Google Accused of Ripping Off Team-Building Guide

(CN) – Google was hit Thursday with a copyright lawsuit claiming the tech giant’s employee training program, available for anyone to download for free, is based on information lifted from a group team-building book published more than 50 years ago.

Human Synergistics Inc. filed the complaint in Detroit federal court against Google, Catalyst Consulting Team and its owner, William L. Underwood. The consulting and training firm is represented by attorneys Peter Falkenstein and David McDaniel of the Ann Arbor law firm Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss.

This photo shows signage outside the offices of Google in San Francisco with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in the background on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Liedtke)

The lawsuit is centered on Human Synergistics’ team-building exercise published as “The Desert Survival Situation.”

“First published nearly 50 years ago, Desert Survival has been and still is distributed nationally and internationally; and it continues to be widely used by businesses, governmental entities, schools, and other institutions for training and developing managers and other members of organizations,” the complaint states. “HS holds the rights to numerous copyright registrations for Desert Survival and associated works.”

In “Desert Survival,” participants imagine that their plane has crashed in the desert and they are left with 15 items. Each participant ranks the value of those items.

The “survivors” then form teams and work together to rank the value of the items again. The exercise is meant to show the value of teamwork over individualism.

Human Synergistics, abbreviated as HS in the complaint, claims Google received “Desert Survival” from Catalyst, its former client.

“Catalyst, without HS’s consent, incorporated Desert Survival into a management training and development program designed for Google to use internally,” the 45-page lawsuit states.

Google then published a “New Manager Program Participant Workbook” online, which allegedly included a version of the “Desert Survival” exercise.

HS also says Google published presentation slides and a facilitator guide for free online, with these materials also derived from works copyrighted by HS.

“As a result of the actions of Google and Catalyst, Desert Survival and associated HS content was made available to the world at no cost, seriously compromising the value of one of HS’s most popular and lucrative products,” the complaint states.

HS asserts claims of copyright infringement, unfair competition, false advertising, deceptive trade practices and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The firm maintains its headquarters in Plymouth, Michigan, and has branch offices in 13 countries. It says it developed “Desert Survival” with the help of Alonzo Pond, a survival expert who worked with the Allies in the Sahara Desert during World War II.

According to the lawsuit, HS discovered in March that its work was being used on the website under the title “Decision Making: Desert Survival.”

“Google also used the identical 15 items that comprise the exercise, merely changing the order of presentation and making immaterial changes to some wording, e.g., changing ‘a book entitled Edible Animals of the Desert’ to “‘Edible Animals of the Desert’ book,” the complaint states.

Catalyst contracted with Google in 2010 and “provided a near-complete copy of Desert Survival to Google,” according to HS.

Google and Catalyst did not immediately respond Thursday to email requests for comment.

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