Claire King


Copy, right?

Posted on: August 2nd, 2012 by Claire - 27 Comments


This week I asked a blogger who had copy/pasted an entire post of mine, to please take it down. She did, immediately. Thank you, Blogger.

I also want to say that she had not tried to pass the work off as her own (plagiarism) – she had attributed it to me and put a link to my site. It’s lovely to be appreciated. So why did I ask her to take it down? Partly it’s a copyright issue, and partly it’s etiquette.

The etiquette issue is purely emotional. One of the wonderful things about the web is the free availability of information and ease of access and sharing that information. It was born in that spirit (à la Tim Berners-Lee “This is for everyone.”) But I honestly believe that if someone makes something available that you appreciate, whether it is a blog post, a video, a photograph, an essay…whatever it is…etiquette demands that you share it by pointing people to that person’s site, where you can see their work.

But she did link to your site!

Yes. The issue was that despite the link to my site, the post was a a full copy/paste. If it had been a couple of lines, plus the link to my post and then – here’s the thing – her further thoughts on the topic – then that would have been great. That is a discussion started that without the web would never have taken place. But a copy/paste of the whole post with no further comment feels wrong to me.

If in doubt, it’s always courteous to ask if you can share someone’s work. If you can do that, they’ll tell you what they’d prefer.

The copyright issue is simpler to explain. Although it was ‘only’ a blog post, I wrote it. And I have also written a novel, and early next year it’s coming out and I’m hoping that people will want to buy it with actual money that will pay for things like food and rent while I write another one. Practically I know that sooner or later it will crop up on the web in a form where somebody who wants to read it, but doesn’t want to pay for it will be able to have it for free. It happens. But here is my issue with that: I think many people believe that this is OK. That “one of the things that is great about the internet is all the great stuff you can get for free.”

Because it’s not like someone walking into my house and taking my things, is it? Because digital work is not tangible. You can take it, but it’s still there!

Some would argue that copyright makes no sense on the internet because it’s hard to enforce, and hey, in the end it’s just marketing. If someone downloads a free copy of my book (that I didn’t make available for free) they will then go and read the next one. And maybe they’ll pay for that one.

Will they? Will they really?

What do you think?


Further reading:

Recently Roni Loren posted here about how she was sued for using pictures on her blog that she found on the internet. In the process of this she has found out what the law says about this. If you have a blog you should read her post.

For a short discussion on the difference between theft, copyright infringement and patent infringement, take a look at this post from Notch (the software developer responsible for Minecraft).

27 Responses

  1. M says:

    If you write it, it’s yours – copyright law. Permission is required to reproduce it. WordPress allows ‘reblogging’ but this is a technical ability, not a legal bypass. I tried it once; it copies the whole article and cross links via pingback. Still, permission is required — much better to cite an article and link via url (I deleted the ‘reblog’ and linked). This is legal, and polite. Aside from attribution, part of what makes a blog is its community so it’s also a courtesy to keep the comments in one place — the original blog or website. Reblogging, to me, is a nifty tool to link sister sites (e.g. I run 2 blogs and might reblog my own post for convenience) but even then a link usually functions better (community pool, comments, etc). At best, reblogging is pointless. At its worst, rude and illegal. Bloggers owe their fellow writers, and their readers, more respect. I feel the same way about people who ride on other people’s ideas — ideas are not covered by copyright law, but it’s a matter of integrity. If you can’t produce your own, original material, you’re not the real deal. And if you’re not the real deal, what are you achieving?

    (Hope this makes sense, I’m poking an Android. When I press ‘send’, anything could happen…)

    • claire says:

      Thanks for your comment (android seems to have worked!). Such a good point you make about respect and integrity, and when it comes to ideas it’s just as important but even harder to manage. There seems to be massive scramble for Intellectual Property rights these days – in some ways like an ‘idea patent’. I’m all for the sharing of ideas, I think they become better that way, but it’s common courtesy to acknowledge where ideas come from and if possible keep people involved in discussions developing the ideas.

  2. M says:

    (To clarify, I had prior permission from the orig author when I first tried ‘reblogging’ but even with permission, it simply looked clumsy compared to promoting the original site via links.)

