A couple weeks ago I posted a piece here at the Kitchen on some recent announcements from Amazon. Shortly afterward, I was surprised to receive a message from the Kitchen’s editor, Kent Anderson, to the effect that my blog had been plagiarized. I went to the offending site, and was stunned by what I saw. It was an uncomfortable experience, which made me angrier the more I thought about it.
I am not going to post the link of the offending party, as that will only add traffic (and Google PageRank) to the site, but this is what I found:
- The entire text of my post had been reproduced — the copycat had not stuck to Internet protocol and copied simply an abstract
- There was no link to the Kitchen site at all
- My name did not appear anywhere
- The offending site displayed advertisements, making the plagiarism a commercial use
The copycat happens to sell consulting services, as do I. It was very galling to see my own work used in this way by a competitor.
I decided to take my case to an Internet community in which I participate. I told the story and got some interesting, almost entirely supportive responses. Among the things I learned was that this individual had done this before to others, including to at least one Internet luminary. No matter how some people feel about file-sharing on the Internet, plagiarism is held in contempt by everyone. Some community members wrote to the offending site to complain. The offender was getting loudly criticized within this community until one respected member of the community spoke up on his behalf. She vouched for the guy, said he truly was careful about this kind of thing, and that this one instance was surely a mistake. The thread died out then, having outlived its useful life.
Several days later, the offender posted an apology. The case is now closed, though we don’t have a conviction.
It is difficult to describe how annoying this incident has been. Yes, I blog without direct compensation. Yes, access to the blog is free. Yes, people pick up pieces of the posts all the time. And we have any number of pieces that get translated into other languages, but always after asking permission. But no one had ever behaved like this before, at least to me. Unfortunately, you can’t throw a brick across the Internet. You can only howl. That basset hound you hear in the background is me.
I am one of the lucky ones, I suppose, as I was able to get an apology. But what of people who work without the support of a community? Do you have to be one of the Jets from West Side Story (“You’ve got brothers around/You’re a family man”) in order to assert your rights?
I am not a professional writer, but if I were, I think casual talk about free information and file-sharing would disturb me deeply. It’s a wonder to me that authors have not been more assertive about their rights.
(Editor’s Note: As this blog has become more prominent, more posts are being poached without permission. We have added a policy on the blog for this, which can be found here. The enforcement tool? “If you take a post without getting our permission, we’ll first request you take it down and, if you refuse, we may shame you publicly.” This one toed the line.)