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Copycat killer

July 7, 2007 10:00 by

I have often complained vocally about the phenomenon known as “idea poaching,” when agencies steal ideas from one another. I was asked me to rant about this. Here I go.

The fact that I even have to talk about idea poaching is annoying in the extreme. This should be crystal clear to all parties concerned - agencies, advertisers and creatives. I don’t care if you have bi-polar disorder or if you’re taking Prozac suppositories: You know it when an idea didn’t come out of your own head. By deductive logic it must mean the idea belongs to someone else then. Get over it. And if you say the idea is yours, you are nothing by a leprous slag.

There’s nothing new about this, though. Young creatives have had their ideas stolen from the very beginning. Has-been, fartsy creative directors are the worst offenders. All they have to do is put their name on it. The young creative only finds out when the ad wins an award and her name is nowhere to be found on the credit list. You’d be surprised at how often that happens.

Advertisers are by no means above idea-poaching, either. Especially during a pitch. They get ideas from five agencies and often what is finally released is a combination of two other agency’s work.

I don’t care if you’ve commissioned the work. It doesn’t belong to you unless you pay for it first.

Intellectual property must be protected at all costs. So who does the work really belong to? The answer is simple but two-fold. Every idea that is articulated verbally or through a sketch is the property of the agency that is paying you to have those ideas. But the agency must always give credit responsibly where it’s due. The idea also belongs to the creatives who came up with it in the first place. They can use the same idea for another client in another agency, as long as there’s no conflict of interest with the first agency.

In short, everyone has to show responsibility and professional courtesy. Everyone has to grow the fuck up.

I want to give you a small example of how seriously I take this. Six months ago, we at Team Y&R were doing an ad for an electronics brand. We looked at some of the stuff we had already done but not presented to the client. One of the ads we short-listed for presentation was done by Peter Walker, who is now at Tonic.

Peter was duly called and informed that we were presenting that idea (professional courtesy). The ad was approved and eventually ran and was also sent to the awards with Peter’s name on it (responsibility).

Of course, all this presupposes that the idea is worth stealing. And that is a burden every industry bears.

Allegedly, William Shakespeare stole most of his material from someone else.

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