This Is How Revenue Assurance Plagiarists Win

Credit where credit is due. That is my philosophy, and why I am writing this article. If you get to the end, and you are still not sure of the rights and wrongs of what happened in this story, then please ask yourself this question: who is trying to ensure credit always goes to the person who deserves it, and who is doing the opposite? Regular readers know I have been ranting about the plague of plagiarism which has undermined the development of revenue assurance since its inception. Any idiot thinks they can copy somebody else’s work, pass it off as their own, and instantly claim the status of ‘expert’, whereupon they demand to be paid for sharing their opinions with people who are even more ignorant than them. There is a two-step problem with this approach:

  1. If everybody can liberally copy from everybody else, then nobody needs to pay anything to learn how to do revenue assurance; and
  2. RA will remain unsophisticated, because nobody has an incentive to develop advanced techniques if they will instantly be ripped off.

I am annoyed to report that Ikwe Gideon has won his fight to disseminate stolen intellectual property via LinkedIn. To summarize the story so far, a colleague pointed me towards a slide pack entitled ‘Revenue Assurance 101’ that Gideon distributed to over 10,000 people using LinkedIn’s SlideShare service. The pack contains many paragraphs and diagrams of doubtful provenance, but I know one of the diagrams was stolen because I was working at Cable & Wireless when two KPMG consultants were paid to create it for us. You can see the original diagram and learn more about it from here.

I complained about the copyright violation to Gideon via LinkedIn. He ignored the complaints, deleted the comments I left below the slide pack, and ultimately blocked comments to prevent me from drawing public attention to his theft. Then I complained to LinkedIn, following their copyright infringement procedures, and the pack disappeared from SlideShare for a while. Later it returned; I can only surmise that Gideon either reposted it or submitted a successful counterclaim to LinkedIn. I opened a new complaint to LinkedIn; Gideon submitted a counterclaim, and now LinkedIn has reached a decision that is effectively final. As a consequence, the offending document will remain published on LinkedIn’s website, despite my being able to show plenty of evidence that Gideon is not the owner of the copyright, and Gideon’s inability to show any evidence to the contrary.

Rather than continuing to complain, let us treat this incident as a ‘teachable moment’, helping us to understand why copyright abuse continues unabated. Let us also understand why big internet corporations like LinkedIn (which was bought for USD26bn by Microsoft in 2016) continue to fail to respect the law. We can do this by analysing the counterclaim submitted by Gideon, and how LinkedIn consequently describes its own anti-theft procedures. To begin with, here is the wording of Gideon’s claim, as passed to me by LinkedIn, and also captured in this screengrab.

Dear Eric,

LinkedIn has received the below Counter-Notice in response to the Notice you submitted.

Email:…

And now I must interrupt the flow already. Without wanting to get bogged down in a separate discussion, I must observe that LinkedIn shared Gideon’s personal email and home address with me. If I wanted to, I could give it to you. If I was inclined to go to his house in Lagos and punch him on the nose then I now could. That is why rules for protecting privacy and personal data tend to prohibit this kind of thing.

I do not know which US state is legally home to LinkedIn, and hence which laws they think they must respect, and which ones they can choose to ignore. But all you EU-loving GDPR-philes should consider that LinkedIn passed the personal data of a Nigerian to a Brit. You would have to be astonishingly naive to believe they would not make the same mistake in the other direction too. And that means all the EU protections that people like to harp on and on about, such as the Privacy Shield, the US Ombudsperson, and the looming General Data Protection Regulation are of such trivial consequence to Microsoft, the third largest company in the USA, that they have not addressed the most basic implications of the rules they are supposed to follow whilst engaging in business worldwide. LinkedIn’s failure with respect to personal data makes it easier to comprehend why they also fail to protect intellectual property.

Good Faith Aknowledgement: First my email ****@yahoo.com is an old one i cannot access it. my real and current email is ********@gmail.com. That the claimant, claim that part of my presentation was his copyright, was not know to me or brought to my notices…

There is so much wrong with the opening of Gideon’s statement that it is necessary to separately list all the falsehoods and misunderstandings.

