Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Copyright infringement

My thanks to those of you who kindly inquired about this blog being quiet. I'm fine; life is busy these days with performances, spring projects and other activities. It's likely that I'll be posting less frequently for a while as a result.

Life has also included the unexpected, as follows.

***

It’s a strange and creepy feeling to read a poem on another blog and recognize it, word for word, as your own work under another person’s name. And then another poem. And then another.

I recently found twenty-two of my poems on a blog where they had been posted with someone else’s name as the author. This person had been siphoning off my blog, posting one of my archived poems every few days for months, claiming to have written them, but in reality lifting them, word for word, from my archives. Blatant plagiarism. Theft. Twenty-two poems.

I was initially stunned, and then furious. I felt very violated. My anger challenged me to balance protection of my work with my ethic of compassion and respect for others.

I spent some time researching copyright infringement and talking with my husband, who happens to be an attorney, and we consulted with another attorney. We also spent some time discussing the emotional aspects of the experience. It was a genuine struggle for me to view this person with compassion, as another human being with their own human needs and flaws. It was difficult for me to see beyond the need to protect my work. A truly compassionate person might have found a way to do more than I did. But, with my husband’s support and encouragement, I chose not to immediately move to shut this blog down. Instead, I sent a polite but firm “cease and desist letter” that gave this person a little time to remove my poems. Again with my husband’s help, I tried to phrase the letter in ways that they would understand that I saw them as a real person. It wasn’t much, but it was my attempt to avoid creating more negativity than was necessary to protect my work. In response, the person removed not just my poems but all previous posts from that blog. For the removal of my poems, I am relieved and grateful.

Plagiarism could (and does) happen to any of us. Not just with poems, but photographs, illustrations, stories, writing of any kind. It could happen at any time. It happens easily on the internet, and it could happen if you publish in a book or a journal. It’s wrong. It’s thievery. And it’s immoral and unethical.

And when I think about that, I begin to feel very sad about this person. I am fortunate to have a life full of creative outlets, full of loving friends and family. It’s a good life and I am grateful. The reality is, I have no way to know or truly understand this person’s motivation. And in the end, the motivation doesn’t matter a whit. It's the choice we make that matters.

In the end it’s about being human with each other. In the end it’s about respecting and honoring each other as fellow human beings. I’d guess I was so angry that I was far from perfect in my response to this person, but I tried. In the end it’s about choosing what kind of world we want to live in, because we create it collectively, moment by moment.

***

Now back to regular programming.

27 Comments:

Anonymous Dave said...

I'm sorry to hear about this - I know how infuriating it is simply to have content "scraped" by a spam blogger - but I'm very impressed with how you handled it. I can only suppose that this was someone who was trying hard to impress someone else, or was otherwise desperately in need of attention or respect. In a way I suppose you could feel flattered that they thought your poems would give them that. Anyway, all's well that ends well, I guess. I hope you'll have the time to return to blogging soon.

4/24/2007 9:27 AM  
Blogger Tall Girl said...

Oh, MB! It's something that concerns me very much myself, and that's why I set up the Creative Commons License though I'm well aware it can't stop only discourage this kind of theft. I'd have felt violated and angry too, and very discouraged from trusting this medium. But please do stay with us!!

4/24/2007 1:21 PM  
Anonymous marja-leena said...

(Reposting my comment from earlier attempt - blogger doesn't like me!)

Oh, mygawd! It's everyone's fear to have one's work stolen! I'm so impressed how you handled it, MB, with such humanity and compassion in spite of your anger and feelings of being violated. Thankfully that person responded appropriately without further ado, and hopefully learned a little about honour and ethics and respect from you. You are indeed blessed to have such wonderful support in your husband and loving family and friends! I really want to send a big virtual hug your way!

I wonder sometimes how much of one's work might be floating around without even being aware of it. I've only had one piece, a Mother's Day card that one of my daughters made, which I'd posted. Through technorati or maybe google I happened to find it on a young person's blog, posted as a card for her mother!! Daughter and I both wrote in the comments that it was not hers to use unacknowledged and without permission. She took it off eventually. However, I'm not sure that these violations would always show up in one's stats.

4/24/2007 1:43 PM  
Blogger zhoen said...

Funny how so many of us go to great lengths for anonymity for what we create. Then small sad thieves so desperately want their names shouted- even though they did nothing.

Creative Commons, it at least gives warning.

4/24/2007 3:13 PM  
Blogger leslee said...

