DEMO v. TechCrunch50 Takes A Nasty Turn With Charges Of Plagiarism

We are heads down preparing for the upcoming TechCrunch50 Conference in San Francisco, where we’ll feature fifty newly launched startups and products to an audience of over 1,500 investors, press, entrepreneurs and others who are passionate about startups. Each of the launching startups attend the event for free and do not pay any fees at all to be on stage.

We’ve been spending literally every free moment over the last six weeks interviewing applying startups in person and over the phone to select the final 50 out of over 1,200 applications from 50 or so countries. Last week, our partner Jason Calacanis put together his tips for companies doing those demos and we republished his thoughts here.

Now DEMO, the payola-based competitor to TechCrunch50, is ridiculously claiming that Jason plagiarized a ten year old article they wrote called What the DEMO Gods Know that Smart Entrepreneurs Should Learn. In an email to blogger Alexander Muse, who reprinted Jason’s article, Deb McAlister wrote

From: “Deb McAlister”
Date: August 10, 2008 9:48:06 AM CDT
To: “‘Alexander Muse’”
Subject: VERY familiar advice from Startup Blog

This “advice” on demos is almost a verbatim lift from a piece I wrote over 10 years ago for David Coursey, who was Chris Shipley’s predecessor as host of the DEMO Conference. Our piece was called “What the DEMO Gods Know that Smart Entrepreneurs Should Learn”. David was the host of DEMO when Google and many, many other top products launched there – and he’s my business partner in a new start-up that’s at the seed-round stage.

Our original tips were in a slightly different order (the first tip was the same, we put the taboo about PowerPoint in at #2, etc.), but we covered EVERY one of these points in the written piece (which was on the DEMO web site for three years), in our coaching sessions for DEMO demonstrators, and in articles published in a range of magazines. Of the 2,200 or so words you included in your blog, 1,893 were DIRECTLY lifted from our piece. Am I claiming a copyright violation? Not against your blog. I feel certain you published it with no thought to who owned the source material.

So why write to you on a Sunday morning? Because I wanted you to know that whoever this person is, he’s probably not someone you want to put a lot of faith in if he’s borrowing this heavily from old material. If he plagiarizes old DEMO material while trashing DEMO, can you trust him to honor NDA’s? To keep your embargoed information safe until launch date? Not to share financial information with potential competitors? I think not. Really, just FYI only – I truly enjoy your blog posts, and thought you might want to know the original source of the material that came across this morning.

Deb McAlister-Holland

McAlister will not respond to emails requesting a copy of the original article, and it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the web today. But her allegations of plagiarism are very serious, as well as her claim that Jason “directly lifted” 1,893 of the 2,200 words in the original article.

These are serious, lawyer-involving allegations and DEMO needs to back up these claims immediately. For his part, Jason says he never heard of the article they referred to. His article is written in a very conversational style that is trademark Calacanis.

What’s really going on here? Demo is simply throwing a ton of rotten spaghetti, hoping that some of it sticks to the wall. Don’t let it distract you from the amazing startups that are preparing to launch. Things will quiet down at Demo soon enough if what we hear is true.

In the meantime, we demand that DEMO provide proof of their allegations of plagiarism or publish a full retraction and apology.