Thieving Bastards


Sunday, 7:36pm
Reno, NV
A thief believes everybody steals.” (E.W. Howe)


For those of you bugging me about the next Quiz…

… it’s coming, it’s coming.


Tonight, though, I’ve gotta get something off my chest.

And so, a Rant.  By little Johnny Carlton:


There seems to be a parasite bug infecting the brains of many marketers out there.

Let’s call this bug… “Theft“.

It’s not going away anytime soon.

In fact, the very word has been mutating for a long time now… so that what would have easily been labeled “stealing” in the bad-old pre-Web days…

… is now considered smart and brave and even ethical.

Which means that the word “ethical” has also required some definition surgery, as well.

Okay, I gotta take part of all that back, right off the top.  (Note:  Rants often take sudden swerving turns like this.  Just relax and go with it.  You’ll be rewarded for your patience soon…)

This attitude — that taking something of value from someone else is not necessarily “wrong”, and may even be completely cool — has shown its ugly head before in my lifetime.

Remember Woodstock?

Forget about all the feelings brought up by that festival.  Boomer hippies assign the event iconic holiness, while later generations mock what they see as hypocritical bullshit from their elders.

Me? Still love the movie.  In fact, every year or so I line up “Monterey”, “Don’t Look Back” — Dylan’s ’64 tour of England — “Woodstock”, “Isle of Wight Festival” — the ’70 edition — and “Gimme Shelter”.

It’s a mini-film festival covering exactly 6 years — 1964 to 1970 — where things changed oh-so-dramatically in the world.  Innocence to grim chaos, told through the soundtrack of the time.  Lovely unintended documentary, these films…

It would have been great if the “spirit” of peace and love really had taken over the universe, and we all evolved into a groovy mind-meld of far-out angelic transmogrification.

Didn’t happen, of course.

The uncritical idealism of the time turned me, for example, away from the entire philosophy of idealism.  I loathe idealism now.  It’s counter-productive and rots minds.

And, as an older-and-maybe-wiser business owner, the most striking part of all these movies for me — aside from the music, which still astounds — is the way the “average” person saw no reason why everything shouldn’t be “free”.

Woodstock became a free concert because of shit-poor planning and bad fences.  They were forced to do it.

The bands were not consulted.  Nor were they happy about it.

And if you know the story, you know that the producers of the concert refused to declare bankruptcy, and eventually paid all their bills (though it took the organization many years to accomplish this task).

That’s old school.  Take your lumps, clean up your mess, and fulfill your obligations.

One year later, at the first Isle of Wight festival, a mob of angry socialist counter-culture types harshed everyone’s mellow by demanding that this concert be “free”, too.

Through a slo-mo riot.

It’s free, or we’ll kill you.

By the time the Stones offered a free concert at Altamont (documented in “Gimme Shelter”), things just got completely out of hand.

While the music still shines, the Isle of Wight film captures the chaos and confusion from the bands’ perspective: What?  Somebody’s gotta pay for putting this thing on, getting us here, and providing electricity for my gee-tar and Keith’s Bee-Three.

You think this shit all happens by magic?

I find this unresolved battle between clueless people waning a free lunch… and the practical folks who understand how lunches actually get made… fascinating.

Folks (including many biz owners) have been getting confused about capitalism since the first trade of something-for-something between cave men, lo, those many eons ago.

It’s particularly gnarly when prosperity collides with reality.

For example: I was a vandal as a kid.  Not proud of it, just saying.

I had no idea who erected the streetlights, or who ran the trains chugging along the tracks behind our house.  Stuff just happened, because that’s the way the post-war world operated.

So, when we took out the streetlight bulbs with BB guns, or derailed the noon Southern Pacific with a pile of railroad ties… there was no connection in our feeble brains about what consequences we were igniting.

We were bulls in the china shop.

Education was provided “free” to me, growing up.  Water came out of the tap, magically.  And, as far I could think it through, free.  Same with the radio, the TV, the mail, all all the other stuff that contributed to this “free” life for me.

It was a rude awakening to discover that, to buy a car and keep the tank full so I could take Suzie to the Who concert, I needed to generate “money” from a “job” to grease the machine of capitalism.

“Free” was so much more fun.

The World Wide Web was created by an unholy alliance of the Armed Forces and elite academia… both of which operated largely outside the demands of capitalism.   (Grants and Congressional budgets are not equal to a paycheck from a job.)

So the concept of “free” took root easily.

If you were among the early adopters of Web marketing, you must remember the snarling resistance to capitalism among the Web-heads dominating the landscape back then.

All software should be open source.  Selling stuff — any stuff at all — “polluted” the promise of a New Way Of Doing Things Online, where everything should be free (as God and Al Gore surely intended).

When non-techie-type people — your neighbors, for example — started flooding online, and finally got over the fear of using their credit card on a Web site, that “free” ethos collapsed in earnest.

Except for the really cool stuff… like music and intellectual property.

Hey — I don’t like the Big Music Moguls any more than you do.  They raped artists and kept a corrupt house since the first needle hit vinyl.

And the Grateful Dead/Coldplay model of allowing rips (and making their real money through touring) is a great tactic… except when it isn’t.

Okay, time out again.  I’m not gonna enter the fray of whether all movies and music should be available free on bit torrent sites.


I wanna get more specific.

I wanna discuss the notion that ripping off another marketer’s ADS is somehow cool and hip and righteous.

This is where I was heading the entire time here.  A slight detour through Woodstock, down the side alley of my vandal past, across the lawn of the Internet, and finally into the parking lot of Marketing And Advertising.

When I was coming up through the freelance ranks, there was not another copywriter alive who thought it was okay to directly rip another writer’s stuff.


It was a sin to copy someone else’s stuff word for word.

You just didn’t do it.

There was theft, of course.  Thieving bastards who thought they wouldn’t get caught would be so brazen as to clip ads from newspapers, white-out the address in the coupon, type in their own address…

… and then submit the altered ad, as is, to their local paper for publication.

This happened to clients of mine.  A lot.  Ads I wrote were nicked in Australia — where US law couldn’t touch them, at the time — and run exactly that way.

These were not copywriters doing the deed.

These were thieves.  The lowest form of life in the food chain.

No one pretended it was otherwise.

As business on the Web progressed through the early years of this century, however…

… a curious thing happened.

Suddenly, it was okay to rip off another writer’s copy.  Word for word.

My fellow “old school” writers were appalled.  But powerless to change this re-definition of the word “ethical”.

I even decided to help the rippers out.  I gave a now-infamous workshop called the “License To Steal Seminar”… where I taught people how to rip 5 of my most successful ads.

Why did I do this?

Because everyone was ripping my ads incorrectly.

It pissed me off.

And so, I took it upon myself to teach budding writers what the swipe-file process actually entailed.

The key: Don’t blindly copy.

Instead, figure out the essence of how the sales pitch has been constructed in a good ad…

… and adopt what you learn when you write your own ad.

When I started out, I stalked Gary Bencivenga’s direct mail pieces because his writing “spoke” to me.

I would literally tear his packages apart, and mark them up with notes as I dissected his bullets, his word choices, and the way he guided his reader through the pitch.

But I never copied any of his bullets, or headlines, or even “close the sale” wording.

It was like studying Eric Clapton’s solo in “Crossroads”.  Sure, learn how he constructed it.  Learn how to emulate it.

But don’t go out and play it, note for note, in one of your own songs.  That would be rightly ridiculed.

Instead, “channel” Eric’s style if you must… but be original.

There are only a handful of notes (plus quarter and half-note bends) in the classic blues scale.  That “Crossroads” solo (correct me if I’m wrong) uses just A, C, D and E, up and down the neck, with bends.

Think about that.  A smattering of notes, arranged to send chills and thrills through a Clapton fan.  He has no legal or moral right to claim those notes as his, and no one else’s.  All musicians share the same scales.

And yet what he did was original, and easily identified.

