Saturday, July 10, 2010
"But if it's just there, why can't I take it and use it?"
Life in the company is oftentimes quite stupid and I don't think that this actually is anything that easily can be solved; it just seems like that when a bunch of people are grouped together and in different departments that the overall intelligence decreases below what should be the sum of the group. Unfortunately I probably can't really get on any high horses and claim that I've never been a part of some general corporate stupidity. This is probably true for most organizations of any size to talk about (keeping it within 10-20 people probably can avoid this). With this little disclaimer out of the way, just earlier in the week I participated in a meeting where the stupidity reached mind blowing proportions.
The meeting was a follow up meeting to a previous discussion I've talked about here (quick summary is that the guy compiling the material had just copy pasted stuff from random sites off the Internet without sourcing it and presenting it as his own and packaged it in our corporate format). We were quite a bunch of people participating with most departments participating (including Cpt. Awkward, who unfortunately lately has kept the awkwardness to a minimum) and discussing the development of the training material for some medical training seminars towards our customers.
I pretty quickly pointed out that we cannot just take texts and pictures off the Internet, not source it, package it as our own corporate material and then use it thinking that it's perfectly fine, and that in addition to any ethical issues with this there could also be legal repercussions on a global level with us completely ignoring copyright.
Things could have ended there, but for some reason this was not completely understood by most people in the room. Mr. Shachou started the madness by throwing out "but if this was available on the Internet, doesn't that mean that we can use it if we want to?" and I actually saw a few people nodding to this (out of insanity or brownnosing I'm not sure) and then throwing the question to our "legal advisor", who has no competency in legal matters whatsoever but just given the post after retirement so he can be kept around the company as an advisor (hey, he's a really nice guy and a bit of a living corporate relic). He looked a bit confused and then stuttered "well... yeah... maybe, if it's just out on the Internet so anyone can find it...?".
At this point the insanity and stupidity was reaching the breaking point for me and I felt the need to directly ask the question to some of the more sane people, but who are not very outspoken and especially not if the boss has said something in the other direction, and force an answer from a few people. It turned out that a few people had some rudimentary knowledge of basic copyright and corporate risk management and agreed that we had to be careful in things like this...
After a few minutes and an explanation from me on the basics of copyright (including; "no, just because someone wrote something on the Internet doesn't mean that you can copy that and do whatever you want with it, and especially not for commercial purposes") some form of understanding seemed to settle in the room. A lot of people, including Mr. Shachou and the great legal advisor, looked like they had just swallowed a turd (probably not helped along by me aggressively and accusatory asking them rhetorically "don't you people have any basic understanding of the legal system at all?!").
The topic was quickly swept under the rug with a quick "ok, we can't use it" and then without any discussion on what we actually could use, the meeting was closed after almost an hour of madness. I probably have to go back to 2007 (see here) to find an example of stupidity equalling this...