  • Gideon did know and does know. I told him via LinkedIn as soon as I learned of the copyright violation. And the facts have been restated over and over.
  • It does not matter whether he previously knew or not. Copyright violations do not stop being copyright violations just because you did not know you were violating copyright. Violations of law do not become more lawful if you do them for long enough.
  • It is not necessary to bring copyright to anyone’s attention. Copyright is a matter of legal fact. The person who creates something is the owner of copyright from the moment of creation. It would reverse the purpose of copyright law if the creator had to inform the rest of the world before they were entitled to exercise their property rights. Abusing copyright because you do not know who owns it is no more lawful than driving away in a car because the owner left their keys in the ignition but you do not know who the owner is. Cars have owners. Diagrams also have owners. The fact of ownership is not affected by somebody’s ignorance of the owner’s identity. That is why you do not have to write your name on the side of your car to stop it from being stolen.

Rather claimant wrote articles claiming a use some part of his work in my presentation that has attracted thousands of viewers.

He literally brags about the magnitude of his copyright abuse to LinkedIn! Does he think that when the damage caused is greater, that the ownership of the property matters less?

The said material/picture was a mosaic material founded on the internet…

How does ‘finding’ something on the internet imply it is not somebody’s property? And where was it ‘found’ on the internet? Even if somebody else infringed copyright first, by unlawfully copying the diagram and posting it to the internet, that does not legalize subsequent infringements.

…and used to explaining revenue assurance process and procedure. Nobody ever wrote a copyright to it.

Yes they did. There was a copyright statement on the original document. And that is not how copyright works anyway. Objects do not ‘lose’ their copyright if you do not write the word ‘copyright’ somewhere upon it. That is why the lyrics of every pop song are not ‘this is copyright, this is copyright’ on a perpetual loop.

its an old material…

Copyright durations vary from country to country but are generally the lifetime of the owner plus another 50 or 70 years, so their descendants can also profit from the copyright. The age of this slide is clearly irrelevant to whether an infringement has taken place.

…dated back to 2006.

How does Gideon know the diagram dates back to 2006 if he found it on the internet and has no idea who made it originally? The only reason to infer it was created in 2006 would involve looking at the date given in a copyright statement. And this is another piece of misinformation: the original was created in 2005.

if you look at my material, all diagram belonging to third party was fully acknowledged.

Obviously not, because this diagram is not in the public domain, and does not belong to Gideon. And even if this was true, copying somebody else’s content without permission is still an infringement, whether acknowledged or otherwise.

Because I know the claimant as somebody very controversial in the revenue assurance space…

I suppose I am controversial. It is rather sad that arguing bills should be accurate (neither over- nor undercharged), intellectual property should be respected, and outrageous liars should be shamed is considered ‘controversial’ in revenue assurance. If you do not agree with my principles then I have no understanding of why you would want to work in an integrity function in the first place. You must only be doing it for the money.

…I display equanimity to his write up.

That is a strange way of saying that he ignores claims of illegal behavior and continues as if he is doing nothing wrong.

I would have expected a reasonable person without prior intention to contact me and make claim to the copyright…

Which I did, via LinkedIn. And which he ignored, leading to the situation where he continues to ignore the fact that there is straightforward evidence that the diagram belongs to somebody who is not him, and so he cannot possibly have permission to use it. His only argument is that the owner of the diagram had already explicitly placed the diagram in the public domain, by consciously rescinding their own rights. And where is the evidence to support that unlikely assertion?

…or have a law suit to address any issue as he claim.

And there lies the crux of the matter. To get legal redress it becomes necessary to incur the cost of legal proceedings with every charlatan everywhere. That was why big internet businesses were subjected to laws that forced them to implement takedown procedures when copyright had been violated. The aim of these laws is to avoid the insanity of a situation where every infringement they abet can only be halted by court action. However, those takedown laws are worthless if you have to sue Microsoft before they will take them seriously! Unfortunately, businesses like Microsoft only care when businesses as rich and powerful as them are suffering abuse of intellectual property. They do not like it when people copy their software illegally, but they have the resources to do something about it. It is the little guys who can be most easily abused, because they cannot afford to go to court to protect themselves.

The law is not on Gideon’s side, but the tortuous hurdles required to enforce the law is giving him the upper hand. He offers no evidence of having any right to reproduce this intellectual property, but does not need to, because he can simply wait until somebody goes to the disproportionate expense of chasing him through the courts. And what would he do if found to violate copyright? There is every chance he would just do it again, and sit gleefully waiting for more pointless court action.