Same with copy, people.  No writer can claim to “own” words like “how to”, or “absolutely free”, or “here’s what I have for you”, or anything else.

But an entire piece of copy…

… a successful ad really can become a work of art.  Worthy of emulation and inspiration.

However, you are CHEATING yourself if you rip mindlessly.

Look, I advocate swipe files.  They’re a great tool.  I include extensive swipe files — of my own stuff — in the packages I offer.

And, as I said, I offer insight to using these swipe files to help spur your own original creation of a good sales conversation.

Just plain old copying, though… it’s like taking your sister to the prom.

It may have all the appearances of a “real” date, but it’s not legit.  It is not a foundation to build anything on.

And this kind of mis-wired thinking produces a lot of hokey “They laughed when I sat down at the piano… but then I started to play…” kind of knock-off marketing.

It will look and sound silly if you don’t understand WHY that John Caples headline and copy worked.  (For the record: It’s a before-and-after type of head.  The key words are not “laughed” or “sat down”, but the juxtaposition of being put down with the “and then I started to play” tease, promising a story of redemption and new-found respect.)

I am now calm but still rueful about being perhaps the most ripped-off writer in the game these days.

It is not — as some might say — the highest form of flattery.  It is, in most cases, intellectual theft.

And it’s become accepted, without apology.

I’ve had books sent to me by folks who should be ashamed that they’ve copied large sections of my stuff… and pawned it off as their own.  And they are not ashamed at all.

I’ve witnessed speakers go on before me at an event… and tell my stories as their own (which sends me scrambling to adjust my own talk to get around the infraction).

This kind of shit leaves me baffled.

The real professionals in marketing never copy directly.  They may quote other writers, but they are lavish in praise while doing so, to ensure there is no confusion.

And they strive to be original at all times.

There are only so many commonly-used words in the English language.  The rich body of slang is refreshed constantly as we toy with phrases and cultural definitions.

If you can hold a conversation with someone, you can write what you need written for your biz.

You don’t need to steal blindly.

You can have a real date for the prom — all you need to do is get hip to the simple, easy process of doing what needs to be done to attain what you want.

Understanding why a good ad IS good gives you insight to what you must do in your own writing.

It’s not rocket science.  It’s actually easy to get into the groove of being original, once you’ve had just a touch of mentoring.

And when it finally clicks, you are off to the races.  You are no longer a slave to your swipe file, because you know how to have a sales conversation that gets results.

And that kind of knowledge just automatically fuels original thinking.

If you’re hot to embrace the freedom, independence, and wealth-generating mojo of knowing how to write everything you need written to make your biz rock…

… you can check out the Simple Writing System package I’ve made available.

I’m not gonna pitch you on it here.  You can decide for yourself if it’s what you need by going here to kick the tires:

It truly is a fun ride.

I’m also in the process of interviewing an astonishing array of marketing wizards — including a number of movers-and-shakers you may not have heard of yet (offering you an obvious advantage by learning their secrets before your competition).

These interviews will be released in just a few weeks from now.

And they will be free. No theft is required to access them.

So I’m just saying… you may want to keep your eyes peeled for the announcements of these free content-stuffed interviews.

It’s all part of my devious plan to help you get past your sticking-points and problems with writing your own fast, easy sales conversations that bring in the moolah.

Thanks for letting get all this off my chest here.

Especially the Woodstock stuff.  Been 40 years now.  Still a hell of a party, regardless of whatever else you might think about the event…

Stay frosty,


P.S. Really… what IS so funny about peace, love and understanding?

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  • Kyle says:

    John – excellent post!

    Question: Do you… or Stan… think it’d be possible to put a “Printer Friendly” button on your blog so I can print these suckers out without having to copy, paste, re-format in Word? No one’s done this yet on the net, but I still highly prefer printed media that I can read in the living room… on the can… or out in the yard.

    Pce man… and keep up the good work. =)

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Kyle. I don’t believe WordPress has that plug-in yet.
      We’ll look into it, though. You’re not the first to ask about printing options. (In the meantime, you can just get creative and copy/paste to Wordpad, which will print out nicely…)

      • John says:

        Check out WP-Print. It looks as though it does a good job. There is also CSS that one can stick in, but I think the plug-in is probably easiest.

    • Stan says:

      Hi Kyle,
      I looked at the plugin. Copying all of the post text (click at the start of the 1st word and dragging until I’ve selected the entire post), pressing CNTL-C, and pasting the text into Word or OpenOffice formats the text fine for printing.
      Does not seem broken, so I hesitate to fix it. Plugins can cause unexpected issue.

    • Leah says:

      You don’t need all the copy/paste to print. Just “save page as” or there’s “Print” under the File heading and “Print Preview” and even print to PDF or Fineprint. You can print to almost anything with a left-click instead of cut and paste.

      That’s like camera-ready art and typesetters printing on PMT film unless you still used rub-off letters, white out, clip art and plenty of glue sticks – right before MacWrite and the MacIntosh with it’s monochrome 8 or 9-inch screen – yucky!!

  • It is indeed a fine line between influence and theft.

    It’s an irony that some especially dim folks, and some smarter ones too, that think that they’ll never get caught and the, “Well everyone can see the original in the public domain so, hey, it must be OK to use it,” dumb-assed mentality.

    Their come-uppance arrives when they have to carry their “amazing sales copy” through to product, service and repeat sales.

    I wonder what the refund rate is of thieves?

    Nice post JC.


    PS A great example of taking influence from the original and improving it to sublimity is Little Wing by SRV compared to the already fab Hendrix original.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Andrew. Heck, take Hendrix’s original, note the subtle changes in SRV’s version, and then go get schooled in Clapton’s take on the Layla album.
      While Eric’s is a little over-the-top, when you realize he was in serious emotional turmoil while singing it, you hear it in different ways. Jimi was almost happy singing it, while Eric’s is tortured.
      It’s amazing how much you can learn about life from simple rock…

      • Diane says:

        Went to a fine Buddy Guy concert where he did guitar impersonations of Clapton, Hendrix and SRV. Buddy was humble and awesome and flattered! I can still hear all my favorite riffs and am pleased that I can hear a couple of notes and tell who’s playing. All of em … including Buddy.
        Then the next act hit the stage … BB!
        Music … true inspiration!

  • Jackie Ulmer says:

    Bravo, having had several of my websites and content copied verbatim, glad to hear you call out the bad guys!

    EXPECT Success!

    Jackie Ulmer

  • Vin Montello says:


    So true… and so well said.

    I too have never gotten the whole stealing thing. Have had it a few times myself.

    In one case I had another marketer using my services website to sell HIS services. I’d catch him and he’d move it to a slightly different url. This has gone on for over a year now.

    In another case copy I wrote for a client was stolen withing the first week of it going live. My client contacted me and the two of us teamed up and formed a virtual posse to hunt down the offender and nip it in the bud.

    I think my strong feelings on this come from various places. First of course stand up comedy. My earliest adult days on the road. Thievery was rampant but never lasted because “real comics” would group up in the back of the room and “out” the thieves during their act!

    In the middle of an unearned laugh you might hear a few of us scream “Stolen!”… or “Carlin’s bit…” from the back of the room.

    On nights when we were feeling slightly generous we might politely cough the “gotcha” so as not to entirely ruin the hack’s act.


    Later in Hollywood I things became a little more clear cut, with lawyers and rules and all that.

    Gotta say I liked writing when the rules were clear and everyone was forced to play by them.

    That said… being a boy from Brooklyn I also like getting a little badass to protect what’s mine.

    It’s a little more DIY and I like that. Sometimes you just gotta “git er done.”

