a job as marketing director for a different start-up, he prepared requested marketing schemes -- along with the line, “This is proprietary and confidential.”

..There also are smart moves after an employer rips off your work. Convey your dismay through its outside search firm. The recruiters might be able to tell you if there were legitimate reasons why you weren't picked -- and whether the theft was deliberate.

Alternatively, you could confront the hiring manager. But go prepared and stay calm. “Decide what you want,” Ms. Pachter advises. “Do you want to be reimbursed for your ideas? Do you want to be acknowledged? Or do you want them to stop using the information?”

Making a stink about money may make things worse. Mr. Gaglione, for instance, says he didn't seek a fee for his stolen marketing plan because he might need to seek employment again with the insurer. “Principle can be awfully expensive,'' he explains. On the other hand, that company ”would be among my last resorts.“


1 Comment

I see instances of intelectual theft around me all the time. There are people who like an idea and just take it, be it a turn of a phrase or a whole concept express with verve by you ( or someone else .)

It's pointless to create a problem with people who cannot pay for your ideas. In addition, who wants to be the bad guy?

Great article, Seth, so much highway robbery these days.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on November 28, 2006 9:30 AM.

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