Ah, blogging. The benefits are negligible and so are the risks. You don’t usually get paid, but then again there’s no boss to tell you you’re not doing it right. Either people read or they don’t. Then again, there’s no boss to give you an assignment; you struggle to find good topics and write about them in an entertaining fashion. When you write something people like, it’s quite gratifying; after all, you came up with it and put it out there bravely for everyone to see.
But that’s the other risk, isn’t it? You put it out there on the Internet, the Free Content Capital Of The World. If you want to plagiarize something, the Internet is your best bet, since even web sites with big readerships have scattered readerships, meaning that you just might get away with stealing a blogger’s work from the ‘net and presenting it as your own because there’s a chance that not everyone around you has seen it. For bloggers, that’s one of the worst things that can result from our work – we do this for free for the most part (trust me, making money blogging is practically a Sisyphean task. Possible, but not easy, and definitely not immediately rewarding) and having our free work stolen is somehow way worse than having paid work stolen.
With that in mind, and especially if you’ve been reading this site for a while, I’d like you to click on this link and have a read of the article I linked to, which was published in a local weekly paper here in Anchorage. Sounds familiar, no? Sounds a lot like this, this, this, and this, posts I published over the last year, does it not?
Surely a coincidence, one might think. However, when one considers that the person whose byline resides on that article knows me personally and has read my site for a long time and talked with me about it, the similarities between articles don’t seem so coincidental.
I was livid. That someone I knew personally would yank my ideas, change the wording just enough to avoid an accusation of direct plagiarism (that person works in the law profession, she has to know a thing or two about copyright infringement), publish it in a paper I read every week, and GET PAID to do so is utterly reprehensible. When I saw the article, I wrote immediately to the editor and to the person who reproduced my content, telling them exactly what I thought and that I’d like to hear their plan for giving me credit and compensation for using my work.
The editor of the paper reviewed my writing and said she’d “have a talk” with the “writer” (I can’t help putting that in quotes. I can’t help it. Copy my work then call yourself a writer) about producing original content. She said she thought since it wasn’t a direct word-for-word copy, an accusation of plagiarism was a little strict, and that since the topic is pretty broad, most writers would reach similar conclusions*. She said she’d write a letter in the next edition, giving me credit for the ideas and linking to my web site. I haven’t seen this letter yet, but I haven’t picked up this week’s edition. I hope she wrote it, I really do. She said she liked my writing and that she’d like to hear some pitches from me, which is nice, and I probably will pitch that publication because I like it, and it’s hometown stuff which I dig. So hopefully something positive will come out of this.
As far as the statement that this isn’t plagiarism, I do not agree. Obviously. This is a person who knows me, has read those articles, and has even discussed them with me. In her response to my initial email about copying my work, she stated “I only meant to join the conversation” which tells me that she absolutely knew she was pulling from my writing. And she got paid to do so, and didn’t give me credit. That’s stealing. Full stop. Universities call this “Intellectual Dishonesty” and expel students if they do it (thanks beta reader Ron for that info).
One of the last times we talked in person, this person mentioned to me that she was planning to go to journalism school next year and that she’d accepted an internship with a very popular climbing magazine starting this fall. I can probably save some tuition money for her with these two free lessons:
1. Don’t steal people’s work.
2. If you want to “join the conversation” about something someone’s already written about, give them credit for inspiring you and then COME UP WITH YOUR OWN IDEAS about the topic. Like this.
So what else can I do about it? Probably nothing. I called the editor’s attention to it and told the “writer” that I am really pissed off. My options from here are legal action (probably not, I mean what blogger can afford to hire lawyers to chase down people who probably made $50 off copying their work and were nevertheless careful enough that the legal definition of plagiarism won’t apply? Though I would say I’d rather have $50 for my work than no money at all) or pretending it didn’t happen. Well I’m not gonna do either, so this article is what I’m gonna do about it.
Unless, of course, it happens again.
*I thought so too when I started writing about the outdoorsy dating topic 18 months ago, so I researched like mad to make sure no one else had published anything similar. While assessing the outdoor dating scene isn’t exactly on par with engineering a lunar landing, my work is all 100% original and not based on anyone else’s writing. Silly, funny, lighthearted – but completely original. Maybe other writers would have come up with similar conclusions if they’d decided to write about that topic, but they didn’t.