Tuesday, June 07, 2005

:: adgruntie :: IPA wants to crack down on plagiarism

+ MediaWeek.co.uk has an interesting story on plagiarism in regards to media agencies and IPA's (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) plans to "get tough" on agencies who steal.

Its legal director, Marina Palomba, says: "The problem in the case of media agencies, as distinct from creative agencies, is that it is harder to identify."

But she warns that any IPA agency found to have committed a flagrant act of plagiarising a fellow member's work runs the risk of being kicked out of the organisation.

"Our bylaws do require a member to behave in an ethical manner. If one agency acted in a particularly unprofessional or unethical manner, then it would be raised at our council. There is the ultimate sanction of asking that agency to leave – although to my knowledge it's never happened before,"she says.

But Palomba agrees that sometimes agencies that win a pitch often find themselves under pressure from their new clients to use ideas already supplied by the outgoing agency.

"I've had members call me in these circumstances and ask what the legal position is. I tell them that they're infringing copyright. Very often, agencies want to hear that because they've got their own ideas they want to use," she says.

But the IPA initiative is already being greeted with widespread scepticism by individual agencies and advertisers alike.

Many of them believe it is a worthy cause but hasn't a hope in hell of becoming reality in the cut-throat world of advertising where grabbing business and getting to the top of the billings leagues are all-important.

One agency executive sums up the situation starkly: "Look, it's ‘dog eat dog' and ‘rat eat rat' out there. Anyone who doubts that isn't living in the real world. Anybody who doesn't live by that will die a commercial death. Our agency has gleaned ideas and knowledge from clients – knowledge that I know has originated from rivals in the pitch process. And we've made use of that knowledge –made money from it."
He adds: "You can get any number of people to make pious declarations about how wrong it all is, but you show me an agency too scrupulous to take advantage of a situation like that and I'll show you an agency that's on the way out."

Another agency chief is blunter still: "The IPA lot are flapping about like a bunch of shocked vicars at a dirty postcard convention. You might conceivably get the IPA and Isba [the Incorporated Society of BritishAdvertisers] to sign up to some joint statement about the need to protect intellectual property. But it'll mean bugger all in practice because neither organisation is a regulatory body. Being expelled from the IPA is hardly the sanction of the century."

He adds: "I mean, what would you choose? Securing a piece of business that might well help take you to the top of the billings league, even if you're making use of another agency's ideas, or basking in the approval of [IPA director general] Hamish Pringle? Tough call, isn't it?"


And Debbie Morrison, director of membership services at Isba, is honest enough to admit: "We can't control every single client customer relationship that's out there. We don't have any bylaws."

She believes that if agencies are unhappy, then the remedy is largely in their own hands, adding: "Until agencies regulate themselves and say:‘No, we're not going to do this,' then I don't see that very much will change."

Morrison claims: "A lot of this is being spun by the IPA and it's winding the whole situation up. It's never going to stop competition in its own marketplace, is it?"

She says many in the industry fail to understand that agencies frequently come up with similar ideas quite simultaneously because their responses are often guided by the very tight and detailed nature of the briefings given to them by clients.

"Certain briefs are so detailed that agencies have actually come back with the same idea. How do you get over that barrier? Where does the idea come from? Does it belong solely to one person? I don't think it does," she says.

Morrison adds: "The way that clients and agencies work these days, it's more about collaboration. Therefore it's about joint ownership of ideas. It isn't about them and us, mine and yours. It's a very selfish way to look at things."

But when client and agency part company, everybody is indeed out for themselves – whether that means taking whatever idea will benefit the business or protecting intellectual property.

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