    Cough Larry The Cable Guy cough. 😉

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, maybe that “thin line” between theft and inspiration is more like a smoky trail from a cigarette (in the dank reaches of the Green Room after a rough set, savoring a wet shot glass of Jack Daniels).
      I used to hang out with a guy who would dominate conversations by repeating, word for word, entire Bill Cosby comedy routines. At first, people were amazed… then we all wondered why this was different than sitting around the turntable with the actual album… and finally we realized this guy had a photographic mind but ZERO honest sense of humor. I trapped him a few times with false funny lines — and figured out that he was waiting for cues from other people on when to laugh… so he could appear sociable, while deep inside he had no clue what was so damn funny.
      I’ve always valued wit and come-backs and trading barbs over prepared material. You risk a lot if critical people are around, because when you get into “funny mode” without a net (and without material), you can bomb like Fat Man and Little Boy. Friends shrug it off. Non-friends will hang you for it.
      The real heat of the kitchen, in society, is entering the verbal fray when you know you’re overmatched, and you do it anyway… constantly taking the challenge to top or tweak the other guy’s killer line. Not to “beat” him, but to keep the collective laughing going strong.
      Kevin, as you know, is a master at this. The few times we’ve gotten to hang out have been riotous, and I deeply appreciate you comics and your ability to rip humor from bullshit and grief.
      Thanks for the post, Vin.
      Has Kevin told you about the SF bar with the stripper-bartenders plying underage kids with cheap booze yet?

      • Vin Montello says:

        Haven’t heard about that club, John… but sounds like a fun night. I’m just pissed Garfinkel never took me there!

        When I see you again, remind me to tell you the story of the tampa nudie bar and the 8 months pregnant dancer.

        Kev knows that one I think…

        • Kevin Rogers says:

          Is there a stripper in Tampa who isn’t pregnant? Occupational hazard I guess. Maybe if they were actual pros, they’d be more cautious. But these poor girls are just trying doing it to get through college.

          No, really.

          The “stripper-bartenders” in SF will always have a special place in my heart. That short-haired one (who claimed to be a pilot) played a mean air tambourine.

          I’ll never hear “Day Tripper” the same way again.

          Here’s the thing about thievin’ for me…

          It’s like being an Elvis impersonator. You can tell people you’re a “singer” all you want, but the mutton chops give you away every time.

          People who blatantly steal are forced to live in prisons of their own device.

          The money is temporary, too. Because the notion of “getting away with it” is born of greed. And greed, like rust, never sleeps.

          So what starts out as a shortcut leads to a lifestyle and pretty soon there’s never enough of anything. And no way to fill the void boring it’s way through your soul.

          And eventually you end up getting some dippy Florida stripper pregnant and her boyfriend runs you over with his work truck.

          And you could be singing Beatles songs with delicious Asian barmaids if you’d only not taken the easy way out now.

          Wait. What was the question?

        • John Carlton says:

          Hey, Vin… I just realized I’ve told that story about the guy memorizing Cosby routines very recently in this blog. In a thread with you.
          Jeez, that’s embarrassing.
          I really do have enough stories to never need to repeat myself for a couple of weeks, but it happens. I am lucky enough to have a cousin I grew up with who loves to tell and hear the same stories we’ve been sharing for 50 years now… so I know I’ve got a library full of the stuff.
          But I really try to keep my material more fresh, and not repeat myself too much outside of family.
          Of course, this could just be the first warning shot of impending brain damage as I begin to pay for my youthful sins in middle age…

  • Simon Hedley says:


    You continue to lead the way, and I’m just glad I stumbled upon it.

    I felt I had to share, if that’s ok.

    I think that for many scrabbling to make a $1, they try and take the quick route. Often missing what’s really going on. In the old days someone would say enough – no.. and things would be dealt with.

    Now it’s hard to know who is the Law..
    I’ve had people blatantly steal my business ideas – and one even acknlowedged it.. but what can you do? Equally, it’s crazy to fly in the face of adversity and not watch the market.

    Who right now can claim to have had the first video sales letter.. well we all know the real Ninjas (FK, JS, JC, EP, MF, etc..) but many just borrow away quite happily..

    Worse is when you’re thinking you’re getting original.. only to be burned as well.. finding out the person you paid, copied someone else.

    I had that recently, having paid out my dollars for some design work years ago, I got hit with a claim for damages by someone else for copyright infringement – caveat emptor… – not knowing is no longer safe..

    In the old story telling traditions, their are deeper truths, or themes that pervail – the hero, the mage, and these resonant with customer archetypes.

    Loki and Odysseus… aren’t the same avatar renewed?

    I know that I can create more value for my clients and don’t worry about being stolen from, because the clients that would fall from it, will in time come back to me, as long as they didn’t think they were getting the real me.

    But revealing your route, and honouring those who you follow always seems to be the best way forward.

    It reminds me of the lessons I learnt from Katherine my tai chi instructor, about why we learned the form – so people can practice in public.

    You may see the words, and copy those, but that doesn’t have the spark, that intention, that focus that is what the real masters have.

    I’m back to reread and learn.. even though it’s 1:15am here..


    re Kyle’s request – made me laugh – how do we make a swipe file 😉 – but if you want to make it easier – get a simple print style sheet made up – no plugin required.

  • Matt Rhodes says:

    Hey John,

    I feel you on the ripped-off thing. I’m sure you’ve been ripped off a lot more than my brother and I have, but we’ve been blatantly copied a few times and it’s a huge pain in the ass.

    What pisses me off the most is that the stuff sold just as well, if not better, for the thief than it did for us. And, when we confronted him about it, he changed a few words (leaving it largely the same) and called us arrogant.

    It just wasn’t worth pursuing legally, so it was just a burn of time to even contact him.

    I’ve pretty much accepted the only thing you can do in those situations is suck it up, take it like a man and move on. Gotta stay focused on the stuff that makes you money, not the stuff that doesn’t.

    Good rant, John.

    All the best,

  • Liane says:

    Hmm…nice post…I’m thinking it would look real good on my blog…


  • Tom Ash says:

    Hi John:
    My first reaction to your post was to say that maybe karma reared it’s ugly head, since you shared the stories of being a “vandal”. Like you, I did some similar things – never derailed a train though!
    However, the second thing that came to mind was the complete lowering of standards in today’s society. After a while, we just accept what used to be unacceptable. We accept poor education, because it’s too hard to fix. We accept politicians who don’t do their job, because it’s too much work to get engaged. And, to not belabor the point, we accept theft such as you described because we are too damn lazy to hang the butts of the people who do it.
    I’m not calling you out, but shame on us. If there is a problem, fix it: be part of the solution. It happened in the 1960’s, and we ultimately got out of Vietnam – and to my point of view at least partially unleashed the sad state of affairs that now pervades our society. You sound like you are taking some small steps to be part of the solution by teaching how to “ethically cheat”, but, if I may, go big: go after the jerks and try and get them hung.
    You have a bully pulpit that you can use, so have fun. You write well enough that knuckleheads like me write back to you. In conclusion use your powers for good, and become part of the solution to the mess that is our society today. We are a great country, but some times we need a kick in the rear end: rear back and have at it.

    • John Carlton says:

      Trust me, Tom, the karma from my ill-spent youth has been cascading upon my slumped shoulders for a long time.
      I figure if I can pull some lessons out of the vandalism, and maybe help other people learn those lessons without having to go through the process themselves, then maybe I’m recovering a little good will from the universe…

      • Tom Ash says:

        It would be presumptuous of me to speak for karma, so I won’t. However, I certainly wish you well in your endeavor. Gandhi brought down a government ultimately with salt, so imagine what you can do with words and technology!

  • Bill Jeffels says:

    I always liked the way Gary Halbert dealt with people that stole from him.

    Anybody remember the Killer diet ad Gary wrote for a fella named Frank… Frank decided to stop paying Gary his monthly check, I think it was a hundred grand a month that he owed Gary.

    Karma eh… that Frank fella is in trouble again.
    Damn I miss Gary Halbert.

