Today’s post is an especially personal one, and something that has been on my mind a lot lately.
I think everyone has a good idea what plagiarism is, and I think it’s fair to say that most people know that lifting a novel or entire passages from a novel is wrong and to be avoided. But what about when someone copies your web content?
You’ve probably guessed this has been happening to me. In the last few months it’s come to my attention that content from my website, blog, and even my Goodreads account has been lifted and passed off as another author’s original work.
At first I assumed it was a coincidence. But when it happened again, then again and again, it became obvious it wasn’t a coincidence and had moved into plagiarism territory.
Since making this discovery I’ve vacillated between being angry and frustrated and feeling like l was turning into a ‘get off my lawn’ type of crazy person; between thinking I should confront this person and thinking imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; between considering doing something about it and thinking ‘relax, it’s just a blog post, for God’s sake’.
After some intense reflection and interwebs research, I’ve come to the conclusion that
I am angry and frustrated
I don’t feel flattered
This web content belongs to me
And it’s not okay.
It’s just not. It’s not okay because it’s on the web. It’s not okay because I don’t have a copyright symbol on my website. It’s not okay because I’m not famous, or because the content thief doesn’t have a lot of followers. It’s not okay if they didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong. It’s not okay because they only did it once (which they didn’t, but you get the point).
It’s never okay. It is plagiarism.
And here’s something important: Authors, you don’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed that you care about this. You’re important and your work is important to you. It doesn’t matter if you’re “small potatoes” or a big shot. There isn’t a person in the world who it’s okay to steal from. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly to be upset, that when you put yourself out there it’s bound to happen and you have to get over it. This is your brand. Your intellectual property. You have every right to be as upset or as unaffected as you want to be.
Here’s a fun fact: “By law, when something is written, drawn, photographed, etc., its copyright is automatically owned by the author. In other words, a copyright exists at the moment the work is created.”–Legalzoom. So copyright symbol or not, your work isn’t just up for grabs for others to use.
Fun fact #2: There is something you can do about this.
Now I’m in no way suggesting that you need to get angry and take action every single time someone copies you. It’s completely up to the individual to decide when a situation has gone too far and when they’ve had enough. If it comes to that, then I suggest reading this incredibly helpful article on what to do when someone steals your content. It involves screenshots and cease and desist orders and other fancy things.
Now I know this doesn’t apply to most people, but this next thing has to be said:
Please respect your fellow artists. There is a fine line between inspiration and plagiarism. It’s natural and expected to absorb the world around you and to recycle what you experience into your work, whether consciously or subconsciously, but it’s ultimately up to you to make sure you aren’t plagiarizing. If you’re unsure, or if a situation seems murky to you in any way, it’s probably because it is. Please remember to:
Ask for permission to use content
Make sure you source any content you use
Having said all that, I think it’s important to note that just because plagiarism exists and it’s ugly, it doesn’t mean you should stop putting yourself out there. Because really, the Internet is mostly a fun and great place. I’m not going to stop enjoying it because of a few unsavory experiences, and I don’t think you should either.
Annnnnnnd don’t bother asking who stole my web content because I won’t tell you ☺ Rest assured I’ve got my eye on the situation and am taking appropriate steps.
Now excuse me while I go tell those kids to get off my lawn.