  3. Yup – and very interesting re the pictures. Just so’s you know – I asked for yr permission some weeks back to use one of your rather brilliant blog posts in a course I was running – never heard back, so didn’t – now I’m thinking you were miffed at the very request … aaagh! if you were, many apologies.

    • claire says:

      Oh no! I wouldn’t have been miffed at all. Not sure what happened. Had a lot of personal turmoil a few weeks back so it must just have slipped through the net. I’d have been happy for you to use a post that way. xx

  4. Marcus Speh says:

    Of course I understand where you’re coming from, Claire, especially in the context of your upcoming commercial publication. I’ve just written a diatribe against plagiarism myself, taking the recent Jonah Lehrer scandal as a starting point. However, when it comes to using content that I myself have put on the Internet, the potential network marketing effect is more important to me than holding on.

    The whole idea of the web is letting go of the content while keeping it on a link leash. If people would treat the web content like a collection of private notebooks, we wouldn’t see any of that global brain evolve.

    Because of a bad experiences I sometimes came close myself to no longer use the net for original content: in my case, another writer took a character/idea that I had worked on (publicly) for several months and based the story on it without ever acknowledging the source. Admittedly, I had been writing under the pseudonym, but that shouldn’t have made a difference. I decided not to make a fuss and let it go trusting in the truth of the statement “you reap what you sow”.

    For me, the most important reason to deal quite generously with copying (as long as basic etiquette and copyright are respected!) is the relative lack of any original content anywhere, but especially on blogs and, regrettably, especially on many writers’ blogs: the place where an unsuspecting public would expect to find the greatest density of ideas and thoughts, often is but a junkyard of clichés and triteness. (For this last paragraph, the grumpy spirit of the late Gore Vidal must have possessed me, don’t you think?)

    Announcement: I fully intend to self plagiarize this entire comment!

    • claire says:

      This blog is always happy to be haunted by the spirit of Gore Vidal! I fully agree that writing blogs as well as many other places on the web are terribly difficult to sift through for ‘original’ ideas.’ I don’t claim to have any myself, just points of view, really.

      I’m also well aware that I’ve taken many more ideas and information off the web than I’ve put onto it. The information I have found useful hasn’t necessarily been new, but it’s been new to me.

      In terms of keeping links, I’m less concerned about the marketing effect (I’m not convinced there is an important one for most people) as the opportunity given by the web to have an intelligent discussion around things. For which, Marcus, thank you!

  5. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I just bought a Kindle and have been wishing I could somehow copy a big chunk of my physical book collection onto it without having to buy them all again. I can’t, of course, and I’m not even sure that I *should* be able to (although if a publisher ever wanted to do some kind of a deal where you could pay a small amount more to get both copies, that would make me very happy!) But I digress.

    What with being a writer who needs to make a living, I understand how important it is that writers are properly paid for their work, but I think a lot of people who don’t come from that world find it difficult to think of the written world in that way. Most people realise that if they steal bread from an independent bakery, the baker has made a loss. But that’s a very physical thing and I don’t think it occurs to a lot of people that writers can be hurt in the same way. Perhaps what we need is publicity – not of the “You wouldn’t steal a car…” film piracy kind, but some kind of campaign where writers explain exactly why this is important. Of course, it also doesn’t help that a lot of people think that writers all have the finance and luck of J K Rowling, which makes them automatically unsympathetic.

    Such a campaign could also be tied in with saving libraries – because of course, we already have a wonderful system for reading new books when we can’t afford to buy them – and with e-readers, the possibilities for even the smallest libraries are enormous now.

    I appear to have ranted. Sorry. As I say, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    • claire says:

      It’s not an easy thing to get your head around. With the bakery idea – imagine every time someone took a loaf without paying, the loaf was still there for someone else to buy. The person could say, see – I’m hungry and I couldn’t afford the bread. Now I can have the bread anyway and other people – who can afford it – will still buy bread and the baker will be fine. The question is, if something is available for free, how many people would you buy it anyway, especially if they see others helping themselves?

