Editor’s note: Lea Strickland is president and chief executive officer of Focus Resources.

CARY – Okay, I know I’m getting older. I admit it, and after all we know the alternative so I really don’t have a problem with aging. I intend to do it gracefully. I also accept that there are aspects of aging such as memory problems that will be a part of the process.

Of course, at this stage of my life, I prefer to attribute memory problems to being busy and not to aging, but there are more and more days that if I had kids I’m sure they would be rolling their eyes, thinking I’m getting senile in my ever declining years. But really, I know I’m not THAT old. I am, in fact, quite young. Technically I may be entering the middle years of my life, but that IS only a technicality.

You are no doubt wondering where I’m going with this, and yes, it is taking me awhile to get to the point, but that is also something that age allows us to do (I just had to slip that one in!).

Is My Mind Going, Or Is the Content The Same?

My point is this: I keep picking up magazines and newspapers or opening their internet versions to see articles that are so close in content to another story I just read that, well, I have begun to think I am losing my mind. Fortunately, the most recent episode took place with an article where both versions were readily at hand.

I am a very curious person. Quite frankly, I also have experienced the phenomenon of having my intellectual property replicated, duplicated, and distributed outside of copyright laws and usage rules. Believe it or not, it has reached the extreme of having someone call me one day and offer to sell me copies of my own article! With this most recent episode, I simply took the time to compare the two articles. If imitation is truly the highest form of flattery, then the national article author should be glowing like, well, a nuclear reactor.

Flattery or Infringement – Where is the Line?

The article which made me do the mental am-I-insane check did not plagiarize. He did not violate a copyright, I am sure. (As the “kids” you to say…showing my age or otherwise not being current with the lingo here…Not!) From my non-lawyer perspective I cannot see a line which has been crossed from a legal perspective, but well dang! If that article isn’t the symbiotic offspring of …I mean. If it wasn’t inspired by the other article, then it is just amazing.

Where is the line between using another person’s materials as input into your creative process versus utilizing someone else’s work in a manner that has the same unpleasant aroma as straight out plagiarism? What if you are reading articles, books, and other materials, then creating an original work based on multiple inputs and ideas? Or what if you are engaged in direct misappropriation?

Making Sure You Don’t Cross the Line

One way to draw the appropriate line is to introduce your article or material by stating that you were inspired to pursue the topic by reading the other person’s perspective or seeing some news story, etc. Get it right out there. Tip your hat and your pen to the person. Point out where you agreed and disagreed or what was left out. Actually, that’s a good way to get started with your topic if you have a hard time getting that first word on the page. You could begin with “I couldn’t believe it when I picked up the paper and saw an article titled “Any caveman can use a computer but it takes a gecko to…”“ We all can see that one coming from a mile away. Hey, you might even get your own TV show out of it. If you can pick on the right blogger your article could go through the internet stratosphere and get picked up on talk radio and you could be come the next “familiar face” on the radio. Who knows what could happen!

Fair Game, Fair Use, Fair Play

This brings me to another aspect of this topic. I think of it as “raiding”. This is a practice used by some “publishers” where they find content from various sources such as the internet. Because the content is available free on the internet, they make free use of it in their own publications. This may include a print publication sold on newsstands and to subscribers. Here is the theory (so I’m told): since it is “free” to anyone who wants it on the internet, and they do want it, there is no copyright violation issue – no rights have been reserved. I’ll let the copyright attorneys take this one. I’ll leave it at this – if you’ve been raiding for magazine content, consult an attorney soon!

Copyright ©2007 F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc.