Every January, I send a huge survey out to the online brokers who will be reviewed for that year’s Barron’s Online Broker Review.  This year, I sent an enormous Excel spreadsheet out to about two dozen brokers on January 20. 

A little more than a week ago, a different publication sent out their survey, which will be published in their June issue.  From what other brokers have told me, in past years, this particular reporter has used a Word document that the respondents fill in. But this year, he switched it up and is using Excel.  That’s not a problem, but what he did when switching to Excel borders on unethical, and possibly illegal.

This other publication’s survey is quite a bit shorter than mine, but more than half of the questions asked are lifted directly from my survey.  By “directly” I mean, “copied word for word.”

I think that if some other writer is using my survey as a base document that the LEAST he could do is re-word the questions he’s stealing from me.  I do not think it’s a strange coincidence that we both ask this exact question:

“Average # STOCK Retail Trades per Day, quarter ending 12/31/2009”

His survey includes my caps, and the same time frame.  Even more damning, further down his survey contains this question, which is an exact copy of a question that I’ve been asking for a few years now:

“Is a real-time quote available before the trade is placed?  Does the quote appear when a ticker symbol is entered in the trading screen, or does the customer have to enter it elsewhere on the site?”

His survey also copies, word for word, a series of questions I ask about SIPC coverage and limits.  His survey has a lot of questions I don’t ask, mostly about mutual funds and managed accounts, but those are details that Barron’s readers have not asked me to consider in my 15 years of writing this story.  But there is just one section of his survey that has original questions—all the rest are either directly copied from mine, or only lightly edited. 

A lawyer friend tells me that there are copyright issues involved here, and I’m trying to decide what to do next.  This week I’m finishing up the 15th Annual Review of Online Brokers for Barron’s, which will be in print in the March 15 issue, so I don’t have a lot of free time. 

I’ve found many of my articles reproduced without permission here and there on the web; usually a request to the webmaster to take down the article does the trick.  But this time a source document of mine that has never been published in public is being used.  Maybe the other writer thought I wouldn’t find out about it?  I just cannot imagine a universe where someone would think this is OK. 

OK ... back to work! 

Posted by on 03/06 at 10:01 AM






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