Are Reports Intellectual Property?
Recently one of my Mastermind students asked about Intellectual Property. He told me that he’d had an associate leave his firm to go solo. Later, he was reading one of his former-associate’s reports and found the now-independent associate’s reports looked a lot like his in format, and even language. My student asked me if this was wrong. Well, I’m not a lawyer, but there are some sound issues to consider here.
If you write something, if you are its author, it is your intellectual property. You can either trademark it (like a logo), or copyright it (like a novel). We are not the authors of our data, so they are not our intellectual property. However, our analyses of that data are our intellectual property. The language we use to describe what we did to form a credible value opinion, how we did it, and why we did it, however, are our intellectual property. Our value conclusion is our intellectual property since it never existed until we thought it up; it was the product of our creativity. It is ours. To the client, we sell the appraisal report with a summary of our efforts, true. However, the client owns the report, but not our intellectual property.
So, was the ex-associate of my student “guilty” of something wrong? Again, I’m not an attorney, so my answer is my own and, since you got it for free in this blog, worth every penny of what you paid for it. I think, yes, the associate was guilty of plagiarism. The ex tried to pass my student’s work off as his/her own when, indeed, it was not. Moreover, the ex got paid for taking credit for what my student originally wrote, for my student’s intellectual property. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it can also be plagiarism. You do not need to copyright something for someone else to plagiarize it. It is okay to use the intellectual property of another, but you must do that properly.
If you are going to use a lot of someone else’s work in your own, that requires permission of the author and/or the copyright holder. If you are going to use just a few words, then what you borrow must be in its proper context, you must quote it correctly, and you must cite the author in a footnote or the bibliography.
In the language of the Certification (see SR2-1, 2nd bullet-point), USPAP warns against plagiarism. Using another’s work without property authority and/or reference is plagiarism. In the Conduct section of the Ethics Rule USPAP says an appraiser “…must not communicate assignment results with the intend to mislead or defraud…”(ibid, lines 187 to 205) [See? Proper citation so you know I did not write that]). So when my student’s ex-associate, without authorization or proper citation took large parts of his appraisal template, as well as copious amounts of language from the reports my student had set-up/written, the ex mislead any clients or intended users. How? Simply by attempting to make them thing the ex set up the template and/or composed the language in the report. That was an attempt to mislead. So, the ex engaged in two ethical violations.
It should be clear, then, that the appraisal is intellectual property. If follows, therefore, the parts of the appraisal report the appraiser writes are also intellectual property. If another appraiser uses them without property authorization or citation, that is both plagiarism, as well as misleading. Both are breaches in USPAP’s Ethics Rule.
Now, is it worth pursuing? That is another question entirely, and come down in large part to harm. Is there a lesson here? If you were trained by your mentor, and end up going out on your own, do your own templates! It doesn’t take very long, and it’s just the right thing to do.
For more information on this subject, please download and listen to The Appraiser Coach Podcast Episode: 213 Is An Appraisal Report Considered ‘Intellectual Property?’