  • GREAT ARTICLE, John! It’s especially disturbing to see how many copy “pros” are ripping off other copywriters’ work then peddling it as their own to clients. I can understand how this could happen with marketers who don’t have the skills to write high-converting copy. But I DON’T understand why this is going on among “professionals” who are supposed to be wordsmiths.

  • Steve says:

    Ya know John, I have been trying to find a Niche for myself on the internet for longer than I care to reveal, but everything I think of is just a copy of someone elses work or idea’s. I have delayed my progress as a copywriter quite frankly because of what you just wrote, no originality and i absolutely don’t wish to steal. My copy always sounded like someone elses and my internet marketing ideas were just more of the same. I tell ya, it is very frustrating not to be original so I personally, at this point, sit in limbo.

    More importantly, I removed my last name because this require a bit of privacy, my identity was used by someone over the last few years to steal around 100,000 dollars from the company I worked for.
    I caught him just last week.
    He was a fellow employee.
    I know what it feels like to be stolen from- my person, my family, my self esteem. It hurts deeply. I considerd law suits, defamation of character, Identity theft. Bah, Humbug lawsuit. It would have no value to me. All I would really wish for would be an honest heartfelt, conscience,remorseful, in person, apology for the theft of my person. And life goes on.

    The company and the law will take care of the legal issues. I just want my value as a person back, the trust that was stolen.

    I wish I could win the games you provide as I cannot afford the material, but boy would I like to produce real, quality exciting material.

    As you always say John “stay frosty”

  • Susie says:

    Thanks John! I was shocked (OK – more than once in my life I’ve learned I was naive) when one of my first copywriting jobs (a sequenced mailing for a chiropractor) was ripped off by one of his local competitors within two weeks. Grrrrrrrr.
    Also went back to school to earn a second degree (journalism) just a few years ago. Got in an “interesting discussion” with all the students about whether they should be able to download music for free. I was obviously outnumbered – like – 30 to 1 – on the topic.
    But I do have a big confession to make – right here – right now. I am a pen thief. Yep – if you could get arrested for it, I’d be looking great in stripes, chained to a long string of other convicts while picking up trash along the highway. I don’t do it on purpose…and when I realize that I have collected a whole handful, it does provide an interesting “pen diary” of where I’ve been for the past few weeks. Although I never have taken one home with one of those silly daisy’s attached to the top. There…glad I got that off my chest.
    Thanks for always making me think,
    PS: Any updates on the “JV Manager?”

  • Funny you should bring up this touchy subject today, old pal. Just last week I found another individual plagiarizing my blog posts word-for-word and using them as content on his web site to push his own products.

    I extensively make use of blog posts to drive visitors to my web sites. Basically, I write intense, content-laden posts, and then end them with a call to visit one of my web sites for more information. Drives web traffic like mad, as you well know.

    But I was just doing some online key word research on a topic I frequently blog about, and lo and behold I came across the web site of a person selling products that are only remotely related to my own company’s products. Yet there on his site was my most recent blog post, carefully modified to eliminate any mention of my own web sites, and to appear to be written by him rather than me. He was using my content as if it were his own, to push sales of his own online products.

    Now to be perfectly truthful, I don’t mind if people re-print my blog posts — even without my permission — as long as they give me credit, and don’t screw with the text or eliminate the links to my web sites. A lot of my blog posts have ended up going “viral” like that, and frankly, I’m thankful, because when people add my blog posts with the links intact to their web sites, it skyrockets my web traffic and sales.

    So they get free content for their web site by posting my content-laden blog posts, and I get free linkage and traffic. Good deal for both of us. (Nevertheless, they should still ask permission. Hell, I’d probably give them even more good content to post, if I saw they were being fair about it, giving proper credit where credit is due, and above all leaving my links in the posts.)

    But to modify my blog posts by eliminating the links to my web sites, and then plagiarizing the posts as web content to sell their own products is just plain theft. And a person who could justify doing that, would also be able to justify ripping off their own customers. Why? Because at heart, they’re just theives. There’s not a creative bone in their fricken’ body. They’re just opportunists.

    Here’s my suggestion (and I wiish I had more time, ’cause I’d implement it myself):

    You’ve seen those ratings web sites, where you can go online and rate your purchase or your experience with an online or even an offline vendor? Sometimes you can even describe your experience with the vendor. Well, someone needs to put up a web site where advertisers can post the names and identities of online marketers who sell-their wares using stolen advertising copy. It could even be called

    I’ve never bought into the old adage that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. I think it’s the most accurate indicator of a crooked mind, instead.

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Steve. Hope all is well.
      You know, every time I feel the urge to fight, and look further into the situation… the more I sense it’s like standing on shore ordering the waves to stop coming in.
      My assistant spends time every week knocking people off eBay and other sites who copy and sell my stuff. it never ends. And once you’ve seen the look of innocent bafflement in the eyes of a colleague who has just ripped you clean, and is genuinely insulted that you had the temerity to call him on it… well, as I wrote here, it seems to be a vast and fundamental change in the way too many people think.
      (The rippers on eBay get apoplectic with rage when knocked off, too — they feel entitled to their theft, and have written me letters before demanding to know where I get off stopping them.) (Thank God they suffer the rage, at least — they certainly entertain no guilt or shame.)
      It’s exhausting. We fight what we need to, and recapture what we can. But whole generations of people growing up today laugh at the notion that info, or music, or anything else that can be ripped and disseminated, should be protected under some nasty capitalistic scheme that dares to infringe on their fun.
      Professionals have always stood out from the rabble because they hold themselves to a higher code of behavior. Taking the high road can cost you, and even make your life a little harder (and sometimes a lot harder). It’s not the easy path.
      The best thing to do, I guess, is remain prolific, and command a visible post where your style and your work is recognizable and defended by your followers. This is not a good time to be a hermit writer, waiting to be discovered.
      I cannot even comprehend the internal ethical churning that must take place when someone steals and pretends it’s theirs. How do they sleep at night?
      Thanks for the note, Steve.
      Be well.

  • Adil says:

    Hey John,

    Awesome post. I am still starting out but getting the right sort of mindset of not to rip off copywriters but simply dissecting there methods, seeing what they did, understand what they did, then use it as a sort of skeleton to put my own marketing “meat” on it. So it’s not a steal but rather an act of being inspired by there work.

    Speak soon,

    Later Days,

  • Arman says:

    John man… that was a hot post.

    Personally, I’ve never ripped you off… although I was tempted a few times to do so. It just doesn’t feel right knowing that the personality that’s in your copy isn’t MY personality…

    …but I gotta admit, I’ve literally laughed out loud reading some of your shit. Which is why I started to read & watch comedy before I would write sometimes… just to get the blood flowing, you know?

    Anywho… you da man. You know you da man. And everyone reading this damn post knows you da man.

    Let me know if you find any copy-ripper-offers out here in Los Angeles… I’ll give ’em a good whoopin’ for you. (Or I’ll egg or toilet-paper their house or something… shameless bastards)


  • Hey John,

    A few years ago, while building a digital library of motivational, inspirational audio programs for a company I founded, I was licensing as much cool, original content as I could get.

    One day – a guy submitted an 8 hour seminar (recording) where he told every motivational story ever told by any speaker anywhere. Right down to the “starfish story”. You know the one where the guy on the beach is asked about the why he thinks it makes a difference to throw one starfish back when there are thousands more still on the beach? And he replies “well I made a difference to that one”. (The one he’d just returned to the water)

    The fellow told these stories and did not attribute the quotes or stories to the creators of them.

    When I asked him how he could do that, his response ASTOUNDED me. He said “if they came out of my mouth in the seminar then they are mine.”


    In any case thanks John, your rant is “right on!” (a cool 60’s comment for those too young to recall)


  • Rezbi says:

    It must be a subconscious thing but this may be the reason why I never disclose my offline advertising to the online world.

    I’m going online now so we shall have to wait and see.

    Actually, I’d like my first copy to be ‘swiped’ so I get an idea as to whether or not it’s any good – imitation and flattery and all that.

