Not too long ago, a friend of mine mentioned that a creative, artsy blog she had followed for years had shut down. Why? A troll of the worst sort stole the entire blog—thousands of images and words from years of compilation—and claimed it as his own. Every time she posted, he copied, pasted, downloaded, and presented it as his work.
I would have had a hard time wrapping my mind around that if something similar (though not on so grand a scale) hadn’t happened to me: my most-noticed blog post was copied word-for-word by a “journalist” (already we have a contradiction in terms, but work with me here) in Pakistan. When I first saw it, I felt like I’d been punched. Then I felt like I’d been robbed. This guy was taking my hard work and presenting it as his own! How dare he!
This is the risk we take, though, when we put our work out in a public forum. (And it’s one reason I advise against blogging one’s book.)
But how about sending your work to a prospective agent, to a publisher … to an editor? Are you worried your ideas or writing will be stolen? The most straightforward answer I’ve seen on this subject comes from Jane Friedman, in a thorough blog post she wrote in 2011. Here she breaks down one aspect of the question:
While I don’t advocate advertising your idea far and yon, or putting flashing lights around it on your blog, the chances that an agent, editor, critique partner, or stranger will:
(a) steal your idea
(b) execute your idea better than you
(c) AND be able to sell it
… are next to zero. It is not worth worrying about. Share your work with trusted advisers, send it to agents/editors for consideration, and talk about aspects of it on your blog. No problem. Unless you are known in the industry for coming up with million-dollar high concepts, it’s not likely you’ll experience idea theft.
Read the whole post; this is a larger issue than just one excerpt. The article is clear, it’s concise, and will put your mind at ease. *
In my years as a self-employed editor, I have, on occasion, had authors ask me to sign a nondisclosure agreement. These were all unsigned, unpublished authors who believed they were sitting on an idea so brilliant I might steal it—because, let’s face it, that’s exactly what’s implied in a request to sign an NDA. But here’s the thing: aside from the implied insult (I have my own ideas, thankyouverymuch), the nature of my work is such that if I talked about my projects, I wouldn’t have any projects to talk about. And, after all, there is nothing new under the sun (see Ecclesiastes 1:9).
But then why was I so bothered by my little plagiarism problem? I investigated other posts on the site and quickly saw that they were all copied from some other blogger. No credit was given to any of us.
What to do? As I often do when it comes to blogging advice, I consulted Michael Hyatt, who has had some experience with this little problem. “It’s inevitable,” he says about plagiarism.
If you are successful as a blogger, people are going to steal your content. You’ll wake up one morning to a Google Alert, notifying you that your name was mentioned on another blog. Great, you’ll think, I love free publicity. … You then click on the link to read the post. To your horror, you discover that another blogger has re-posted one of your entire blog posts, word-for-word.
Hyatt has a checklist of things to do, how to start, and I did what he suggests: I sent the guy a friendly but firm email.
Thank you for your enthusiasm for my recent blog post, which I have referenced above. However, it is illegal for you to copy my original content without giving me full and prominent credit as the author of this material. You may have missed my copyright notice. I’m sure it was an oversight, but I’d like you to credit me as the author of this post.
It would be my preference that you post an EXCERPT with a DIRECT LINK to my full blog post, using my name and link at the top of the page. Regardless, I expect you to remedy this situation quickly. You may use the following verbiage: This post is reblogged from Read Play Edit, © Jamie Chavez 2010–2013. You may see the post in its entirety here.
Thanks so much.
I did not get a response. I left him a comment on his blog. I tweeted to him. I kept it polite. Finally, I contacted WordPress; they have procedures to prevent plagiarism of their clients (by other WordPress users). It took several days, but my post was eventually removed from the thief’s site. By the time that happened, I’d calmed down somewhat. :)
In fact, that’s the basic lesson here: get over your bad self. If you’ve shared something publicly, some stranger might steal it, sure enough, and you might or might not be able to stop him. But if you follow standard protocols when sharing your work with publishing professionals, there are no guarantees, but you should be OK. So keep calm and carry on. :)
* It should be noted that neither Jane nor Michael Hyatt nor I are attorneys; we are not experts in intellectual property law.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”