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Internal piracy

A friend of mine is a music producer and the other day we were talking about a recent release of his. Released through a small label, the EP attracted a wide amount of attention thanks to said friends profile, and the profile of the artists featured. Following a healthy number of sales initially, my friend then described how the EP popped up on a well known file sharing site about six days later, and how he was relieved it had taken that long.

“Why not contact the site in question and ask for its removal?” I asked. “No point, as it will be on ten more sites the next day and hundred the day after; you simply cannot win”.

This got me thinking about what we do at NM, and the recent surge in interest around social business, particularly social business platforms like Jive and IBM Connections. I’ve read many case studies and seen many evangelists talk of seamless collaboration and employees being able to work together like never before, regardless of geographic or departmental barriers.

But we’ve never really thought about internal piracy, or plagiarism as it would probably be better understood.

Imagine this. You’re a mid-level employee in a large FMCG business. You’ve devised and documented a smart new process which, if implemented, could save your business area large amounts of time and therefore cash. Immediate colleagues are impressed and have even helped you finalise the process through the companies recently implemented social business platform. You’re awaiting the big launch, having submitted the business case to put your new process into action, but a couple of days before launch you’re invited to witness the launch of a worryingly similar sounding process improvement, ’devised’ by a more senior colleague in the same department.

Obviously this kind of skullduggery exists in corporate environments already; colleagues copying other colleagues and taking credit for the work of others. But are we at risk of creating unforeseen ethical, personal and cultural issues by introducing platforms where sharing and transparency are selling points?

In short, yes – shitty people will always be shitty and there will be those that get short-changed because they’ve shared a bit too openly with the wrong people. On the flip-side of this though, the huge benefits of a sharing culture vastly outweigh the pitfalls. Therefore, I thought I’d have a bash at some simple best practice procedures for tackling internal piracy:

  • Lead by example; using the work of others, tweaking and adding, will make for smarter organisations and faster innovation. If you’re in a senior role, or perhaps just highly visible, proudly use the work of others and credit the originators whenever possible. Culture changes through behaviour so transform yours one action at a time.
  • Properly embed and monitor use of new sharing platforms; too many large software implementations are left to wallow once launched – probably the result of stressful and tedious implementation processes. However it’s essential to keep an overview on usage, if only to ensure you’re getting value for money from your investment. Also, you’ll see who’s using the system, and who isn’t. If you can work with passionate champions AND detractors you’ll gain a full understanding of what’s useful about the platform and what’s not, and what you can do to encourage broader usage.
  • Showcase sharing; when amazing things happens based on sharing and collaboration, celebrate it. Using whatever internal channels you have, let people know about new innovations, and the collaborations behind them. If you can get leadership to do this even better.

I’d be really interested to hear if others think internal piracy will be an issue, and if so, if my suggestions above will help. I’ve deliberately made them positive, rather than cease and desist type measures, as I think organisations have enough of those already.

Image used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user hojoanaheim


This post was filed under Digital transformation, Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. This is a very interesting topic and one close to my heart. As part of a small innovation team in a very large organisation our ideas are very important and getting credit for them is equally important.

    I love the showcase sharing example and we are trying to do something around that at the moment by finding specific use cases where microblogging and the connections it affords internally that no other platform can, have helped people solve problems or make things happen that would have not happened without it.

    I think what is needed is ways that ideas can be more easily published and credited to the right people. This is hard internally and we are trying to approach this in a similar way tto one that would benefit your friend. We are using our internal collaboration platform to to build an audience. We publish our ideas to as wide an audience as possible so that the chance of them being used increases but also the chance of someone stealing it and us not finding out should also lessen, in theory.

    You want ideas and like minded thinkers to connect on these platforms and you don’t want to get into a situation where you have people being so protective over their ideas that they don’t share. We don’t want to end up with virtual patents on internal ideas either.

    As for musicians how about embracing piracy. This indie game just used the Pirate Bay to market their new game on

    Posted 14th September 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  2. Ross Breadmore

    I know what you mean. Even in a small team like we have I sometimes feel that irritable pang when a colleague throws an idea into a brainstorm that you’re sure you created days/weeks/months earlier.
    Be great if there was some kind of technological hack that would solve this, and not in a proof/evidence type way. More of a neat way of looking at an idea, and seeing the various stands/contributors that made the whole. Have no idea what this would be, but I’ll keep thinking about it.

    In the meantime, similar to your game example, did you see the Notch tweet to an eager Minecraft fan?

    Posted 14th September 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  3. Remember that these platforms are highly visible across an organisation, and therefore comments and ideas are transparent and can be scrutinised by anyone in the business. Play this to your advantage; post your ideas and share – anyone palms your idea off as their own, you have it documented in an open place that it was, in fact, your idea. And colleagues that have read your post can also back up your claim, even if you’re somewhere else when the plagiariser gets cheeky…

    Posted 18th September 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink