Matt Johnson of RunnerAcademy Stealing and Plagiarizing from RunnersConnect (and why it matters to you)
The RunnersConnect team and I work extremely hard to deliver awesome, free content to you as much as we can. We publish articles on this blog at least three times per week and they’re always free, well-researched and hopefully help you become a better runner.
So, it really ticks me off when someone steals our content, plagiarizes it, and calls it their own.
It’s even more infuriating when someone takes the products and content we’ve spent literally hundreds of hours creating, refining and making actionable for you and then SELLS it on their own site.
But that’s just what Matt Johnson of Runner Academy has done (and it’s not the first time)
Let me show you exactly what Matt stole so you can see it’s not just sour grapes, Matt’s response showing that he thinks it’s ok, and why this hurts you just as much as it does me.
Matt Johnson of RunnerAcademy stealing and plagiarizing our Strength Training for Runners Program
I spent hundreds of hours creating what I believe to be a completely unique product in the running market – a strength training for runners program that wasn’t just about a bunch of routines, but had a specific prescription for how to add strength work to your running schedule every day of the week.
So, it was quite a surprise when a RunnersConnect fan reached out and told me he saw the same exact prescriptions somewhere else – on the Runner Academy site.
I asked him to investigate for me and the screenshots he sent back were astonishing. Matt Johnson had completely stolen our strength training for runners program and was selling it as his unique creation.
Sure, he changed a few words here and there (dropping the Greek names for the routines, which I think is cool) but it’s exactly the same material. Here are a few screenshots:
A comparison of Matt’s routines compared to mine
Wow, remarkably similar wouldn’t you say?
But, I can even understand this. If you were going to create a strength training for runners program, you’d probably include the same race distances. Odd that he also thought of general fitness and weight loss too, but let’s keep digging.
What routines does Matt have in his strength training program? Let’s compare them to my program?
Wow, that’s a lot of cross over. Besides dropping the Greek names, it looks like it’s an exact replica of my routines. I guess maybe there are only so many routines you can have, right?
Here’s an example of Matt’s “General Fitness” prescription compared to mine:
Now, “general fitness” isn’t a specific race distance, so it’s troubling that the progression of Matt’s routines is exactly the same as mine – Introduction, Endurance, Power, Rest. Moreover, as you can see, it’s basically the same assignment of routines, which only looks different because the long run is on a different day.
Now, let’s look at one of these routines in-depth because here’s where the smoking gun is.
Now, most of the routines are simply a copy of my routines with the exercise order slightly adjusted and one or two routines swapped.
But the water pump hop is a dead giveaway. This is an exercise that very few people know about, and especially call it this, because it was developed by Scott Simmons, who I worked for when coaching in college. It’s completely unique to my program and Scott’s coaching.
To continue with one more example, here’s a look at the opening of the 10k prescription.
Hmm, again they look remarkably similar. Weird someone would have the exact same thoughts and express them in almost the exact same way.
What makes this even more comical is that Matt openly discussed how he joins his competitors sites and spies on their content:
He even went so far as to discuss his plagiarism strategy in the same forum
I could go on and on. There are tons of examples within Matt’s membership program (even outside the strength program) where he stole almost word-for-word my ideas, routines, and information. If you want proof, watch this video from Marathon Academy (whom Matt Johnson also stole from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr1lH9bFiaI *if the video no longer works, post in the comments as I have a backup)
But is this really plagiarism
Plagiarism is the “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work (source).
In some ways, the Internet has really distorted our view of what is and isn’t plagiarism. It’s too easy these days to simply copy/paste someone else’s thoughts and forget to credit them – no professor is going to ask you for sources.
And of course, plagiarism itself is confusing. What constitutes an original idea? When does knowledge move from original work to “universally known”?
But even though plagiarism happens often and can be confusing, it’s still plagiarism when it happens and using the above definition, Matt clearly plagiarized my strength training for runners program.
I’ll come back to this in a bit and maybe this is where you think I’m wrong, but I definitely believe the evidence I’ve provided clearly demonstrates that Matt intended to pass off my work and ideas as his own.
Jeff, why don’t you contact Matt privately
That’s a good question.
First, I plan to do so and I plan to exercise every legal right I have, which includes taking Matt to court. Sure, this is going to cost me a lot of money personally, but I’ll get to why I think it’s so important momentarily.
The reason I am making this public is because this isn’t the first time Matt has stolen my work.
It’s not even the first time he’s stolen someone else’s work.
About a year ago, Jason Fitzgerald from StrengthRunning.com and I noticed that much of the content on Matt’s blog was exactly the same as material we posted.
In fact, we each found 6-7 pieces each that were published almost word-for-word on Matt’s blog.
Unfortunately, Jason and I didn’t take screenshots and we did get Matt to remove the offending content, so I can’t provide all the examples. But, here is a short snippet from one of our emails:
Additionally, the “Runner Grocery Shopping List” that you have is almost exactly the same as the resource that I have for subscribers. Please remove that from the Runner Academy website.
The list of Fruits/Vegetables is nearly exactly the same, which is interesting because it’s ordered in no particular way. Just how I brainstormed them.
Also, the introduction is almost exactly the same.
Never worry about eating the same food over and over again. This grocery shopping list for runners has nearly 90 things you can buy on your next trip to the grocery store – from fruit and veggies to seafood and even nut butters. Just about everything here is real food – so stick with these foods to feel great.
