Ethics in ethics training

Interesting appellate decision spotted by lawyer Howard J. Susser of Boston’s Burns & Levinson LLP: The copyright case is a cautionary tale to compliance trainers who build their course materials by cutting, pasting, borrowing, and lightly paraphrasing from somebody else’s course, like maybe from a PowerPoint made available at a conference or from a course provided by a vendor that their company’s not using anymore. (I’m shocked, shocked….)

Well, that’s copyright infringement. In Situation Management Systems, Inc., v. ASP Consulting, LLC (1st Cir. March 19, 2009), the First Circuit Court of Appeals nails one training company for using another’s course materials as a template for its own. (The opinion is available at the Court’s website.) The Court says those courses are “original expression,” even if they are “vapid” and “filled with generalizations, platitudes, and observations of the obvious.”

In his article posted by the firm, Mr. Susser concludes: “What this decision means is that companies and individuals risk exposure when copying for commercial purposes any training materials or other commercial business materials from competitors or other sources.”

We ought to know better, given our concern with compliance. It’s kinda like a movie exec downloading bootleg films. Hurts to be hoisted on one’s own ethical petard.