    Just the first copy, mind you, no more.

  • Yep, John your the man. Great piece.

    I never rip off other writers stuff…but boy do I study the s#*t out of it.

    Gary Bencivenga is my bed time reading…(My wife thinks I am certifiable reading advertising with my hot chocolate at 11pm).

    But do the right thing – you gotta be able to look others – and yourself – in the eye.



  • Gary says:

    It’s amazing to see all the things sent in the mail or that are online that are just copies of some famous copywriters work. Great copy can be written for the targeted market if those persons(theives) had enough ambition to promote a thought of their own and not just change a few words…….but they get paid and justify it. If the industry had a system where you would have to submit your works in person and not hiding behind some lame online user name!! But I digress…..Did you ever see the scene from the movie Casino where they catch the “cheats” and bring them into the back room, then ask them to choose which hand they use to cheat with……BAM!! BAM! with the hammer…. problems solved. But in this market all you need is too hire a freelancer who doesn’t care….. Where the heck is my hammer!!

    Rant away John….we love it!

    P.S. about your I would like to fight back comment….you are right. Once you get a taste of the “crack” moola from ripping off someone you can’t stop. Look at all the white collars being brought down because of this greed!! WHere’s my Hammer?!!

  • Gary says:

    get to bed it’s late………only newbie copywriters like me should be up studying the greats at this hour.
    And even now I have reached my limit for this day!
    good night

  • Well your rant will probably sell more of your Simple Writing System. If you’re going to rant, rant. Don’t sell in your rant.

    I learned more from the “Brain Audit” on how to write “authentic” copy than the $1,000 product I bought from you.

  • Gold says:

    Hi Guys,

    I am a culprit. Though i haven’t stolen any ad, i am a freelance writer who may be required to do “some rewriting job.” from time to time. What can i do?

    • John Carlton says:

      Rewriting is a legitimate job for a freelancer. All controls undergo some revision as they age. Normally, you’d want the original writer to do the revisions… but he/she isn’t available, another writer must roll up their sleeves and dig in.
      You’re fine, Gold.

  • This has happened to me since long before the web and it’s getting worse. You’re right, people just don’t see that they’re doing wrong. The ebay ones are the worst. You’re the bad guy for giving them a hard time over it!
    Think the problem is one of education and perception. While most people understand the concept of tangible property (and therefore wouldn’t steal your watch) they don’t understand the concept or value of intelectual property. It’s just words on a page. It’s not worth anything, and it didn’t cost anything to acquire. But as we know, it can be worth more than the most expensive wristwatch , and cost vastly more to reach the point where you can create it.
    Marry all that up with the average persons tendency towards looking for a shortcut…the lazy way…and it’s easy to see what’s happening. Less easy to see the solution.

  • Great post John, as usual. Talk about getting ripped off, I just saw my obituary in the newspaper!

    Evidently, someone has been using my ID in the U.S.for a number of years, as I have been living in Asia and Europe.

    It seems I died peacefully in my sleep, after a long bout with cancer on last Valentine’s day.

    I actually know who the person was, since we used to work together, when I was doing construction. He didn’t have the brains to get a contractor’s license, so he stole mine! Anyway, I digress.

    As a participant in the Vietnam war, as well as Woodstock and later Altamont, I got to see both sides of the saga,(man’s inhumanity to man, as well as peace & love). The sad fact is that people will steal from other people…it happened during the ’60’s, ’70’s, ’80’s , etc. and will always happen.

    There doesn’t seem to be as much creativity now, as before, maybe because technology has made it easier to “steal” something rather than have to think of something original. To steal ad copy before, you actually had to do a little work to find an ad worth stealing. Now everything is available with a few clicks of the mouse.

    It’s a sorry state of affairs.

    I own your manuals, as well as items from Gary, Clayton, and use all of them for ideas. Reading what all of you have written, certainly makes it easier for new copywriters to understand the underlying nuances of copy. Trouble is, I wonder how many people actually take the time to study how the pieces are put together, rather than “swipe” the piece in it’s entirety?

    Keep up the good work! You’re an inspiration.

  • Eugenie says:

    It starts early: when my daughter was in her early teens she and her school mates considered it perfectly acceptable, indeed it was the norm, to present their teachers with homework consisting entirely of information they’d cut and pasted off the web. It took a fair number of fairly lengthy discussions before the penny finally dropped and she understood that a) she was doing herself no favours in the long-term as she didn’t actually understand what she was presenting; and b) this was, yes, stealing. She doesn’t do it any more.

    But plagiarism – just a posh name for stealing – is rife right across the education system, and sadly I suspect my daughter (now 17) is in a minority. It’s considered perfectly OK to rip off other people’s work; indeed there are myriad websites selling other people’s work with the sole intention of allowing the buyer to pass it off as their own to get better grades.

    I don’t get it either, because – as I explained to my daughter – in the end you’re just cheating yourself, in so many ways. But it appears to be becoming hard-wired and I’ve not a clue what those of us who play by the rules can actually still do about it!

  • Great post John, and timely-

    I’ve been battling this very thing just this week.

    Earlier this year I had a salesletter top the Clickbank charts for 10 weeks straight. Pretty cool.

    But last week I got an email from a buddy congratulating me on the success of my latest letter. Nothing of mine had gone live recently, so I asked which one he meant…

    He sent me a link, and behold, some a**hole has taken the CB letter, made a few cosmetic changes, and gone live with it for a totally different product.

    And he’s had runaway success with it too.

    Yes, the lawyers will take care of it, but that’s not the point. The audacity of these guys just blows me away.

    I’m trying to take it as a form of flattery, but it’s still irritating…

    Excellent post though, love the Woodstock stuff.

    David Raybould

    PS- The Crossroads solo: A C D E but there’s a handful of G notes floating around too. Just saying.

  • Eugenie says:

    It starts early: when my daughter was in her early teens she and her school mates considered it perfectly acceptable, indeed it was the norm, to present their teachers with homework consisting entirely of information they’d cut and pasted off the web. It took a fair number of fairly lengthy discussions before the penny finally dropped and she understood that a) she was doing herself no favours in the long-term as she didn’t actually understand what she was presenting; and b) this was, yes, stealing. She doesn’t do it any more.

    But plagiarism – just a posh name for stealing – is rife right across the education system, and sadly I suspect my daughter (now 17) is in a minority. It’s considered perfectly OK to rip off other people’s work; indeed there are myriad websites selling other people’s work with the sole intention of allowing the buyer to pass it off as their own to get better grades.

    I don’t get it either, because – as I explained to my daughter – in the end you’re just cheating yourself, in so many ways. But it appears to be becoming hard-wired and I’ve not a clue what those of us who play by the rules can actually still do about it!
    OH! You’re my new favorite blogger fyi

  • Rich says:


    This post was so good, I’m going to copy it word-for-word on my blog. Great job!

  • Arn Tillman says:

    Hi John!
    “…This is where I was heading the entire time here. A slight detour through Woodstock, down the side alley of my vandal past, across the lawn of the Internet, and finally into the parking lot of Marketing And Advertising.”
    Having been called “Blarney Arnie” on rare occasions because of my tendencies and strengths at story telling, I just wished to say how much I appreciated the way you claimed the territory of a well experienced past. It was almost hai ku-like in its sophisticated simplicity. Yet you held a firm grip of its “curb appeal,” as was said at a Scotts Lawn Care gig I once had…briefly.
    For that alone, what I quoted from you would make a fine book jacket blurb or some comic book caption. In keeping with my alluded to second theme, the subject matter might elude the audience, if the intended market was an uninformed mindset many cartoonists have been known to pander to frequently.
    Always a pleasure to read, and apply your wisdom.

  • Michelle says:

    I love when you rant. I think that this post hits on what has made me step away from my immersion in the online marketing world. I’ve just gotten tired of seeing “marketing gurus” (present company excluded) selling programs, packages, or systems to create more marketing gurus. It just creates that smarmy feel that legit, successful online marketers don’t deserve.