Yikes, MB. That's disturbing. It's like identity theft. Like having someone rifle through your underwear drawer and take some. Yuck. I'm bewildered when people do things so irrational - you do have to wonder where this person's head was, and you obviously took the care to think about that. Maybe they were just clueless. I'm glad, anyway, to hear that the poems were removed. And that you're busy with lots of creative things. No need to post all the time - we'll be checking in. Enjoy.

4/24/2007 5:00 PM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

That's simple awful to do, steal somebody's else poem. I too one wonder sometimes if somebody is stealing mine or taking my photos.

But that's one the hazards of keeping a blog, you might get rob. At least you figure out where the person was and sent them a letter.

4/24/2007 5:07 PM  
Blogger floots said...

so glad that it won't stop you blogging
so sorry that it happened
i think that (with your husband's support) you behaved very considerately towards the offender
i would have been spitting screaming and swearing
(it would have accomplished nothing but i would still have done it)
i cannot understand anyone wishing to claim something which they have not written
regards

4/24/2007 11:14 PM  
Anonymous mimi said...

You are a compassionate soul, MB. And if, as we both believe, we collectively create our reality, then your beautiful images and words are a much-needed balm in this imperfect world of ours. Thanks for sharing this struggle with us, and please come back soon!

4/25/2007 6:51 AM  
Blogger robin andrea said...

I have been wondering where you've been, and find this news so surprising and sad. You handled the plagiarism very well, mb. A thoughtful approach to this misappropriation. When I worked at a university, I advised students who published the campus newspapers and poetry journals. I always had to remind them that just because they found something on the internet, didn't mean that it was free for the taking. There's something about this medium that blurs the line for some people.

4/25/2007 7:11 AM  
Blogger alan said...

I am glad to know you are busy with so many other things, though a bit sad for us...

That you would even come back to visit us after having been so badly bitten makes me very grateful!

My son is a GTA at a major midwest university and has had multiple incidents of this; one student even tried to appeal his theft and lost not only the assignment grade, but his semester! So many seem to think it's not cheating if you don't get caught; a symptom of the ills in so many other parts of society!

alan

4/25/2007 1:33 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

MB, I'm so sorry this happened. And I admire the way you handled it.

Some people are just cheaters, but I've known a couple of thieves in my life who took things not out of necessity, or desire to win or to make money, but because they were actually emotionally ill. They appropriated other people's work as their own because they were very needy people who wanted love, recognition, beauty...something they felt they couldn't create or gain on their own. Each of these people had been hurt in some way to the point where they couldn't see that what they were doing was very wrong. The fact that you handled this with as much compassion as you could has a chance of turning this person around. I hope so. And I hope you can move on from it and continue generously giving of yourself to the rest of us...again, I'm really sorry you had to go through this.

4/25/2007 4:46 PM  
Blogger Sky said...

So glad to see you here again.

I am so sorry to learn what you have been through recently. I understand the frustration and anger - first hand. I had a similar experience with a few photographs and one complete post, all lifted right off my blog and posted as though they came straight from the thief about 9 months ago! My efforts to resolve it did not meet with success until I continued to leave comments at that blog demanding my post and photographs be removed. Private e-mails I'd sent prior to that had been ignored. I was furious.

I don't have your kind heart, MB. I think whoever does this kind of thing has no respect for honesty, is lacking in anything remotely related to integrity, is a cheater who has no regard for the journey - just wants a quick fix. It infuriates me beyond words. I suppose all thiefs covet things they want and don't have. The lack of a happy or fulfilling life may or may not be part of the picture. Sometimes stealing is simply the easiest way to get what one wants. Many of those who cheated in school seemed happy enough, just too lazy to study! They didn't care about the material they did not know...just the grade they didn't deserve! The social worker in me has left the building!

I hope the person who stole from you has learned a lesson. The problem is much bigger than the theft itself. It speaks to a lack of a moral compass, something we cannot fix in someone else.

4/25/2007 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Professor Zero said...

It is my understanding that you have to send a cease and desist letter before doing anything more extreme, even if you are not in the mood to be kind. It is the first step towards building your lawsuit. Cease and desist letters scare people. I have watched them tremble and obey.

It is surprising to discover how many people really do not get it about plagiarism. In my profession, we are of course on students' cases about it. At the same time, faculty are known to steal student work. They grab and use other peoples' photographs without remorse, and they broadcast other peoples' video without permission.

A major publishing house reprinted a piece of mine and not only did not ask - they did not notify me.

