They say that to copy somebody is the greatest form of flattery, but to steal intellectual property and claim it as one’s own is wrong, wrong, wrong. I understand accidents and overlooked crediting of information, but I find it hard to be kind to a fellow home inspector who literally copied and pasted one of my specialty information webpages and has been using it as his own, without my permission, for probably over a decade.
OFFENDER - Tom Horning - Uniontown, Ohio - ASHI Member - http://www.detectivehomes.us - or his web designer. The buck stops with Tom Horning since his name is on the site.
DISCOVERED - I performed a simple Google search this morning, 1/15/2013, for “Michael Leavitt FHA” and I was very surprised to see the following return...
At first I was flattered because I thought it was a credited sharing of my information. But then I opened the page and realized that it was a complete rip-off of a page that I had originally created about 15 years ago. The same formatting. The same colors. The same everything. Either Tom, or his web designer literally opened my page and copied and pasted the information into his. But the new page offers no credit to me and presents the information as his very own. Take a look...
Here is the link to my FHA At-A-Glance page. http://www.thehomeinspector.com/Clients/fha.html. It is one of over 5,000 pages I have created since 1997. You will notice that it has a light yellow background that I used in the early 2000’s on my site. I smile when I see the colors and formatting, but I have left it that way to remember the era when the page was created. Website creation was so much more simplistic prior to 2004.
LIABILITY - Tom doesn’t know it, and neither did I until today, but he is putting me in a very precarious and libelous position. That’s right, he is opening a can of worms with the Environmental protection Agency (EPA). Many years ago I took the EPA Lead Based Paint training for Lead Inspectors and Lead Risk Assessors. I was the first home inspector in my area to achieve those designations and I made some errors on my website by incorrectly referencing the training courses as being EPA training and credentials instead of State of Utah training courses and credentials. I was notified of my online errors when I opened a certified mail envelope from the EPA’s legal counsel demanding my immediate payment of $27,000.00 to the EPA for my error. I immediately corrected the errors online and a few years later I decided to let the designation lapse so I removed references to me being current in those designations. I created the specialty page “FHA At-A-Glance“ when I had the designations and I had added the special note on the webpage that stated...
CURRENT RISK - Tom Horning is still advertising me as “the only EPA Certified Lead Inspector/Lead Risk Assessor in Utah County”. This is false and the EPA lawyers don’t mess around with falsely touting their credentials. When the next $27,000.00 fine shows up on my doorstep, then Tom Horning can be responsible to pay for his plagiaristic actions..... Out of curiosity, what do you think I did the moment I dropped the lead designations? I immediately removed the reference from my online version of “FHA At-A-Glance” so as to not receive another $27,000.00 fine. My FHA At-A-Glance page has remained unchanged for over a decade. I am utterly amazed that Tom Horning copied the information and then left my name in the plagiarized material. Did he not even read the information that was so important for him to steal?
ALSO TARNISHED - I believe this act of plagiarism makes a mockery of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) credential of Certified Inspector. ASHI’s has the best reputation in the inspection industry and they require the most ethical of actions from their membership. I believe that this act of online plagiarism with ASHI’s logo prominently displayed on the top of the page gives them a big black eye.
MY COURSE OF ACTION - For this reason I will report Tom Horning to his website’s badges of credibility: 1) The Home Inspector trade association ASHI, 2) The Better Business Bureau. If changes are not brought about immediately, then I will report him to the EPA and they can fine him directly. Unfortunately, this will make the plagiarized page to go away, but I would rather see the page stay on his site with credit given to Michael Leavitt as the author, removal of the note about me being an EPA Lead Inspector/Lead Risk Assessor, a link back to my website, and an apology for the long-term offense. I would also like to see ASHI issue a stern warning to their inspectors regarding the use of plagiarized information on their websites. An awareness needs to be created, especially when the inspector so proudly holds up the ASHI logo for his credibility.
SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? For most readers, you are probably wondering why I am so upset? Creating content for web pages is my specialty. I spend thousands of hours each year creating such. If somebody wants content created, they can gladly pay me to create their website content. Most of my work is for my own websites, and I do not like having my content used both uncredited and without my permission. I also own a 1956 Mercury Monterey and somebody recently stole the original “Mercury Man” hubcaps. I feel the same way about those hubcaps as I do my original website content.
CONTENT USE PERMISSION - And so you know, I often get requests to use my information and I readily agree as long as the information is credited back to me. But there are times when I also have to decline because the information is not mine to share. Other authors often grant me usage rights for my use website only. It is also interesting that about once a year I am notified that I am using a photo that belongs to somebody else, yet was anonymously passed along to me for use in conveying an inspection principle or point in a webpage or inspection related newsletter. I either immediately give credit to the photographer or I immediately remove the image altogether; it is their choice. Photo credits are very important and credit is easily given, yet millions of them fly around the internet daily completely uncredited.
But the unauthorized use of text is different. It is often tough to prove that it is your text being lifted/stolen/plagiarized and used by others. Why? Content creators often copy and paste while tweaking here a little and there a little. So most of the time the tweaking makes it tough to prove, even though you know they borrowed from you. Plagiarism is a very bad way to create content because the information is always there on the internet. It is not a school paper that is read once, graded, and then the evidence discarded. Even when the webpage is taken down or altered, once it is part of the online search engines the information can rarely be completely removed. This means that evidence of the plagiarists activities are nearly eternal; yet rob, pillage, and plunder seems to continue to be the way of the internet.
WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS? - So what should I do when I have a person who has plagiarized my content caught dead to rights? Dealing with them privately is always recommended when it is a small apparently accidental offense. However, I think the only fair thing to do with blatant offenders is to draw as much negative attention to them as possible. Since they have been so public with the spoils of their theft, then what they really need is a public flogging, and that is what this post will attempt to do....
So Tom Horning, consider yourself flogged!!!
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah - www.TheHomeInspector.com
NOTE: Most of the screenshots used on this page were captured and used without the permission of Tom Horning and/or the inspection firm Detective Home Inspections, Ltd. of Uniontown, Ohio. The screenshots were taken from the detectivehomes.us website. They are presented here as evidence for the offense of plagiarism and as a document of the information shared online on January 15, 2013. I cannot prove when they were first posted, but I can prove when this information was last shared in this format on my www.TheHomeinspector.com website. This information will stay online as a testament of the offense for the same length of time as my uncredited information was displayed on their website. It has been at least a decade, so this will stay posted “As Is” until January 15, 2023 unless I get a real change of heart... My changes of heart are always possible at any time, but I do not respond well to threats from legal counsel when reacting to plagiaristic usage of my information.