Never worry about eating the same 10 foods over and over again. This list has nearly 90 things you can buy on your next trip to the grocery store – from fruit and veggies to seafood and even nut butters. Everything here (well, almost everything) is what I consider a “real food” – so stick with these foods to feel great
After seeing that, Matt responded:
I appreciate your opinion and respect that, however I will not admit any wrong doing. What I have done is put the articles into draft mode for now so I can review after the weekend as I do not have time to do so today as I am traveling. I will then take the time to make the comparisons and ensure the content is unique before republishing these topics.
Going forward, what I won’t do is avoid any given topics that exist on any other website, performing keyword research for ranking terms (as I am sure you do and title your posts accordingly that is just good SEO). Nothing is directly plagiarized as you have claimed as Google penalizes sites with very similar content that follow any original publishing of it. In this case you would have nothing to worry about as I would be killing my own site if I copied others work and passed it as my own. Google’s algorithm would delist it. Every ‘new and original’ idea comes from that of others before with your own added take and perspective. The very fact we both write about running is copying from what we have learned from those before us with our own take from our own experiences.
To which, Jason and I responded
It’s entirely clear that you simply rewrote my content, following the same train of thought and using the same words. That is the definition of plagiarism. This is not the same as writing about the same topic. The fact that you can’t differentiate the two is very unfortunate.
Honestly, I’m not too worried about SEO. What bothers me is that you’re taking my training ideas, experiences, and philosophies and passing them off as your own, and then selling yourself as an expert in training. You’re selling a training solution to other runners, yet you clearly can’t write a piece about the difference between aerobic and anaerobic training without copying my articles. While that’s your prerogative, I clearly don’t want to be associated with that type of misrepresentation.
That was the end of the conversation between Jason, myself and Matt. Matt removed the offending content and Jason and I dropped it.
From our email exchanges it’s clear Matt doesn’t understand or care that he plagiarizes or copies directly from other experts in the field.
Moreover, even after being caught, he continued to do it again – and even sell the plagiarized material this time.
So, it’s clear that contacting Matt privately and trying to rectify the matter civilly isn’t going to work.
Plus, as I hinted at in my response to Matt, there’s also a bigger issue and it has to do with you, the person reading this.
How this impacts you
You see, it’s hard enough to know who to trust online, especially as it relates to running coaches.
There’s no universal certification program (RRCA and USATF are simple weekend courses and an open book test, which is another rant for another day) so it’s very difficult to find someone who actually knows what they are doing.
When someone like Matt clearly doesn’t know enough about coaching to develop ideas of his own and simply plagiarizes and steals from others, then he’s doing you a disservice.
Let’s take for example the order of exercises within each routine. Matt simply moved them around to make it look like it wasn’t a direct copy and paste.
But, each exercise in my strength training program was in that order for a specific reason. Typically, this is so you target the right muscles at the right time and avoid over-fatiguing one area.
Not understanding how and why this works (because I didn’t explain it assuming people would follow the routines in order) means Matt might be unintentionally setting you up to get hurt.
That’s not fair to you.
Plus, if Matt is so cavalier about stealing directly from Jason, myself and probably others, is he someone we want to trust with our credit card info and online purchases?
Think this is a little harsh and far-fetched? Let’s see what Matt has to say about his favorite month, February:
That’s exactly how your coach should feel about you as a customer, right? Just wow.
That’s why I feel like, in addition to pursuing all my legal options, I need to publicly let you know about this blatant case of plagiarism, theft and fraud.
Obviously, you’re free to have your own opinion about whether this is plagiarism and whether calling Matt out in public is the right thing to do. I do hope you agree with me. If so, here’s what you can do:
- If you’re a fellow coach, I’d check out Matt’s site to make sure he hasn’t also stolen material, ideas and content from you.
- If you’re an expert in the field, think twice about appearing on Matt’s podcast and being associated with someone who so blatantly and consciously steals other’s hard work.
- If you’re a runner, be careful with Matt’s advice. Some of it is in fact coming from true experts in the field, but it might be unintentionally altered without understanding the consequences.
As for me, Matt’s theft of my strength training for runners program has only made me more motivated than ever to make it better so it can continue to stand alone as a unique, amazing program for runners. Expect new routines, better delivery and new research in the middle of this summer!
Thanks for reading!
Update 5.20.14 at 1pm EST
It appears as if Matt has pulled down access to his membership site. It appears the site and material is back up. Looks like this was just a temporarily ploy to get this to blow over and avoid legal ramifications.
While I am happy it appears that the plagiarized content has been taken down, it’s never a goal of mine to “kill my competitors”.
In fact, I am inspired by other coaches and writers in the running community.
I think the more we have, the more and better quality we can deliver. I can’t reach everyone and maybe our tone doesn’t resonate with some runners. That’s ok, I know Jason Fitzgerald, James Dunne, Jay Johnson, Brian Martin, Pete Larson, Matt Frazier, Mark Cucuzella, Camille Herron (and countless others) are putting out amazing content too and maybe they can be the right person to reach you.
Reading their blogs every day gets me fired up to improve our site.
Of course, I don’t trust that this isn’t a ploy to get me to stop pursuing legal action and informing the running community. But, I am glad it has at least put a stop to it for now.
Matt has also been found to be plagarizing directly from other sites now too. Read this post to see the details.
He has also threatened legal action against me. I will not take this post down as everything I have written is true and have no problems defending my actions.
Thank you to everyone who emailed, facebooked, twitterd (are these even words?) and otherwise sent messages of support. It means the world to me and I really do love the running community. Such an amazing, welcoming and tight-knit community. Let’s continue to share this article so no other runners fall victim to this “expert” in disguise.
Run happy everyone!