Each of my slide on the presentation was copyrighted by Datahouse consulting limited.

I am staggered by the ignorance of this man. Taking somebody else’s diagram and writing “(c) Datahouse Consulting” underneath does not make it your own. You can possess copyright by virtue of creating something. You can acquire copyright through a legal transaction with the previous owner. You cannot just unilaterally decide you like something you found – note that Gideon admitted to ‘finding’ this diagram on the internet – and then make it yours by saying you want it.

Kindly restate the material immediately. I await your reply.

And that was the entirety of the argument that persuaded LinkedIn to continue to assist copyright infringement. A man said he found something on the internet in good faith, and that was a good enough argument for LinkedIn!

This is how LinkedIn closed this dispute:

Pursuant to our copyright Infringement policy: https://www.linkedin.com/legal/copyright-policy you may provide proof of the commencement of a formal judicial proceedings concerning the content at issue, or allow the content to be re-posted. Please note that the content may be re-posted between 10 and 14 business days from the date of this email if you have not provided proof of pending judicial proceedings by that time.

LinkedIn needs to employ better lawyers because the word ‘pursuant’ does not mean ‘per a policy that does not mention this rule at all’. For reasons that baffle me, LinkedIn’s written policy says nothing about having to start formal judicial proceedings, even though the way they have concluded this dispute makes it plain that they only intend to respect copyright when a plaintiff is prepared to instigate legal action to defend it. And that, in a nutshell, has been the major criticism of why internet businesses are aiding and abetting copyright violations, because they profit from the circulation of material but the cost of policing infringements is prohibitive.

I am not even sure if LinkedIn know what they mean by judicial proceedings. Where should Gideon be sued? Is it in the USA? Or Nigeria? But such matters would not concern America’s third largest company. All the burden supposedly rests on my shoulders! But I never said this was my property – I merely observed that I knew this was not Gideon’s property. In that respect, I am doing what LinkedIn is too cheap to do – making an effort to prevent a thief from stealing somebody else’s property. As repeatedly explained to LinkedIn, and to Gideon (not that he understands the concept) the copyright of this diagram belongs to my former employer. They paid for the work. It is their property. My interest in this matter is like a man watching somebody else’s car being stolen. I could just congratulate myself that the car does not belong to me. Or I could get upset and try to prevent the thief from profiting from his wrongdoing, because generally it is bad for society if thieves profit at the expense of others.

So I tried. Now I pass the buck to you. What are you going to do about this thief? Will you invite him into your business? Will you follow his advice? The businesses that do will get what they deserve! Please allow this crook access to your confidential documents. Please defend your company’s interests by taking guidance from a man whose marketing relies upon copying diagrams drawn in 2005, and who knows so little that everything he tells you about how to protect your company’s intellectual property will be back-to-front and upside-down. Anybody who works with this man will get exactly what they deserve.

It is time for RA to grow up and get serious. The age of infantile ignorance needs to pass. It is not good enough for people to protest they are new at the job, and they did not know where intellectual property comes from. Handling stolen goods is a crime; abusing intellectual property is still wrong, even if you are copying somebody else who did it first. If Gideon sets the example that you follow, then the rest of the profession needs to leave you behind, because you are no good to your employer and no good to yourself. There are plenty of better educational resources available. If you are still learning how to do your job by googling ‘revenue assurance’ and trusting the first document you find then you must be incompetent to perform a role which requires increasing skill to cope with increasing complexity. Never mind shaming Gideon, because he has no shame. Shame on you for thinking you deserve to be paid for repeating something you found for free, especially when you have no idea where it comes from.

We can do better, and many do. There are enough good people working in RA these days; we do not need to keep helping those who only know how to help themselves when they are helping themselves to other people’s property. There lies the dividing line between the professionals who give to their colleagues and the thieves who take from them. Gideon has chosen his side. We all must choose a side, though the scoundrels want to pretend they are on the same side as the good professionals. They need access to good professionals in order to steal from us; the thieves would soon die out if they could only steal from each other. If you choose to join the right side, and to align yourself with the people who care about professional standards, then you will be welcome. But to do that, you must be mindful of the company you keep.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.   Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a founding member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.   Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.