Caught, people tend to say (if they can substantiate this), "But I did not make money, from this, and I am an educator, so I am entitled to take whatever I need!"

Recently I was asked to stream video to another campus - video the maker gave us permission to show at our school, but explicitly requested that we not stream elsewhere.

I said no to the streaming therefore, and I am now told this is mean and stingy. Apparently stealing from the maker of the video is *not* mean and stingy from my colleagues' point of view - kindness is taking from others to give to them.

That is how I feel about the work of scholars and artists and so on ... I have a rather different view of proprietary software and the like; there are many aspects of the DMCA which basically exist to maximize profits for mega-corporations, so far as I can tell.

4/25/2007 6:37 PM  
Blogger TDharma said...

I think you showed great restraint, MB, and balance, in your needs to have your justice and preserve their human dignity. That you even consider the dignity of this thief is a testament to your humanity. Bravo. I'm heartened that the 'cease and desist' was effective.

Carry on!

4/25/2007 8:44 PM  
Blogger Fred Garber said...

MB....You go girl! You guys handled that creep! Now take a deep breath, go for a nice long walk, come back home, sit down and write some more of your great poetry! I have been jonesing without my daily dose!

4/26/2007 6:46 AM  
Blogger Jean said...

I'm so sorry and so shocked to hear about this, MB. The price of an exceptional talent like yours can be very high sometimes. The pleasure you have freely given to so many of us is, I'm sure, nowhere near adequately reflected in our comments - after a while one runs out of things to say, but never out of surprise and joy in your work. I hope this will continue to outweigh such an unpleasant experience, but that you should need a break after this is more than understandable.

much love and solidarity

4/26/2007 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Sara said...

Ugh, MB, that sucks!!!! I particularly hate that someone would do it to you who are so encouraging of other artists.

Dammit! I really loathe thieves and, as Beth said above, cheaters. I have zero sympathy, respect, or compassion for them, however, I'm afraid. They undermine too much and all too often suffer too little for it while carelessly causing others great loss and hurt. And there are far too many of them about.

4/26/2007 1:38 PM  
Blogger MB said...

Thanks, everyone, for your supportive and thoughtful comments. I posted this as a warning to other writers and because the experience, ironically, presents something of a difficult ethical quandry for the victim.

Dave, I understand what you mean, but this is not the way anyone would wish to be flattered! But then the ironies abound in this situation. Thanks for your good thoughts.

TG, this medium has both wonders and challenges. Thanks very much for your encouragement and companionship.

Marja-Leena, I was interested to read of your experience. No, these things do not always show up in stats. There have been some odd trends in my stats for a while, however, which spurred me to do some further searching.

Zhoen, both you and TG seem to suggest that the CC offers a greater degree of protection than a standard copyright. If I'm understanding you, I think it would be helpful to more than me to explain in what way?

Leslee, it was disturbing, yes. I don't know that they were clueless, but I did try to think about where they might be coming from.

Cathy, thanks. Sadly, it can and does happen with other forms of publication as well.

Floots, don't think I wasn't doing those things, too! My response was based not just on principle but on my read of the situation. In another situation I might choose to respond differently.

Mimi, comments like yours are a balm for my healing. Thank you.

Robin Andrea, thanks for sharing your perspective. I wonder what it is about this medium that makes it seem especially vulnerable? Perhaps the sense of transitoriness, or the fact that access is basically free?

Alan, that it is a symptom of other ills is precisely why I tried to think hard about my response. I hope to avoid adding to those ills, which seem to me over and over to come down to disconnection, alienation and isolation. Perhaps a simplistic view, but I think it's at least one core theme. And it's people like you who make me want to persist. Thanks so much.

Beth, I really appreciate your support. I hope you are right, that it makes a difference in this person's life. There's no way to know, of course.

Sky, I didn't know about your experience. I'm very sorry you had to go through that. Honestly, as empathetic as I try to be, I don't think I could have fully understood the deep hurt it causes without going through it myself. You may be right that we can't change others, I don't know. But I do have to live with the choices for action that I make. Thanks for understanding.

Professor Zero, cease and desist letters are the first step of a legal process, although if there hadn't been an email address I would have been forced to blow this wide open publicly, through comments or through contacting the web host directly (since they are liable). I made it clear that unless my work was removed and never plagiarized again, I was quite ready to do that. But there are ways and ways of saying things. I find your story about the publishing house astonishing. You'd think, of all people, they'd get it. It's seems to be so hard for people to get into each others' shoes.

tdharma, thanks so much. Your recent comment about bravery meant a lot to me in ways you couldn't have known at the time.