  • Reminds me of the story about the street violinist. He was playing Mozart in the streets of Vienna. Mozart walked up to him & said “no, no, you’re playing it wrong. Play it this way.”
    Next day the violinist was back playing on the street with a huge sign.
    drjimsellner, PhD., DipC.

  • marvin says:

    What can I say? Great post JC.

    First off, I’d like to get this off just for the sake of clarity.

    I study your work with the intensity of Rick and Eve O’Connor as they plow through mummy remains. The way I do it is this: I copy your copy, I rework the product presentation, rework the transitions, rework the bullets, make sure that I inject as much “Power Words” (from you!) as I can, adapt and inject some of my own ‘signature expressions’, stand back and survey the result, have a colleague read your copy and then my copy (without me saying which is made by whom), if they say they ‘sound the same’, I rework it some more and then have them re-evaluate until they say ‘it don’t sound the same but they flow and feel the same’, afterwards, I show it to my boss. If he says, ‘I don’t like it. It’s blah-blah-blah…’, I say, “Boss, I ripped that off JC (just so I can enjoy his reaction). I would say that my finished products end up just about 25-30% JC. Using your ‘music analogy’, I’d like to look at it as getting enough inspiration from Clapton’s, Santana’s, Felder’s, Walsh’s and Satriani’s licks and integrating them in my own improvisation in a way that you hear an arpeggio or 2 from any of them at certain points as I weave my own tapestry of gently distorted and heavily sustained fingerwork.

    (Please tell me if I am among those dense bastards you’re ranting about so I can apologize properly – I never, in my wildest dreams, thought once of peeving you.)

    Anyway, I see where you’re coming from.

    Back in high school, I created a satirical essay on the concept of ‘smokescreen politics’ for a literary-academic competition and it flew with flying colors. The following year, a student from a rival school presented an oratorical piece that took high honors in the same contest – his piece was my essay.

    In college, the thesis I submitted got ‘reincarnated’ into several adaptations (all of which had 60-75% of my original material unchanged and blatantly and shamelessly used and reused) (I was a guest panelist in the thesis defense in 5 of those instances – I found it hilarious!).

    I had a song entered in a national songwriting competition. My song didn’t even make preliminaries – only to hear it a couple years later as the carrier single of a major album.

    While working as a college instructor, I had 2 original course prospectuses taken by my dean and submitted to the college administration as hers – with no hoo-hah (or even a sarcastic word of thanks) whatsoever thrown in my direction.

    Several times these things happened to me and I simply shrug it off and even laugh at it at times thinking, ‘It’s okay. There’s more of that where it comes from.’ After all, no matter how many buckets full of water you take from the ocean to create your own sea, ‘there’s always more of it where it came from’.

    And I think that’s where the bane of these ‘ripsters’ come in – because in the long run, when they’re asked to ‘duplicate their feat’, they fail to deliver the proper ‘follow through’.

    I certainly agree that these pilferers be fed till they’re about to burst and crucified upsidedown so we can all watch them soil themselves (and this may include me if I am guilty).

    I’m crossing my fingers.

    • John Carlton says:

      You’re probably fine, Marvin, using my stuff as inspiration. I haven’t seen the copy, but your analogy of “channeling” (like in music) is the right way to go about this.

  • Jon Coleman says:

    Hi John,
    I agree. I have been through the same type of crap over the years. I used to be a “systems engineer/designer”. In that previous life I had two of my immediate supervisors at two differnet companies take my designs, and present them as their own; technical writings presented at symposia published word for word under other names, etc.

    I think the only thing to do is use the most vile possible weapon against them – lawyers. The risk of course is being contaminated by talking to one.

    Even the “Prince of Print” resorted to this tactic a couple of times! After that, threats seemed to be enough.

    Best Regards (;>)

    • John Carlton says:

      Gary never even began to stem the tide of copycats assaulting his stuff while he was around. Protecting copyrighted material is a hard, expensive slog, and judges’ eyes roll back in their head when you start talking about freelance work and who owns what.
      This is why places like eBay and Google can actually be your friend — they understand that when they help someone violate copyright law, THEY are at risk themselves. So they have relatively easy ways for aggrieved parties to knock the bad guys off the grid, quickly and with no warning. (Server hosting companies are just as vulnerable — you may not be able to reach the thief directly, but you can always get to his infrastructure.)
      Gary’s sons, Bond and Kevin, are plowing through the ranks of ripsters (and have been at it for a year now). The thieves descended like vultures when Gary died.
      These are clever, and righteously vindictive sons. I’ve been helping them, and I think anyone currently ripping Halbert’s stuff illegally should be very, very concerned.
      Thanks for the note, Jon.

      • Rezbi says:

        No offense to anyone else but I find copying Gary Halbert’s STYLE easier than anyone else’s.

        His writing is just so natural that copying actual saless letteres isn’t even necessary.

        Okay, it may not be good as good as Gary’s stuff, but…

        It seems silly to put yourself at risk by plagiarising when the alternative is not that difficult and you’d turn out work you’d be respected for in your right.

    • Liz Gray says:

      I know what you mean about theft. However, Karma is a hardworking Bitch!. I tried to help people who stole from me. One insurance company was wonderful. Forget the TV ads…insure with the Hartford. They pay auto claims!
      Others…perhaps Katrina was truly aimed at bankrupting corrupt insurance companies.

      I have noticed over decades that thieves rarely prosper for long. I wrote a paper in college circa 1970? for an English class …abut the boring “Hemmingway Ethic?” talk about selling sizzle… I thought Hemmingway to be all hype, but the paper was due Monday morning, so my roommate was watching a very old John Wayne movie. It might have been his second or third, but he played a bad guy. Outrage! Inspiration!

      I stated the accepted Hemmingway BS in a paragraph, then compared it to the “John Wayne” ethic, , as expressed by his characters. I handed in the only copy (before Xerox). The prof got his PHD and teaching job for his creativity on creating the John Wayne ethic. I didn’t care, as I had zero interest in college level “fecal material”, but I wonder what would have happened if I had a sealed postmarked envelopes containing my work sent to the head of the English dept. Even years latter? For all I know he may have watched the same movie, or perhaps mentioned my name, quoting my paper.

      If one presents info, not one’s own, in public, the risk would seem extreme. Why not “out” these cheats? Their bosses need to know. Bosses traditionallly use the work for hire of employees, but putting one’s name on anothers work is an indication of a flawed character. Imagine if the guy at the symposium opens a trade journal to find the original info published by the person who did the work, with the proof of when it was created. Will he loose all credibility? His job?
      His ability to be hired in the industry?

      I don’t remember who said it first. All that is needed for evil to triumph is that good people to do nothing. … or words to that effect.

      To borrow from JFK… Ask what you can do?

      Pledge to create date and time stamps for your work, copyright it where possible, and expose the people who steal your work. You may do so years later, and as a third party, even do it secretly.

      Those who expose thieves will cause some other thieves to give credit where credit is due.
      My associate, XYZ, provided the research, or came up with the basis for the solution, or whatever is applicable to the situation.
      This might explain some “one hit wonders” who cannot continue to produce work as good as what they stole.

      I will add my “rant” to those who produce the diet product ads.
      1. Get before and after photos unique to your product. Dated and notarized Doctor who indicates before and after weights, and time weight stayed off. If the product really works, this should be available.

      I have seen the same woman in a black bra and panties, from the back view, in several weight loss products. Are they buying “stock shots” or stealing? Either way, it costs too much as the overused photos destroy credibility. Hint: Most people who loose a lot of weight also have sagging skin and stretch marks.
      Most of those who are way overweight have tried many products with similar ingredients.
      Tell us what is in your product, and in what quantities.

      I’ve lost and gained and lost over 100 pounds, so I know the hope one sells.

