When Your Content Is Not Your Content

Last week I said to my husband “I have an idea of what we should do with our backyard.” I laid it all out to him (gazebo, conversation furniture, fire table, etc.) and he liked it. Then I told my friend Lydia about my idea. She laughed.  I said, “why are you laughing? Was this your idea?” I realized that I had pooh-poohed the idea when she proposed it six months earlier and now was adopting it as my own. I had completely forgotten. NEVERTHELESS, I owed her an apology.

I wonder how often this happens?

It is actually a theme this month. Remember my post about chasing squirrels a few weeks ago? Well, that idea had been ignited by a prospective client conversation a day or two before. It didn’t even dawn on me to credit or mention my prospect in the post because by the time it went down on paper it felt like an original idea. Moreover, the idea of chasing squirrels is not new; I have no idea who came up with it originally. NEVERTHELESS, I owed her an apology.

I remember several years ago seeing a book jacket for a publication designed to help speakers build their business. The jacket looked eerily similar to The Wealthy Speaker. I was upset and offended and told the author as much. (Didn’t hear back). Maybe it was an honest mistake, but it felt like a punch in the stomach to me, so I understand why people who do not get credit might feel offended.

I have not trademarked my book titles (thank you to the late Rick Butts for The Wealthy Speaker). Nor do I plan to make any legal moves. There is a gentleman on the East Coast who has The Wealthy Speaker radio show. I’ve been on the show; I am not threatened by that. I try to live fearlessly in this way because I know it is difficult to “own words.” However, I do wonder how often I am using someone else’s words without crediting them… I am not sure.

The “Pick a Lane” concept was introduced to me by Joe Calloway. I use the term constantly now, and it has become associated with me. I’ve acknowledged Joe in the book, when speaking, and in other publications but I wondered if I was doing it enough.

Joe said this about it:

”The idea of picking a lane certainly isn’t original with me. It is a commonly used and shared idea. What Jane does is acknowledge where she heard the idea (although she does not have to – again – the idea isn’t mine). I do the same with an old story that’s been around for decades, but that I first heard from speaker/writer Ken Robinson. I always acknowledge Ken. No doubt we all sometimes reference ideas made popular by someone else with no intent to steal anything, and that is fine. As Jane says, live fearlessly about your own material and simply be courteous about acknowledging where you may have discovered ideas.

Over the years, I’ve seen speakers just tie themselves into knots about someone copying or stealing their material. Chill out. I’ve heard stories and material of mine (that I wrote) used by other speakers from time to time for over 30 years. I don’t let it bother me. They cannot deliver it as I can, and there’s simply no way to police every instance of copycat offenses. If they truly are stealing, and it is damaging your career, then contact them – or have your attorney contact them – and express your concerns.”

Thanks, Joe.

I know you all will want to weigh in on this subject. Please, share your comments below!

See you soon Wealthy Speakers!


  • Lisa Chell

    Hi Jane, I’m not sure how many will share my opinion, yet here it is. We live in an open source world. Trillions of pieces of information are instantly accessible. Millions of books, articles and videos done on leadership, health, communication, speaking…you name it. With all the info that is constantly streaming into our psyche, is there really anything original? All of us who create are creating our own take on the same foundational information that has been out there for years on these familiar and relevant topics. To paraphrase Princess Leia, the more we tighten our grip, the more ‘information’ (or Trademarks or Peace of mind) will slip thru our fingers. I’m not advocating conscious stealing or copying. What I’m advocating is that we don’t spend our precious time and inner peace (and creative energies) stressing whether someone is making a dime or spreading the word about a piece of work that we perceive to be ours. There’s a reason that Buddhists look for peace thru letting go.

    • speakerlauncher

      Thank you Lisa, I love that Buddhist philosophy!

    • I agree Lisa…..

  • Hi Jane,

    As speakers we all deal with this on both ends! I was a product of my
    former dentist boss who attended some of the top notch clinical seminars when I
    worked for him in the 70’s….I am sure I was like a Polly Parrot espousing
    what I learned from my boss to my audiences, never knowing where he learned it,
    then used it in his team’s presence. So without knowing I was “borrowing”
    from someone I never heard before.

    In the past 36 years, many of my articles, DVDs and seminar handouts have
    been copied word for word and given by others. You know your material as Joe
    said when you create it from scratch and the concept you created and used for years
    is copied and used as if they created it. They say copying and using OPM
    (other people’s materials) is a form of flattery and frankly I’ve been
    flattered a lot!!! Policing it is a full time job and as Joe also said, in the
    blog above….if you created and used it personally…no one can give it like
    you do. I once (in the 80’s and 90’s) had a speaker who
    “borrowed” my team incentive bonus plan. When questions arose about
    the plan in his seminars that he could not answer, he gave them my toll free number
    (ha ha). Now that I am at the sunset of my career, sold both my consulting firm
    and the Speaking Consulting Network, I marvel at the next generation of
    practice management speakers and consultants, most of them are my dear friends
    and mentees….I now sit in their audiences and learn new things from
    them….problem is, I’m retiring soon so I am too tired to “borrow
    it” Smiles!

    • speakerlauncher

      Thanks for sharing Linda.

  • Heath Suddleson

    Hi Jane,

    I’m really looking forward to our 16 week program starting soon.

    On the topic of copying content, when we met at the NSA
    Convention in July, I also had the chance to meet Tony Alessandro and let him know that I often refer to The Platinum Rule in my presentations. I always credit him when I do. I also wrote about it in my book, with credit to him. He told me that credit the first time is great but that it’s not needed every time. In my case, the way I present it actually makes a better presentation to credit him so I still do each time. I was also able to show him the place in my book where I cite him and the Platinum Rule before I signed the book and gave it to him.

    I think where there is a fair discussion is when you take someone else’s concept and run further with it. When you create your own
    content around the starting idea then it is fair game. Certainly, I have
    been copied many times in my careers and I am always flattered. Some have given credit and some have not. To me that lets me know exactly who I am dealing with in terms of integrity.

    In the end, there is nothing new under the sun. My coaching workbook borrows from Bob Burg’s Master Your Traits format, which
    borrows from Benjamin Franklin. It’s hard to always be “original”, even when multiple people being original can have the same epiphany and idea.

    We can handle it with grace, or we will get caught in a situation that will handle us. It’s always our choice.

    All the best,


    • speakerlauncher

      Great example Heath – I love it!

  • Tom Roberts

    Ecclesiastes 1:9 “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” I often preached from this Old Testament verse when I was a young pastor many years ago. It relates to this discussion, I think.