A few years back a copywriter, who shall remain nameless, took it upon himself to take a piece of my work and put it on his website. He claimed that he had a right to do this because he was involved in the creative process, although not one of his words actually appeared anywhere on the ad.
This pissed me off a lot. I was only called in on the job because this writer was unable to crack it.
Needless to say, I told this fraud to remove my work from his site or I would tell the world about his dishonesty (blogs like this come in handy), and after sending him some shitty emails for a few months, my work was finally removed from the offending website (If you are that writer, hello again, like I said - I never forget).
Don't get me wrong. I'm no angel myself, there have been times when I've ripped-off another creative guys idea and reworked it for my own use. But I've never resorted to direct theft. Not yet anyway.
It is amazing how often this happens in our industry. I was talking to a friend not so long ago who told me that he used to work at an agency where idea theft was a daily occurrence. So much so he used to tape his best ideas to the underside of his desk. Unfortunately the cheats soon discovered his hiding place, so he resorted to climbing up on top of his desk, removing a ceiling panel and hiding his ideas up in the roof loft.
What I liked best about his thinking, was that he continued to tape ideas to the underside of his desk, only these ideas were always the crappy, seen-it-before thoughts and the ones dug out of his bin. Nice touch.
So why do so many creatives feel they have a license to cheat?
Francesca Gino of Harvard University says, "Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks, but creative sparks can lead individuals to take unethical routes," and she says, "People who are creative may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas."
And it's not just creatives in advertising and design that are at fault. Christopher Paolini is a writer who has been accused of copying from other fantasy stories. He uses character names and attributes from Tolkien and plot lines from StarWars. George Harrison was found guilty of subconscious plagiarism for the song "My Sweet Lord". And the artist Damien Hirst has had so many people accuse him of lifting ideas that you have to question if an original thought has ever entered his head.
The problem is, ambitious creative people will do just about anything to get to the top. And as much as it pains me when someone takes my work and calls it their own, stealing an idea from over there, pinching a style from over here that's exactly what creativity is all about.
The trick is to avoid getting caught.
John Fountain is a copywriter