      Please, no more false promises. Losing weight will change one’s pant size, not rekindle a spouse’s lust. You probably will not get a fabulous new job without acquiring some skills as well. Your health issues may not dissapear.
      Yes, I’m writing a diet book, as I know from experiance, what works.

      No, I don’t know if I will sell it on line. From what I’ve read here, I could have substantial down side risk. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to read this.

  • Kenneth Rearden says:

    Great post, John!

    It will be interesting if one of your more prominent students decides to venture into the conversation, to defend the art of swiping (you know the one who has made a career out of it?!).

    We shall see…

  • Brian McLeod says:

    The first time I read my own copy featured on a direct competitor’s website was 10 or 11 years ago in a former business (some might say a former life).

    I was utterly dumbstruck. And by that I mean I was struck by how utterly DUMB our competitor was.

    They didn’t just swipe or borrow from it, they literally lifted it word for word, substituting their company name, and pasted it up on their site as their own.

    Inside our 9×12 lead package, along with the required paperwork, we mailed a full page glossy 4/1 insert with a dramatic image and message on the front and a very direct qualifying pitch on the back featuring this simple structure:

    Here’s What We DO NOT Offer:
    • Blah blippity blah blah BAD
    • Blibbity bee bob bad VERY Bad

    Here’s What We DO Offer:
    • Zippity doo dah GOOD
    • Zappity woo woo VERY Good

    It was distinctive and very, very effective. Easily identifiable and hard to forget. Though tweaked a little here and there over time, that piece never left our lead package…

    Now, we sold to a hungry but narrow market. 4-5 companies duked it out in our marketplace and virtually every lead would, at the very least, order a lead package from one or two of the other big players as well.

    So, imagine how quickly and how many times our customers spotted the wholesale THEFT of (what was quite obviously) our core marketing message by our competitor…

    Imagine how many deals that kind of scumbaggery closed FOR us… (clue: LOTS).

    At the time, it honestly evoked a sense of pity (and schadenfreude that we were kicking their asses but good… and we were).

    We were way too busy growing too fast to worry much about what they were doing. We were setting the pace. They were playing catch-up. And it showed.

    Eventually, they changed direction and ditched my copy for some completely fabricated nonsense (that was all their own).

    They got more and more brazen with theirs over time, amping it up and amping it up even more.

    Our core message never changed.

    Not too long ago, those same clowns coughed up almost $7 million in cash and $3 million in seized property to the FTC.

    Smart fellers or fart smellers… you decide.

    Great post,


  • Matt Bisogno says:

    Great stuff as ever John.

    I’ve been that thief. Ripped off Kern’s Mass Control, almost verbatim for a sale of a horse racing system product.

    Supplanted ‘money-getting system’ (even Kern loves this term!) for ‘winner-getting system’, and Mass Control for the product name.

    Neither big nor clever.

    Spoke to Ed Dale about it (he’s one of my mentors). He said send a video testimonial to Frank, and explain. (I sold over 50,000 GBP. In a week.)

    Thought about the video testimonial. Decided against it.

    Frank sent an email saying he was getting all ‘philanthropic’ on us, buddying up with Mister Clinton (the name of a horse over here), and that sales revenues from MC would go to charity.

    I didn’t need to think about buying it that time. It’s solid gold content, and I now ‘understand’ enough of what I’m writing about to not need to steal.

    Shouldn’t have done it, went some way to repairing the damage.

    I know Kern learns from you; and lots of people learn from Kern. I like both your styles – you’re much more of a wordsmith, at least ostensibly, to Kern’s everyman hickster.

    All good – all works.

    I stole, I was sorry. I will not steal again.
    (Besides, my copy’s not bad!)

    Love your posts mate,

    • I look at everyone, and learn (“steal”) from all of you. I spent years watching Red Skelton, and learning his “style.” The one part I unashamedly ripped off was his ending. “Goodnight, and God Bless.” I can only hope to mean it as much as he did, and be ripped off in turn.
      I try to give credit, when I remember where I saw it, but I learn from so many. From each of you, I take what fits _my_ values, and feel comfortable with. From that, I build what is uniquely mine. In the meantime, I happily advise people about who I respect, and think worth learning from.

  • Larry says:

    Theft is a scary subject. I had some Indian programmer rip-off my whole ebook it took me years to write! He’s probably in Mumbai right now, translating someone else’s filched ebook to Swahili.

    Doesn’t Google have some kind of website analyzer, that determines where content appeared first? I think so.

    Well, John, I must say your Continuity Blueprint copywriting job was a fu**ing masterpiece. I’m at the point where I think I can see your unseen hand at work in salesletters. The John Carlton style comes through.

    Theft online
    The Internet Marketers only have themselves to blame. They are letting all these lemmings loose with promises of internet wealth. When they realize it isn’t working, they start looking for “shortcuts” and what’s more important (and difficult) than a salesletter?

    I curse most of these Internet Marketers. A while back was a software product that can completely x-ray a Google Adwords campaign, so you can copy it. So now you have 67 people using the exact Adwords campaign, on the exact keywords./

    It’s stupid. It’s redundant. It’s theft of hard work someone didi to research and build a successful campaign.

    The real issu isn’t theft, John, it’s a lack of character. Blinded by Greed, people will do anything to make a lot of money.

    I agree with you, though, just take the high road when posssible.

    I still think its worth suin those basterds, just to have them spend some coin to defend themselves.

    If only I had a lawyer in India…..

  • Earnst says:

    When dealing with thieves,
    how about the Soprano business model?…

    Steal a car. Drive by their house late one rainy night. Knock on their door. Pop a few caps. Stuff a John Carlton ad for SWS in their mouth. Leave the car at Denny’s. Slide Deacon Blues into the CD player and make for home.

    Done deal. On to the next.

    Deacon Blues

  • Bill Jeffels says:

    “Gary’s sons, Bond and Kevin, are plowing through the ranks of ripsters (and have been at it for a year now). The thieves descended like vultures when Gary died.
    These are clever, and righteously vindictive sons.”

    Hey John,
    Actually over at The Warrior Forum I had someone asking about if these Gary Halbert, Ted Nicholas, etc, downloads and DVD’s, CD’s were legit.

    I made it quite clear that (seminar .@@@) isn’t legit.

    And told them that Kevin and Bond were probably in the process of tearing this guy a new A Hole. So, I’m trying… as a huge Gary Halbert fan… to spread the word about these pieces of crap stealing Gary’s amazing work.

    By the way, I wrote Gary the poem at…
    I’ll copy it…
    Hi Eric and Bond

    My Name is Bill Jeffels. I wanted to let you know your dad really changed my life through his teachings. For special people in my life I write them a poem. I did not have the pleasure to meet your dad in person, but I wanted to do someing since gary did so much for me.

    Here is Gary’s poem…


    At all of Gary’s semianr’s
    In amazement you would sit
    he was definetly a marketing genius
    and he’d be the last to deny it

    If you were smart enough to hire Gary
    your business would go very far
    from your family “Coat Of Arms”
    to “The Amazing Face Lift In a Jar”

    From “How To Collect Social Security…”
    his copywriting had pulling power
    he’d make you want every product
    “How To Burn Off Body Fat Hour-By-Hour”

    He made multi-millionaires
    there seem to be no end
    from George Zangas to Robert Allen
    and “Berry-Trims” Marc Kaplan

    His amazing copywriting would suck you in
    the product you would desire
    if you wanted a winner every time
    Gary Halbert is who you would hire

    7000 at the Century Plaza Hotel
    risking fire safety fines
    the product did not have “An Illegal Substance”
    only millions for the Borgnines

    If Gary really liked you
    he would be there to the end
    just ask the great John Carlton
    his buddy and best friend

    If you studied Gary Halbert
    you had no choice but to get better
    from his seminar’s book’s and tape’s
    to every Boron Letter

    Gary Halbert was a success
    there was no goal he could not achieve
    from his “Carbonizied Shit Theory”
    you are what you believe

    Gary had a great sese of humour
    he was very intelligent too
    “Through Movement, Not Through Meditation”
    is the wisdom he would tell you

    Gary was known to be very generous
    but also a little vain
    exciting, thought pervoking and passonite
    but never ever tame

    The passing of Gary Halbert
    made thousands very sad
    he was not only a great teacher
    but also a loving dad

    Gary is gone but not forgotten
    his boat may of set sail
    but to to me and thousands of others
    he will alway’s be the Alpha Male

    All The Best

    Bill Jeffels

    I was talking to Scott Haines via e-mail he said he liked it


    Bill Jeffels
    Toronto, Canada

  • ken says:

    What I don’t get is so many people who “roll over” and don’t aggressively pursue/sue/C&D the ripsters. I like sites like to help locate copied content; I am notorious for my legal actions against people who would tread on me or rip my content. I even contact foreign police in countries where people have tried to rip dvds to file criminal charges. And what gets me is, there’s this entitlement mentality, like ‘napsterizing’ copy, amongst some, who think they won’t get busted, sued or have criminal copyright charges filed (I always do this) for trying to rip my stuff.

