Monday 5 May 2014

Scott's Law

I was struck today by a small incident on Twitter.  A teacher who writes, Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) discovered that a blog had copied a piece he'd written for the TES site, without permission.

He queried this, and received this response: 

and then, this:

I was clearly not alone in thinking that a poor response. It attracted a great deal of adverse comment and ridicule on Twitter, all featuring the name of the offending organisation.  I have only included the first few here. In short, a PR disaster.

I don't think Tom's approach was unreasonable, but even if it had been, organisations are really expected to handle things in a more professional way than that.

Whilst I have no pretensions to expertise in PR, it did lead me to formulate Scott's Law (I always wanted to have a Law!) which I will now share with the world:

As well as furnishing me with a Law (which may be my single biggest contribution to human happiness and well-being), this incident also brought back memories.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece for Personnel Management magazine. I was surprised to find it turn up (uncredited) as a handout in a training course used by one of my client organisations.  When I raised it with them, they were extremely apologetic: the course (as I knew, in fact) had been written for them by one of the large HR consultancies.  In fact, the reason I came across the handout was that my client had asked me to re-write the course, as it was very poorly put together.  So I was quietly delighted to point out not only that I wrote better material than the expensive London consultancy, but also that they plagiarised my stuff to add quality to theirs...

In fairness, the consultancy were also very apologetic: which is why, I suppose, I didn't formulate Scott's Law then.  But better late than never!


  1. *Sigh* Your post does not track silly accusations of plagiarism (none) theft/rip-off (none) gain (none).

    At worst this was a faux pas, bad manners, but unintentional and the feed was syndicated for the best of community motives. Twitter was the wrong place to sort it out and Tom was not helped by the welling up of a Twitter mob accusing @ITTEorg of profoundly unethical and even criminal behaviour.

    These came before the post you display. The emergence of the mob - now that would make a much more interesting analysis for your post and, as they say, would help to provide context for the post you highlight as making an inappropriate remark.

    E.g. look for the Professor Yaffle (© BBC) post 2 hours before, at which point by the way still no reply from Tom Bennett. Professor Yaffle (© BBC) just got carried away and within the space of a couple of hours a moral mob was in high hysterical spirits.

    My first experience of that kind of thing I am glad to say but gosh it is so very ugly.

    PS emails between myself and TES have been quite amicable and there are no concerns.

  2. Thanks for your comments. I could only blog on what I saw. I agree it was probably nothing more than a faux pas, but I do think that if you had simply apologised to Tom rather than make comments like 'silly season' you might have attracted rather less opprobrium.

    I agree, however, that a Twitter mob in full fury is a terrible thing - and often entirely disproportionate.

    1. You say you could only blog on what you saw - but surely it is all there for you see? Timeline is everything in Twitter and you have been selective - that's a more straightforward way to put it surely?

      As I said - by the time Tom came back to the topic the zombies were after my brains! By then Tom was just another zombie, lost in the crowd - unfortunate I know, but they were all at it by then - brains, brains, brains!

      This was a case where email would have been a much better place to have conducted the discussion (address on the website) which, after all, was only between him and me, not the whole baying pack.

      As I say I would appreciate your post doing more justice to the context - after all I wasn't starting a fight only trying to dismiss some silly remarks by some overwrought people - and my pants weren't down as I hadn't tried to do anything wrong in the first place.

      So your 'law' is rather unjust if I am to be the case on which it is based. Perhaps it should say:

      "If a mindlessTwitter mob screams at you that you are monster then it is best to run away."

      I have deleted several of my posts now anyway (much good it will do me!) having misunderstood some guidance someone else gave me.

      Ah well. Peace be with you.

    2. As you say, it is all there for all to see, so if anyone is interested in the detail, they can go and have a look.

      I am sorry if you feel I have done you an injustice. As I say, I saw a small incident, and it prompted a reflection and a memory.

      I am still of the opinion that a gracious apology to Tom would have been appropriate, however noble your intentions and innocent your behaviour.

  3. Time will tell to see if ITTE have learnt from their mistake by adding more information to their syndication sources that remain. After all, it would only take those sources to add a new post knocking ITTE and it wouldn't look good appearing automatically on the ITTE website (if that is how they're pulling the articles through).

    Content owners can also take measures by using summaries and adding information to the first paragraph, but this would only work when RSS feeds are used.