Fred, thanks, thanks, thanks. You made me smile.

Jean, your expression of solidarity and support means a great deal to me. I appreciate your presence here so much.

Sara, thanks. I am glad you feel I am encouraging. I do try to be, though it apparently isn't always seen that way. I have no respect, either, for the act of cheating. But I do for the core of true human spirit that exists somewhere beneath and behind such muck. I can only hope this person will begin to see clearly the harm it does to everyone involved.

4/27/2007 8:22 AM  
Blogger Dale said...

Oh. How very strange and convoluted. It kind of wraps up in a neat package all the stuff I've been wondering about, about "being seen" and "being seen as" -- the mere fact that it's possible for this kind of theft to happen threatens everything we know and feel about what being a person is. To actually have it happen -- well, no doubt a valuable experience, if you're wise enough to take it as such (as you are, and have.) I think you handled it very appropriately and kindly.

But that poor poor person, my God.

This makes me realize that I quoted a stanza of a bluegrass song the other day without attribution... because it was in my head, but I'd only heard it on the radio and googling didn't turn it up. Better look again, & do things properly :-)

4/27/2007 9:42 AM  
Blogger rdl said...

That's awful but sounds like you handles it very well - i would've been pissed too tho.

4/27/2007 2:06 PM  
Blogger snowsparkle said...

mb, i am truly impressed with your compassion and restraint in dealing with the plagiarist. i'm so glad it all worked out and you feel comfortable blogging again.

even though the greatest form of flattery is imitation, downright theft is pathetic.

4/27/2007 10:30 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Taking a little quality time in the middle of the work project blizzard (thanks for mentioning the typo, BTW, I totally missed it!) -- and my gosh, you really have been through the wringer.

I wonder by what short-out of their synapses that plagiarist thought any of their act was a good thing...

Your sharing this was timely. I just had someone post one of my recent poems, albeit with credit, without asking, and they've mangled the linebreaks.

I haven't had time or energy to think clearly about how to handle that, but your experience brings it back to my attention.

What were they thinking? What are any of these people thinking?

Oh well, back to writing...I am very glad to see you posting again, and I think I'll be a more frequent visitor in about two weeks (yay!!!)

4/28/2007 10:18 AM  
Blogger MB said...

Dale, it does tie in to what you've pondered. In fact, I often thought of some things you've said previously about personhood as I sorted through my feelings and response. Thanks for understanding.

rdl, thanks, friend.

Snowsparkle, yeah, this was theft. Thank you.

Lori, one of the posts that appeared about the time my poems started appearing said something like (I don't have it exactly) "if it's true, does it matter who wrote it?" — that stopped me cold. I think this person was thinking, but apparently not clearly. Sorry to hear about your poem being bungled. I'd be interested to hear how you handle it.

5/08/2007 8:07 AM  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Good job, mb!

While I was at Yaddo, I met a painter whose work (an advertizing piece, but clever and interesting) had been marketed without her permission. Later on, it was in a traveling show without her name. Then it popped up in a major museum collection, without her knowledge.

Funny world...

5/14/2007 7:31 AM  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Good heavens, what an experience.
I can sort of see sharing a poem one is delighted in with others, in all innocence, like "oh, look at this wonderful work, it is by someone named MB, and it moved me so much"--without asking; I've had my own printed work used like that from time to time (and sometimes I get an actual request, and always have said yes).
But to take work and say "hey, look, aren't I the special poet, and I just wrote this, and this, and this, and this"...maddening.
I recall being 10 years old and having my best friend copy the way I drew Beautiful Ladies and being so furious I sobbed and ran home; well, I was a temperamental little girl. Having someone copying my poems or writing and passing it off as their own..
You handled this well.

5/17/2007 9:56 AM  
Blogger gracie said...

I'm late to respond, mb, but wanted to show my support for you and your compassionate but firm response to such a daring criminal act. Please keep taking the risk, keep publishing here, because your words lift me (and remind me how far I have to go!!!)

6/30/2007 12:16 AM  
Blogger Rethabile said...

Just happened to me. I sent a letter to the site manager and the offending blog was shut down.

What really got to me was that (s)he was making money off my article (click and earn system). No credit to me, no nothing. Sometimes at the end of a controversial post I write a last paragraph and entitle it, "Rethabile's Editorial" -- even that was intact!

7/07/2007 5:05 AM  

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