Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. (World Intellectual Property Organization)

I’m sad to announce we reached an unwanted milestone last week at claytonrealtygroup.com when our content was stolen and re-distributed without my permission. This is the first time something like this has happened. Well, at least it’s the first time someone was caught in the act! I sort of expected it at some point and in a way it’s kind of flattering. After all, “they” do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Whoever “they” are, we’re getting more and more traffic everyday for our MLS property search and lots of new readers for our RSS feed and that’s really all the flattery I need!

I’ve had a few days to let it sink in and there’s no denying the whole thing has me pretty disturbed. Especially because the person who did this is a real estate broker/owner with a healthy amount of offices in Massachusetts. In fact, this person is presumably the role model and mentor for well over a hundred active real estate agents. AND, the stolen content was used in an email newsletter sent out to other agents this person is trying to recruit to join their firm! This is just so wrong on so many levels and the whole thing got me thinking…this is how the bad eggs in the real estate industry conduct themselves and propagate. And it’s these bad eggs and their years of bad behavior that have stunk up the rest of us in the eyes of the public. In fact, isn’t it partly this kind of behavior that got this country into the mess it is in today?

OK, I know that thesis sounds like a big leap but I’ve been bouncing this topic around in my head for a long time and it’s time to knock Humpty off the wall. Let’s break it down a bit starting with:

A blatant disregard for the law

I’m no lawyer but I do know there is this little thing called copyright protection. I know even more about it now thanks to a bit of research and Lorelle’s post “What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content“. I find it hard to believe the person who stole my stuff (from now on I’ll refer to them as “bad-egg broker”), I find it hard to believe that bad-egg broker hasn’t heard of copyright law and if they haven’t, what other laws are they breaking with flagrant disregard? Bad-egg broker has a couple blogs and obviously reads mine so they probably read others as well. Yet it never occurred to them that there might be a law against just taking stuff from whoever you want for whatever you want? Interesting. This does not bode well for how they run the rest of their business does it? Speaking of blogs, let’s talk about:

Lack of ethics and moral character

We know bad-egg broker acts above the law but in a way this is even worse. It’s so dreadfully typical that a so-called real estate professional woke up one day and decided to type some stuff (and/or steal someone’s stuff) and voila, now they bill themselves as trainers in real estate blogging and brag about the new tools and technology they bring to their agents. The technology of plagiarism? I’d laugh if it weren’t so sad. (Note: I would link to these claims as I always do but since I’m a gentleman I’m obviously keeping bad-egg broker anonymous.) This is the internet and more important than the law is a code of ethics and standards that you have to learn and learn to live by in order to play fair. It’s time for the real estate industry to WAKE UP and plug in before plugging in. For instance, bad-egg broker should take a moment to study our Terms & Privacy page which clearly states the contents of claytonrealtygroup.com are also covered under a Creative Commons License and all you have to do if you want to use my stuff is ask and give me the appropriate credit. IT’S THAT SIMPLE. I’m not above doing that myself and on that same page you’ll see that I give acknowledgments and shout-outs to others in the same manner. That was apparently too much to ask of bad-egg broker which makes me wonder what kind of shady business practices they employ and teach to their agents. And of course there is the question of the whole Realtor Code of Ethics and Professional Standards put forth by the National Association of Realtors…but that’s a rant for another day. I know that’s pretty lazy of me huh? Which coincidentally brings me to my next point:

Lazy is as lazy does

Sure there are laws and ethics and morals and all kinds of reasons and excuses for not following them. But for me, there is absolutely, positively no excuse for laziness and that’s why laziness always tops my list of unforgiveables. Bad-egg broker is LAZY. The content they stole was the MA Real Estate Market Update for March 2009. They did a complete 100% cut and paste job of every last word and link and then sent it out to their email list as if it were their own. If I were going to plagiarize I’d like to think I would at least take a moment to remove the active hyperlinks that bring the reader to the exact post on the exact website of the person I stole from. But hey, I’m not lazy. The links to the PDF documents remained as well as the links to my last three market reports. I mean COME ON! Did this person even read my post before they hit copy? Even reading is too much effort for today’s high power, high tech real estate players? Anyone interested in participating in their own profession could do as I do every month and go to the Massachusetts Housing Data section at the Massachusetts Association of Realtors website. Of course, the hard work doesn’t end there…I actually read the reports, comment on them and then provide all of the information to the good folks who follow what we put out there. Is that really such an impossible task? What is going on in this profession? If my peers out there don’t know the law and don’t know the ethics and don’t know the market data and don’t know the meaning of professional courtesy then what do you know? And more importantly, what exactly do you spend your hours doing? WAKE UP!! PEOPLE THINK WE SUCK! And I don’t blame them. In fact for the most part I agree. So how can it be that the bad-egg brokers of the world are able to reach the level they have? And what can be done to change the public perception of the real estate industry? What can be done to change MY perception of the real estate industry? I’m glad you asked because:

The conclusion (finally!) – it’s all my fault

All ranting aside, I have met and worked with some true professionals in this business and of course I work with many right now. Without the knowledge and support of countless folks I wouldn’t know anything about what I do for a living and I certainly wouldn’t have as much fun doing it! I have also worked with some really bad agents and brokers and I’m talking way worse than taking bad (or NO) listing photos or the blog stealing that sent me over the edge this week! When someone with disregard for the law, lack of ethics and laziness is 50% responsible for the fate of my clients it really puts my clients and me and my business in a bad position. I have been in this position a few times and it’s very scary. I have faced these bad eggs and in one case I SWORE up and down a million times over that I was going to report the broker when the deal was finished. I had crazy amounts of proof for a serious list of offenses and I was going to go to the realtor association and the board of licensure and on and on. I never reported them. I never did anything about it at all. It’s just one of those things, lost in the shuffle, blah blah blah…excuse excuse excuse. That was really lazy of me and that’s inexcusable. By not doing anything was I saying it’s OK for this person to continue handling hundreds of thousands of other people’s dollars? Um, I think so. Nice one. But in my own defense, where does it begin and where does it end and what does it really accomplish for anyone? Matthew Rathbun just wrote an excellent piece which really threw my guilt over the edge on this topic. He writes:

For all the people who spew rhetoric about how ethical they are and how disgusted they are with the behavior of some agents, how many have reduced their grievance to writing and submitted it to someone who can actually do something about it?

He’s right. And I’m always the first in line to criticize folks who complain endlessly and never take action. So how does one qualify what is “bad enough” to report? I’m certainly far from perfect, EVERYONE who knows me will tell you that! I’ve made many mistakes, especially in the beginning when I was new to real estate and still working a full time “day” job in addition to starting the business. There were lots of things I didn’t know, I didn’t have such a good team put together, and there are definitely a couple past clients that I wish I could start over with. I wouldn’t want everyone out there reporting me after all my bumps in the road! So in my own pathetic defense again, do I really want to spend a lot of time ratting out my peers even if I did have all the time in the world to do it? Would it really help the consumer and help the perception of the real estate industry? And what about the possibility that I would just end up another Harry Markopolos? (for those who don’t know, he’s the guy who spent a good chunk of his life telling the SEC about a shady character by the name of Bernie Madoff- at least he tried!) OK, maybe I’ve gotten a little off topic from stealing a couple paragraphs all the way to stealing millions or billions of dollars. But isn’t the basic principle the same? A breakdown of laws, ethics, integrity, personal responsibility and a total lack of oversight and accountability is what it is. And from where I sit it seems that this sort of behavior has put all of us in the same big mess.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from my readers on this one and especially from all the new folks that have been introduced to claytonrealtygroup.com from the bad-egg broker email. If you like what you’re reading, don’t mind working for a living and think you might jive with us then please get in touch to talk about joining our team instead.

To the bad-egg broker, you owe me an apology and I look forward to hearing from you. And feel free to redistribute this information!

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