      I DO want people who can’t afford my books to be able to read them. I would like that to happen through a library system, as you say.

      • That’s a good analogy. As writers, we’re luckier perhaps than artists or musicians because of what the library service has to offer. What we need though is for fewer libraries to be closed and enough financial support given to them that they are able to keep up-to-date with the market. Not that any of this does away with online piracy. But (maybe) those who do it would be less likely to if they really understood how much writers depend on sales and had easy and legitimate access to free reading (ie. a well-stocked local library).

  6. Suzy Norman says:

    Interesting post and thanks to the first informative commenter. I think freedom of information makes for some lax morals, sadly. I remember a few years ago writing a tongue in cheek analysis of a music video. The next week a much more high profile than me journalist did the same thing with the same video and after she’d already left a comment on my post!. As you say, there’s no copyright on ideas but it stung.
    I know my husband has been writing web content for years only to later read his actual words in national newspapers on the same topic. He’s philosophical about it but there are lots of cheeky and lazy people out there.

    • claire says:

      Yes. There’s possibly a spectrum from blithely oblivious to cheeky and lazy all the way through to purposeful thievery. May the latter get caught and may the others have a rethink…

  7. Eliza Green says:

    Sometimes I find posts that are interesting and I link back to them. Never the whole thing – its not mine – but an appropriate amount to give my reader a taste of the blog post in question and a link to the original site. I usually provide my own take on the subject, so the link forms part of the discussion.
    It’s all about moderation and where appropriate, I will ask permission. I think generally bloggers are open to others using sections of their work in this way, but as long as the new post isn’t just a lazy copy and paste job of an original.

    • claire says:

      Thanks Eliza, that’s exactly the approach I take too. It feels right. And if the original poster didn’t like that I would of course take it down. I want to reiterate that the blogger who started all this thinking was very swift in taking down her post, and her intentions had never been bad, just how I wanted to see my work used. In a way I was lucky, I suspect there are some who would take umbrage…

  8. Pete says:

    I read the Roni Loren post a few weeks ago. It’s well worth reading because, like so many other people, she’d made incorrect assumptions about the use of photos in blogs and paid a heavy price.
    To date, I’ve suffered only as a photographer. I think there’s an assumption because a photo is on the internet in one form, it’s fair game to use it for any other purpose and I’ll be grateful for the publicity (I’m not really, cash is much better).
    I do agree with lots of the previous comments but I think part of the problem for writers has been the free/ 99p on Kindle aspect. I know there’s a promotional argument but I think it just gives people the impression that writing isn’t worth much and if a novel isn’t worth much, a blog post certainly isn’t.
    Difficult to do much about that but I think it’s imperative that we don’t let people just make assumptions about using our work.

    • claire says:

      I absolutely agree with you about the 99p aspect. A greetings card costs more. A bottle of water in a vending machine. 99p for a novel, for many novels, is a price point that screams ‘practically free’.

  9. M says:

    If I had the energy, I’d grade different blog posts. An anthology promo piece or ‘help to new writers’ article could be labelled freeware — group hug, happy clappy share toy for everyone to plunder. Whereas a novel or other WIP excerpt could come with a health warning — ‘steal my words and I will plant my lips on your forehead and suck out all your kudos’. I like what Marcus said about generosity, though. We do, after all, create the spirit of the age. It should include at least some free love (in between sucks).

  10. janetyjanet says:

    Think it’s the same issue as pirating films and music n’est ce pas…?

  11. Christopher says:

    A few months ago I noticed that I was getting a lot of hits from a particular site. When I investigated I saw that the site was republishing entire posts from my blog without any indication of authorship. I’m not even sure how I was getting hits. When I confronted the webmaster, he replied that I should always put my name and URL in the first paragraph.

    Like Marcus, I’m happy for my Blog to get publicity. I’m just not happy with the air of entitlement I felt from the webmaster who co-opted my blog posts.

    • Marcus Speh says:

      Chris, you’re getting hits because you must have checked the pingback/traceback option on your blog, I think. This of course is upsetting and scandalous, and the webmaster is out of his mind.

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