Public Affairs Strategy for Plaintiff in Plagiarism

The “beauty of the opportunity” for your friend is that Plagiarism is a much-despised “social offense” with potential for civil and even sometimes criminal culpability, which obviously must be established in a Court of Law.

Having said that, based on my own experience, and I’m a past elected national president of PRSA, as well as a Fellow PRSA, it is essential that the starting point for the aggrieved is an ability to legally document and validate (for the most part) beyond dispute (defense always will dispute) that her work has been pirated, that it has been Plagiarized.

The Law sets “a high standard” for proving Plagiarism, and it should. That’s a good thing!

A public accusation of Plagiarism is effectively slanderous, if not libelous, and anyone considering that path needs to do so with caution. In terms of Social Values, if anything is equal to, if not worse than, Plagiarism, it is Slander and Libel of another person and her / his reputation.

Enter this Public Affairs / Reputation Management Strategy for Managing a Plagiarism Case.

The first “cornerstone” of this strategy is knowing that what is said in Court – including briefs and filing, as well as testimony – is “protected speech” in most cases. What that means is that generally it is beyond “legal action” (e.g., Slander, Libel) based on a slander or libel standard, because it is part of a Court proceeding, unless the Court were to determine that the filing is “frivolous.” (I need to be careful here that I don’t practice law without a license!)

The second is that to a reasonable Attorney, who is willing to take the case (whether paid, or on a contingent basis), the Plagiarism is obvious. That becomes the effective “test” of Plagiarism in a pragmatic sense, finding an Attorney who is willing to litigate the case based on the best facts known to her or him. Your friend cannot discard this, because to address the Plagiarism issue proactively, any “case” would need to meet those high standards of establishing Plagiarism. (Frankly, if someone wanted to do this stand alone, without a Legal case, I certainly would not likely take it on. Just too fraught with risk to everyone involved!)

My implementation of that, then, would be to work with the Attorney to create a “let it all hang out” Complaint for filing in the appropriate and hopefully “friendly” court venue. That filing, then, would be lengthy, with all the rich detail, right down to where the offender likely accessed the plaintiff’s work. (And, if I were managing this, I’d likely want to recruit the Atty, if none is in place, to make certain I had one where we enjoyed mutual confidence in working together!)

At the heart of the matter, in the beginning, is answering the question, what is the Plaintiff’s objective? As in many legal matters, in this one, alleged Plagiarism, you really can’t “unscramble the egg.” So, effectively what you’re ordinarily seeking is 3-fold, (1) Acknowledgement by the offender, with (2) an Apology, and (3) Settlement of Damages that makes the litigation “worthwhile.” Frankly, it’s the financial settlement that will fund the acknowledgement and apology, making all that she wants possible, if she can establish the merits of her case.

The risk of financial damages to a publisher may be its lesser concern than risk to its reputation, and frankly that is what my Public Affairs / Reputation Management strategy in this hopes to address. In other words, it’s a “battlefield,” a win-lose scenario, unfortunately, where the Court of Law and the Court of Public Opinion are the “twin battlefields.” For many if not most of us, such a strategy goes against how we’re “hard-wired,” because I’d prefer a win-win scenario, or outcome, and, by its very nature, that’s virtually impossible here, it’s likely to be inherently win-lose.

What becomes obvious is that post-Legal filing, one begins to leverage the extensive Legal Complaint document into the Court of Public Opinion. I won’t go into detail, but let me just proactively warn that, if mishandled, this strategy has a number of areas of “thin ice” that can end up hurting the Plaintiff in such a case

Let me know if you want to chat more about this offline.