    One thing I will start doing, like how in days of yore, where they’d hang pirates’ bodies in Jamaica Bay, or put heads on pikes on castle walls, is to scan in pdfs of court and criminal and legal winning actions and post links on my sites, that’s likely a good deterrent as well. Some of us have teeth and use them. Copying/ripping others’ content is bad, it’s amazing to me that some think they can get away with it. And yes I’ve sent C&Ds to webhosting servers, even had people’s domains pulled w/legal notices and de-registered for infringing bs. Dont’ f— with some of us, is a good message to get out there.
    Like the pimp said in “Risky Business”, in a tough economy you don’t screw with another man’s livelihood… :p


  • Mark L says:

    Hi John,
    Once again, a stellar post!

    John, I remember when you first put “jealously guarded secrets” in an ad. I believe it was one of your control martial arts ads from the late 90’s.

    Like all copywriters who have known your work for a long time, I have “reticular vision”
    for many of your trade-mark originals. Reticular vision is officially defined as:

    “It alerts the brain to incoming information from the senses, and from the centers of thought,
    memory and feeling. More than that, it adjudicates the relative importance of that information…
    In a way, reticular vision is like a vigilant secretary, sorting out the trivia from the incoming messages.”
    – Ronald H Bailey, “The Role of the Brain”, 1975

    Bottomline, you start to take keen notice of a phrase or word once it makes an impact on your conscious mind. I started seeing “jealously guarded secrets” in everybody’s copy all over the web – no matter what the niche or market!

    For one of my first really good ads, I saw a perfect format in one of your golf ads for the copy I was struggling with. As I recall, I got in touch and asked your permission to use the golf ad, as you framed it, an “inspiration”. (A direct rip of the copy wouldn’t have worked anyway).

    The ad was my career turning-point and made the client some serious money.

    (My profound, eternal thanks for your generous help on that one, John… )

    Dude, nice touch you included “Monterey Pop” in your “mini-counter-culture” film festival.
    Filmed in 1967- peace, love, groovy. Hendrix, Joplin, the U.S. debut of The Who –
    crowd was lightly buzzed and good vibes prevailed everywhere… and the folks that were
    interviewed were coherent, a little giddy and having a good time.

    I had to peek through my fingers while I re-watched Woodstock last year. It gave me alot of “what were we thinking?” moments (I’m 50 ish). Most of the Woodstock groovsters were so baked they couldn’t put a sentence together when interviewed on camera. Even Grace Slick, 71 (Jefferson Airplane) just admitted most
    of the musicians at Woodstock arrived so loaded they talked like cavemen back-stage.

    (ahhhhh, far out, man…… aaarrrrghhhhhhhhhh)

    It was 1969, and the hippie movement had gone “mainstream”. Gosh, my Dad was growing side-burns!
    “Hair”, “Laugh-in” and “Playboy After Dark” hit Broadway and TV. All you have to do to take the teeth and steam out of a new counter-culture movement is commercialize it – poof! the magic is gone.

    Once again, far out and solid post, JC!

    Mark (don’t take the brown tabs) L

  • Hey John,

    I recently got an email from someone letting me know that a guy had ripped off the sales letter on my site and put it on his. I checked it out and sure enough, the guy had copy and pasted 95% of my sales letter to promote a product that I’m assuming may have also been damn near the exact same as mine.

    Anyway, I contact the guy and he says something to the effect of, “I don’t consider us to be competitors. I think what you do is great and there’s room for all of us to be selling these products.”

    Uh…right… As if paying a compliment to me made it okay to completely rip off my sales letter. And as for not being competitors, I’m not sure what he’d been reading, but I failed to see how two businesses trying to sell similar products to a limited audience were NOT competitors.

    Needless to say, I let him know how wrong his assumption was and also contacted his billing company directly to put a stop to it. He did change his page, thankfully. But it goes to show, you never know how somebody might justify stealing.

  • Isabel says:

    Hey John,
    As usual, I enjoyed your article, I just happened to open the email and follow the link through and it’s almost 1:30a.m. here. I am close to 50 🙂 and your story just brought back good ol’ memories too.
    But I know what you are getting at. Too much buzz, and too many freebies just barging in to our inboxes nowadays.
    I am finding that even some ‘gurus’ are going overboard nowadays – literally spamming you with their affiliate friends in toe ‘selling’ their content or the quick, must-have CD. Don’t get me wrong that tactic does work but wow bro’ take it easy… It’s like one big conglomeration ‘gurus versus the wee poor net marketer’ – are they losing touch?
    And then on the topic of ‘stealing’ words – yes, you are right it does not belong to you but the creativity does! Today ‘a quick buck’ rules and is by far overpowering, aggressive and going out of control. So what can we do, apart from venting off? Is there a stop to this madness?
    I truly don’t think so. I believe that one has to contend with one’s sanity by believing that what one does is ‘morally’ right and the sane part is… some still have scruples and I hope I am in that category too… Thanks again…

  • John,
    You know, the “stealing” thing is all your fault for branding yourself as the “most ripped off copywriter alive” etc… LOL 🙂

    Well written explanation of the “swipe file”…especially explaining the John Caples classic that way.

    Top notch stuff.
    Joseph Ratliff

    P.S. I just copy and paste your best into a Word doc, and it works fine, no need for a print plugin or anything.

  • albert andrews says:

    Thanks for bearing with me for so long,I find your articles great,am studying with the programs of Kevin Riley at present,I am still very much the novice.regards–

  • […] hip to the simple, easy process of doing what needs to be done to attain what you want.” ~ John Carlton […]

  • […] hip to the simple, easy process of doing what needs to be done to attain what you want.” ~ John Carlton […]

  • Love this post. You do tell a wicked good tale.

    I got that Woodstock album for my birthday when I was 12 years old – my choice. Loved the music – Santana, The Who, Ten Years After, etc. Bought into all that hippy idealism crap for a while. Grew up fast and was cynical of the music scene by the time I was 14.

    Joe 😀

  • Excellent post and the quote “A thief believes everybody steals.” will be forwarded to a lot of my friends!! Excellent. Dr N

  • Percy MacDonald says:

    “Thieving Bastards”

    What a headline John, I’ll try not to steal it.

    I know this is an old post but I googled your SWS and couldn’t NOT click on this. I can imagine (not understand) why it’d piss you off to be so persistently ripped off but didn’t Ogilvy always say ‘Originality is the most dangerous word in advertising’?

    I know Scientific Advertising has a chapter devoted to originality but I’ve never thought it was that important in copy.

    Any thoughts John?

  • Rezbi says:

    I was just about to start promoting your License to steal product again – I believe it’s your best product, but that’s my opinion. I was surprised to see it’s not available anymore. I suppose that’s good news for those of us who bought it when it was.

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